See procedure Investigation for tasks that must be undertaken.
In order to investigate protective intervention reports and assess the level of risk to the child, practitioners must initiate direct contact and interview children and their parents for the purpose of:
- investigating the allegations and determining if abuse or neglect has occurred
- initiating necessary immediate action to protect the child
- seek, share, sort and store information and evidence to inform a risk assessment.
- formulate and enact a plan to protect the child and link the family to appropriate support services.
Engagement of a child and family during the investigation phase is extremely important in order to obtain the required information to ensure the child's safety. Interviewing children is central to assessing the level of risk and ensuring their safety and development. Generally, interviews with children take place at the same time as the first contact with the parents by Child Protection.
However, there are times when there will be a need for a child to be interviewed initially without the consent of parents, for example, where the child is at immediate and significant risk of harm from physical injury or sexual abuse and the information available to the practitioner indicates there are concerns about a parent's capacity to support and protect the child.
Following an interview, essential information categories should be reviewed and updated.
Section 205 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA) stipulates,
'A protective intervener must, as soon as practicable after receiving a protective intervention report, investigate, or cause another protective intervener to investigate, the subject-matter of the report in a way that will be in the best interests of the child'.
The key considerations are that the protective intervention report must be investigated:
- as soon as practicable and
- in a way that will be in the best interests of the child.
Child Protection is able to interview the child without parental consent during the investigation of a protective intervention report if it is assessed that this is in the child's best interests.
The child protection practitioner is required under s. 205(2) to inform the child and the child's parents that:
- a protective intervention report is being investigated and
- any information they give may be used for the purpose of a protection application.
Whilst the legislation does not preclude the child protection practitioner from interviewing a child without parental permission, it is good case practice that the practitioner involves parents as early as possible in the investigation of the protective intervention report.
Interviewing a child without parental permission should only occur in exceptional circumstances and if it is in the child's best interests to proceed in this manner. Issues to consider when determining the need to interview the child without parental permission, include:
- the severity of the actual or alleged physical or sexual harm
- where the intake risk assessment, risk assessment or review risk assessment judgement in relation to consequence of harm is assessed as significant or severe
- where the intake risk assessment, risk assessment or review risk assessment judgement in relation to probability of harm is assessed as likely or very likely
- the child's best interests
- each parent's capacity to protect the child
- the role of each parent in the alleged harm
- the likelihood of the interview process being compromised or contaminated if the parent is informed prior to the contact
- the requirement for police to proceed with a criminal investigation and not compromise this process by alerting the parents.
Interviewing children at school
See the Education partnering agreement protocol.
Careful consideration needs to occur before interviewing children at school, as it may be distressing or uncomfortable for them.
If it is deemed appropriate to interview the child at school the principal or nominee will facilitate such interviews, regardless of whether the school was the source of the protective intervention report. A staff member may be identified as the support person for the child during the interview. Prior to the commencement of the interview the child protection practitioner should always authorise the staff member of the school to receive information regarding the Child Protection investigation. This should be provided at least orally, though preferably in writing using the relevant proforma.
Joint interviews with Victoria Police
Case practice considerations
Interviewing children subject to a protective intervention report without parental permission will only occur in particular circumstances where it can be clearly demonstrated that it is in the child's best interest to conduct the investigation in this manner.
When proceeding with a protective investigation in this manner:
- Time pressures should be avoided, particularly when it is likely that the child cannot return home safely, medical examination may be required and legal intervention is anticipated.
- Obtaining information from the school regarding the child's stage of development. Consider learning difficulties, developmental delays and difficulty concentrating or limited attention span. This will enable the practitioner to develop a plan to ensure optimal engagement of the child, including the use of simple language or using a drawing.
- Communicate with the child in a manner that displays empathy, respect, honesty and genuineness. Engage the child and reassure them to establish a positive relationship with the child.
- Use appropriate language.
- Alleviate any confusion or anxiety that the child may have, particularly being interviewed without parental permission.
- Avoid using leading questions.
- The child should not be further traumatised by the interview.
- The child's comments must be taken seriously.
- Avoiding making promises to the child about future events. The practitioner should clearly explain to the child that the parents will be informed of the interview occurring and of any disclosure made.
The guiding principle is that a non-offending parent will be advised of the interview unless this would compromise the investigation of the report or investigation by police of a possible offence. The best interests of the child are the paramount consideration. If a decision is made not to inform a non-offending parent, a clear rationale should be documented indicating how the disclosure of information to a non-offending parent will be detrimental to the investigation and contrary to the child's best interests.
Section 205 of the CYFA stipulates that the parent must be informed of the report and that information provided by the parent may be used for a protection application.
Where the police refer a criminal investigation to a specialist investigation unit, for example the Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU), they may request that Child Protection not inform the alleged perpetrator of the allegations. Child Protection will need to work closely with police to meet the dual requirements for a timely Child Protection investigation, whilst also supporting police to undertake their interview with the alleged perpetrator.
If the police have been part of the interview with the child, then the child protection practitioner and police member should both interview the non-offending parent, where practicable. If the police have not been present during the interview with the non-offending parent, the child protection practitioner must contact the police after the interview where information has been obtained about the abuse.
Best interests of the child
A decision to interview a child without parental permission must only be made where the intake, risk assessment or review risk assessment judgement for consequence of harm is assessed as significant or severe and the probability of harm assessed as likely or very likely and it is in the child's best interests. For example, the child has current physical injury or has made a sexual abuse disclosure and the role of the parents is unknown or the parents are unlikely to believe or protect the child and may compromise the overall investigation.
Children should be advised of their right to have a supportive adult present during the interview. If the child is too young to understand the significance, one should be provided on their behalf. The supportive adult present may be a principal, teacher or other appropriate school-based person, if the interview is to occur at the school.
When conducting an interview of the child consideration needs to be given to the number of adults present. There should be no more than three adults present, the child protection practitioner, the police member and an adult support person, so as to avoid overwhelming or intimidating the child.
Interview of children without parental permission in exceptional circumstances
There may be other exceptional circumstances where it may be in the child's best interests to proceed with an interview without parental permission, in order to assess the level of risk to the child and determine the outcome of the protective investigation. Consideration may need to be given to applying for a temporary assessment order in these circumstances. It is recommended that consultation with the Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO) or CPAS occur in these circumstances. See CPAS SharePoint site for information, including how to seek a consultation.
Other situations where the practitioner may need to interview the child without parental permission include:
- Where a parent’s whereabouts are unknown and the child is at the family home unattended. In this circumstance the practitioner may engage in conversation with the child and must contact police for assistance. See Conducting the first visit - advice.
- Where the parent is incapacitated and unable to provide consent. In this circumstance it may be necessary to interview the child to obtain information regarding their immediate safety and wellbeing and there is a likelihood that legal intervention may be initiated.
Where a child is subject to a protection order, the child protection practitioner does not require parental permission to interview the child. However, good practice suggests that the parent should be informed of interviews that the practitioner has with the child.