Investigation planning - advice
This advice provides additional information regarding planning and preparing a protective investigation.</p>
Document ID number 2030, version 9, 30 June 2022.
See procedure Investigation plan for tasks that must be undertaken.
Where a report to Child Protection is classified as a protective intervention report, an investigation is required. Practitioners are required to develop a plan for the investigation and to document their plan, and any decisions that may be made before the commencement of the investigation.
Purpose of investigation planning
Investigation involves a systematic, detailed approach to establishing the facts about complex situations, including collection of information and evidence and sorting this into the essential information categories to aide in your analysis. This involves being open minded, listening, questioning, observing, consulting with others and testing the veracity of information and evidence gathered.
Investigation planning includes identification of potential sources of information to investigate and assess risk, as well consideration to how reported information can be confirmed or verified. All reported information is valuable, though the veracity of that information and its usefulness as evidence is strengthened if it can be verified or corroborated by multiple sources, including professionals.
Planning is an essential component of the SAFER children framework and is crucial for effective child protection assessment and intervention. Considered planning will enable practitioners to effectively seek, sort, store and share information during an investigation, allow for careful and detailed analysis and assessment and directly inform any decisions that need to be made.
The investigation plan is developed by the child protection practitioner in consultation with their supervisor and other senior staff as required (for example, practice leader or principal practitioner). In the case of an Aboriginal child the development of the investigation plan will involve consultation with ACSASS.
Completion of a written investigation plan helps to ensure there is:
- considered preparation
- a shared understanding of investigation roles and responsibilities between supervisor and practitioner (and any other participants, such as police)
- a methodical and sequential process
- accountability for the actions taken.
The investigation plan should also note consideration of any additional sources of information and evidence which may be needed if those in the initial plan do not provide sufficiently to inform decisions or planning.
The investigation plan is recorded in the case practice section of CRIS and needs to briefly document the key tasks to be undertaken and the order they should be undertaken, such as liaising within Child Protection and with other professionals to prepare for joint visit, observing or interviewing the child, interviewing each parent, contacting others who hold relevant information, and so on.
It should give regard to the Best Interests Principles and legislative obligations under the CYFA 2005.
Planning your investigation
It is essential to become familiar with the current protective intervention report including information in the essential information categories, the intake risk assessment, and the concerns to be investigated, and:
- any previous relevant child protection history by reading the file
- any previous family violence reports and parental responses to the reports
- any other relevant available information including considerations around impacts of cumulative harm
Where the reported concerns relate to physical abuse, sexual abuse or serious neglect review the information to clarify if SOCIT has been notified and, where appropriate, develop a joint investigation plan. See Police Protocol.
Circumstances to consider when planning an investigation
Worker safety requirements
Whenever a home visit is conducted there should be a plan in place to promote the practitioner's safety that has been endorsed by their supervisor.
Child protection practitioners should view the alert screen and file notes in CRIS prior to any contact with the family and identify any information which suggests the practitioner may be at risk themselves (for example, the parent owns a firearm, owns a dangerous dog or has a history of previous assaults). If there is any information of concern, a national police history check should be conducted. See National police history checks for worker safety.
Where practitioners require assistance from the police due to worker safety issues, uniform police will generally assist with the visits.
The practitioner is required to update and end the alert information in CRIS in a timely manner. These actions are required to enable all staff to be alerted to critical safety information and the need to develop a safety plan to address safety risks when intervening with the family.
Under CYFA s35(1), where an Aboriginal child is the subject of a protective intervention report ACSASS must be consulted. See procedure Additional requirements for Aboriginal children for tasks that must be undertaken.
It may be appropriate to consult with the cultural engagement team for information that may assist in planning the investigation. This could include cultural considerations, such as cultural beliefs and practices, the family's likely experiences of statutory bodies, likely understanding of Australian parenting practices and law, the family's likely experiences as refugees, gender beliefs, attitudes towards family violence, discipline and parenting, the possibility of a support person should the family want this and possible support networks. See the Cultural Engagement Program webpage for information and referral pathways.
When the cultural identity of a child or family members is not known at the planning stage, this should be established as part of the investigation. When the cultural identity of a child or family members has been provided at the intake stage the practitioner should confirm the information provided with the family. See Engaging with culturally diverse (CALD) children and families practice resource.
Prior to commencing the investigation, where possible, the family's English language skills should be established to ensure that an interpreter is arranged where necessary. See Use of interpreters - advice.
Pay attention to the potential for cumulative harm from multiple events of ‘low’ level abuse or neglect of the child's needs over time, from family violence or from multiple abuse types, and current or past disclosures by the child. If disclosures have been made by the child in current and previous reports, consider the response to the child, the assessment and how their concerns were addressed. The impact of cumulative harm on the child should be a particular consideration if the current report is the third in 12 months.
Identify services that have been or are involved with the family and where possible, the family's likely response to a child protection investigation. Consider the family’s previous level of engagement with services, including Child FIRST or The Orange Door and whether the engagement was sustained. See specialist practice resource Cumulative harm for further information.
Parents or children with a disability
Seeking information about a child or parents’ disability to inform planning a visit is critical. This may involve confirming if an NDIS plan is in place. Information about the identified disability, the level of engagement with any disability services involved, and the impact the disability has on parenting capacity and/or the child’s developmental needs must be considered. Review and update the essential information categories if new information or evidence is received.
This should be given consideration from planning through all stages of the investigation and onward, to ensure that the parents or child are fully able to participate in the process and are supported to understand their rights, and what is expected of them. Consider what additional support the parents or child may need to enable their participation and engagement.
Where the reported concerns indicate a risk of family violence, child protection practitioners should consult specialist family violence services and resources to assist in planning the investigation in a manner cognisant of the dynamics and impact of family violence on the child and the parent. The investigation plan should consider previous and current (intake) MARAM assessments, the specialist family violence supports available to the child and parent, referral processes to access these supports and safety planning for the child and parent. Review the family violence essential information category, paying particular attention to serious risk factors which are highlighted in the colour orange in CRIS. Review the MARAM risk assessment. See advice Family violence services (including men’s behaviour change) and Working with families where an adult is violent.
Parents or children with a mental illness
Consultation with mental health services regarding planning a visit to either a parent or child with a known or suspected mental illness is recommended. The consultation should cover the appropriateness of a joint initial visit (particularly if it is likely the parent or child is experiencing an acute episode) and what ongoing consultation is required and gather information about the reported illness and its impact upon parenting and the child. Review and update the essential information categories as new information or evidence is received. See Child, youth and adult mental health services.
Alcohol and other drugs
Consultation with an alcohol and drug (AOD) service provider regarding planning a visit may be required depending on the circumstances of the report, and if the parent or child is engaged with an AOD service provider. Review and update the essential information categories as new information or evidence is received.
The infant response decision tool can assist practitioners with information gathering and risk assessment. The infant response decision may be made during the investigation if necessary, but would more usually coincide with the substantiation decision, at which point it is mandatory. Consultation with a practice leader or principal practitioner is required for infants assessed as requiring an infant intensive response. Further consultation should be considered as required.
Conducting a safe sleeping assessment and provision of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) information is mandatory during the first visit for infants under two.
Complex medical conditions and forensic medical examinations
Where a child has been injured and is in hospital, the Social Work Department should be advised and involved in the investigation planning. See Royal Children's Hospital protocol.
Secondary consultation required
Review CRIS and consult with any previous practitioners, and relevant specialist practitioners, preferably prior to contact with families where required. If the child and family is engaged with any other service, determine whether contact should be made prior to undertaking the first visit. . Review and update the essential information categories as new information or evidence is received.
Structure of investigation
Deciding need for two practitioners
Generally, two practitioners conduct first visits for urgent cases. The factors listed below should be considered for first and subsequent visits:
- The complexity of the situation as outlined in the report. An example would be sexual abuse or family violence investigations where power and secrecy play an important part in the abuse. Sending two practitioners enables the non-offending parent and the perpetrator to be interviewed separately. Also, having two practitioners can reduce the risk of collusion and help to maintain objectivity.
- Paired visits can be useful where the allocated practitioner is less experienced. The additional input of a second worker both in interviewing and assessment can provide role modelling and feedback.
- Paired visits may depend on whether the visit is conducted with other professionals such as police, family violence worker or Child FIRST.
- Paired visits should occur where it appears likely that a protection application will be issued, and a child removed.
Where two practitioners conduct a visit, the primary practitioner takes the lead. The secondary practitioner is frequently responsible for recording and supporting the interview through supplementary questions and reviewing that all allegations and concerns have been raised. It is important to note that the role of the primary and secondary practitioner is often interchangeable and dependent on who the child or parent may more readily engage with.
A visit will usually be to the home but may take place or commence at another location such as the department office, a school, hospital or police station. Where a child must be interviewed at school, the school principal should be contacted by the practitioner and involved in the planning of this component of the investigation. A member of the school staff may be present during the interview to support the child. See Interviewing without parental permission – advice for additional information.
Families should be invited to have a support person or advocate with them during the visit.
An unannounced visit should be considered for:
- visits in response to allegations of sexual or physical abuse or serious neglect
- the family may flee if they are aware of the visit, or
- there are worker safety issues,
- it is an urgent report (requires two day response), or
- a non-offending parent is unlikely to act protectively.
Arranged visits can facilitate engagement and collaboration with the family. Arranged visits can be useful in rural locations where the family lives in a remote location, it is difficult to contact or when it is a planned response as opposed to an urgent response. Contact can be made with the family in advance of the visit by phone.
Practitioners may give their name but should ensure they are speaking to the child's parent before disclosing the call is from child protection or the nature of any concerns.
If the parent is not available, practitioners should ask if the parent is contactable by mobile phone or when they are due to return home and call back rather than leaving their contact details. Where it is necessary to leave a phone number and where reasonable attempts to contact the parent at home have failed, only the practitioner's name and a number should be provided.
If arranging the first visit with the parents, advise them that ACSASS may be available to attend the first visit to assist parents and child protection to discuss and clarify the issues of concern. Where the family objects to ACSASS involvement, ACSASS should be informed, and may continue to offer secondary consultation regarding cultural issues only.
Where there are concerns related to possible sexual abuse, physical abuse or serious neglect, the police protocol requires the practitioner must inform the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT). See Joint visits with police - advice.
Where a child is currently engaged with an agency, consideration should be given to contacting them prior to a visit or undertaking a joint first visit, where appropriate, to enhance engagement of the family and assist them in understanding the concerns. If conducting a joint visit with a community service worker, it is critical that roles and responsibilities of each party during the interview are agreed.
Visual examination/body checks
Ensure the plan includes the opportunity for practitioners to observe and interact with all children for whom there is a report in a manner that reflects their age and stage of development, or as soon as possible thereafter if the child is not present at the time of the visit.
Where the alleged harm relates to physical abuse or serious neglect practitioners are required to visually examine the child and complete a SIDS safe sleeping and environment assessment for infants. The investigation plan should include considerations about the visual examination/body check and what is required, including who has provided consent, engagement with the child to explain the process and going at a pace that is comfortable for the child.
Where there are a number of professionals involved with a family, and a FLDM meeting would not be appropriate, it may be useful to hold a case conference during the investigation to facilitate information gathering. SCAN meetings may also be appropriate. Review and update the essential information categories following a case conference as it is likely that new information or evidence will be received.
Plan interviews with parents and children
All members of the family and other residents in the house should be interviewed during the investigation. All children in the family should be seen during the investigation, even if they are too young to be interviewed. All children who can be interviewed, should be, as a priority during the investigation.
Parents, regardless of whether they are living together with the child or separately must be interviewed. Other caregivers should also be interviewed and included in the assessment.
Through reviewing the intake risk assessment, any subsequent information gathered within intake, and via discussion with a practice leader or Team manager, practitioners should be prepared to clearly articulate the reported risks to parents and the children and illicit their views.
Using the list of questions from the review of the intake risk assessment, any prior reports on the child and the outcomes of consultations with any relevant specialist practitioners, develop a plan for the interviews.
The plan should address:
- whether the first visit can occur in a planned way with the family or needs to occur ‘unannounced’
- the sequence of events, i.e. interview child, interview non-offending parent etc
- which adults will be interviewed and when/where
- whether police will be attending, as a joint visit, and who will lead the interview/s
- whether parents or caregivers will be interviewed separately – for example where family violence is an issue or there is risk of collusion
- whether it would be beneficial to have a support person present (for the child or parent)
- roles and responsibilities of practitioners or others
- timing and location of interviews, it may be necessary to plan for the supervision of children during the interview
- whether an interpreter will be required for child or parent/s
- the age of the child and resources to support engagement, including paper and pencils, bear cards.
Timing of interviews can be critical, if court action may be required. This can particularly be the case when a child is at school and there is concern they cannot return home safely. If the police, ACSASS or other professionals are involved in the investigation, consult with them about the timing and structure of the interviews. See Interviewing without parental permission - advice.
Where the reported concerns suggest there may be a need to Place a child out of parental care, consult the team manager about placement options and consideration of contacting the placement coordination unit if kinship options are not available. See Placing a child in out-of-home care for further information on tasks.
If time permits, also consult the local solicitor, court officer or the Child Protection Litigation Office regarding the strength of the legal basis for such an action if required after a discussion with a team manager. See Immediate removal of a child - advice and Early legal advice.
Plan the likely sequence of events where it is anticipated that the child may need to be placed out of parental care, including the possible need for police assistance, medical examination, attendance at court, arrangements for bail hearing and placement actions. See procedure Bail justice hearings for tasks that must be undertaken.
A kit should be prepared with all documents required for investigation visits. This should include:
- identification card for each practitioner attending
- information sheets for parents and children regarding child protection, court processes, privacy notices, and identifying Aboriginal children
- legal documentation, such as protection applications, possible conditions
- contact numbers for key professionals, including police, medical practitioners, community service organisations, contact details regarding emergency placement agencies, or hospitals
- information regarding services, to give to parents or caregivers or children
- SIDS information
- mobile phone, direct and after-hours numbers for supervisors or other practitioners, and After Hours Child Protection Emergency Service number
- drug screen referral forms
- smart phone camera for photos in serious neglect cases.
A contingency plan should address how a practitioner will deal with any unexpected safety issues and what to do if parents do not engage or co-operate with the investigation. Plan for the possibility that parents may not cooperate or may not allow access to the child.
Practitioners should be prepared to:
- acknowledge the parent’s decision not to cooperate
- explain that child protection is legally obliged to assess children's safety and wellbeing
- identify aspects of the investigation where parents may be offered choice in the way they participate, for example, time of the interview, support persons present
- explain what is not negotiable, for example, the need to interview parents, have in person contact with or interview children, interview extended family or professionals
- explain the implications of refusal to participate. Child protection is required to assess the child’s situation, to ensure they are safe from harm. If they are unable to do this, it is possible that legal advice may needed to determine whether an application to the court is required.
Where parents continue to refuse to cooperate or allow access to the child, seek an urgent consultation with your manager, and consider legal advice with CPLO/Regional solicitors. It is possible a TAO or warrant may be required. See Temporary assessment orders (TAO) - advice.
Note: The seeking, sorting and analysis of evidence and information should continue and build beyond that gathered in the earliest stages of an investigation and those outlined in the investigation plan and at each stage of intervention, to ensure that risk assessment is current at all phases.
- Investigation plan checklist
- Substantiation - advice
- Temporary assessment orders (TAO)
- Joint visits with police
- Interviewing without parental permission
- Immediate removal of a child
- SIDS and safe sleeping
- Use of interpreters
- Child youth and adult mental health services
- Family violence services including perpetrator programs
- Disability - protocol
- Royal Children's Hospital - protocol
- Information sharing in child protection practice
- Staff safety in the workplace
- Working with families where an adult is violent (pdf, 1.17 MB)
- Family violence - specialist resources
- Cultural Engagement Program