See procedure Investigation for actions that must be undertaken.
Child protection and Victoria Police have statutory responsibilities and are both protective interveners under the CYFA. Child protection is the lead agency responsible for the care and protection of children, while the police are responsible for criminal investigations into alleged child abuse.
Child protection practitioners may have contact with a number of units within Victorian Police. Primarily joint investigations regarding child abuse occur with a Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT), which has the principle responsibility to undertake duties related to sexual offences (of adults or children) and child abuse. SOCITs operate in each division and ongoing liaison with the unit and orientation of new practitioners to child protection is recommended as good practice.
Additionally, contact may occur with the general duties police or other specialist crime units.
It is a shared principle between both child protection and the police that the best interests of the child are paramount.
The protective investigation of allegations of child abuse and neglect and the investigation of criminal offences are integral parts of the child protection system. Police and child protection must work together to ensure the best interests of the child are met.
Although child protection practitioners report allegations or evidence of physical or sexual abuse or serious neglect of a child to the police, in some cases where the detail is unclear, the police may request that child protection visit the family to conduct the protective investigation and then re-contact police to discuss the concerns in greater detail and establish whether a criminal investigation is required.
Information sharing should continue in these circumstances. While conducting the initial investigation, if child protection receives additional information (for example, a disclosure is made by a child that indicates a possible criminal act has occurred) consideration must be given by the child protection practitioner to whether they continue with the interview or contact the police immediately, to allow them to participate in the interview.
The decision is based on what is in the child's best interests. If it is likely the child will not disclose further information if the interview is terminated, the interview and seeking information should continue, and the police should be advised as soon as possible afterward.
Planning the investigation
Where criminal proceedings are likely, interviews are conducted in conjunction with the police. Planning between child protection and the police for the investigation and interviewing of the child should be based on the principles of:
- maximising the child's welfare and safety
- maximising the opportunities for collection of evidence
- minimising the number of times a child is interviewed.
Planning can be undertaken over the phone or via a meeting, depending on the urgency and complexity of the situation. It is important for both agencies to take into account relevant protocols with other agencies when planning an investigation (for example, when interviewing a child at a school – refer to the protocol between the Department of Health and Human Services (now the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing), Department of Education and Training , Early Childhood Services and Victorian Schools). See Interviewing without parental permission - advice and Education and early childhood protocol.
Timing of the investigation
Negotiation between child protection and the police regarding the timing of the investigation should be based on the principle that the child's best interests are paramount. If the matter requires urgent attention, and one agency is unable to attend within the arranged time frame, subject to further negotiation either service can attend without the other.
Where the police request the protective investigation be deferred, the child protection practitioner has a responsibility to assess the likely impact of a delay on the child and to advise the police accordingly. In cases where the child protection practitioner decides that immediate protective intervention is required, and a delay is not acceptable, they must inform the police of this decision and of the nature of the protective intervention considered urgent.
If a dispute arises regarding the timing of an investigation, resolution of the matter should be addressed as per the protocol between the two agencies.
Interviews of children
To reduce the need for the child to experience multiple interviews and interviewers, interviews should involve only one police member and one child protection practitioner. Children should not be interviewed without the prior knowledge of the parents except in exceptional circumstances. Where an interview occurs without the parent's prior knowledge, the parents should be informed as soon as possible.
Decisions about how the interview will be conducted and who will record the interview should be determined in the pre-interview planning, particularly the decision regarding who will lead the interview with the child. See procedure Investigation plan for tasks that must be undertaken.
Video and audio recorded evidence (VARE) procedures
If the interview is conducted under VARE procedures, the child protection practitioner should ask to observe the interview via the monitoring device and take notes. At the completion of the recorded statement, child protection or police may continue to interview the witness regarding protective issues. This is to be done off-camera. See VARE - advice.
Disclosing the name of the reporter
The CYFA prevents the child protection practitioner from disclosing the name of and any identifying information about the reporter unless written permission to do so is obtained from the reporter (s. 191).
However, child protection practitioners can disclose the name of the reporter to another protective intervener (such as police). Practitioners should consider whether providing the name would have a detrimental impact on the future cooperation of the reporter in the protection of children. If these concerns exist, the sensitivity of the situation should be discussed with the supervisor and the police involved so steps can be taken to manage any likely consequences. For example, the child protection practitioner should discuss the need for disclosure of the reporter's details to the police with the reporter prior to any police contact.
It is important that seeking and sharing information occurs regularly between the police and child protection during the course of conducting a joint investigation. The police are both protective interveners and information holders under the CYFA, which enables the free exchange of information in child protection matters. See Information sharing in child protection practice.
Throughout the course of the investigation, it is important that both agencies continue to share information as relevant to the protection of the child or the investigation of criminal proceedings. Each agency is to keep the other informed of their current and proposed actions.
If, after a joint investigation, there is insufficient evidence of criminal acts or behaviour, police involvement will cease.
Joint visits for the safety of child protection practitioners
Intake practitioners complete an intake risk assessment which may result in a decision to progress the report for protective intervention. If Intake practitioners seek and record any information to suggest an individual might have a history of violence, a criminal records check and L17 Portal Search may be conducted prior to client contact to assist in information gathering as part of the investigation and to determine whether any worker safety issues need to be considered in the investigation plan. Information received via a criminal record check or L17 portal search is stored in CRIS.
Supervisors and managers can also ask police (including the local uniformed general duties police) if they are aware of any safety issues for child protection practitioners attending a client's home, for example recent police attendance at the house, warnings about firearms, warrants and intervention orders.
In cases where the risks are deemed to be a level where the client cannot or will not attend the office, but there is a statutory requirement to visit the client, police assistance might be required. To request police assistance for a planned home visit, child protection practitioners should first contact their local SOCIT or general duties police, unless otherwise arranged by police. The timing and level of assistance required will be assessed by the police and provided where appropriate. Requests via 000 should only be made for matters that are urgent or have the potential to escalate and require immediate response.
The police may elect to conduct a joint visit or other arrangements may be made, such as police attendance outside the home or office as a safety measure, agreements to call 000 or the local general duties or SOCIT for an immediate response.
Joint visits for the purpose of the police executing a Children's Court search warrant
Police execute Children's Court search warrants. Child protection practitioners may accompany the police; however they must follow prescribed procedures. See Children's Court search warrants - advice and Police protocol.
Differences of opinion may arise between the police and child protection that require resolution to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the client and ongoing working relationships. Where a local issue arises and cannot be resolved between the individuals involved, the protocol between Victoria Police and child protection outlines a dispute resolution model. This should be followed to facilitate resolution.
Under ss. 493 and 494 of the CYFA, police can charge a parent or caregiver for failing to protect a child or leaving a child unattended.
Before proceeding with charges against parents or caregivers, police are required to consult with the Secretary under ss. 493(2) and 494(2)(b) of the CYFA.
This is a function delegated to team managers and above. The procedure however, requires the case to be referred to the Office of Professional Practice who will review and provide advice. Procedures to be followed under these circumstances can be found in the protocol between the department and Victoria Police.
In considering these requests, the team manager will give consideration to the circumstances leading to the potential charges, and will be guided in making a recommendation to the police by the best interests of the child. Key factors to consider include the severity of the incident, the vulnerability of the child, the likelihood of future harm and the responses or beliefs of the parents or caregivers involved.
Planning is an essential element of any proposed investigation. It must be undertaken by police and child protection practitioners prior to any joint investigation. Planning should continue as the investigation progresses to take account of the changing circumstances. The following guide provides a list of matters that should be considered in the planning process:
- nature of abuse or maltreatment
- person(s) to be interviewed
- note the child's chronological age and assess the apparent developmental stage the child has reached, taking an overview of cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social, sexual, physical and other development
- child or young person’s state of mind
- previous MARAM assessments and safety plans from partner agencies
- previous risk assessments in the current report or previous child protection intervention
- presence of special factors arising from child's cultural, religious background or non-English speaking background
- venue(s) for interview
- timing and length of interviews, taking into account child's normal routine
- person(s) present during interviews (particularly important to justify presence of more than one police member and one child protection practitioner)
- VARE interview and availability of VARE facilities
- who will lead the interviews
- agreement on when or the circumstances that either agency withdraws from the investigation
- aspects each agency will want to cover in the interviews
- what method used to document interview(s)
- termination of interview (to prevent either party jeopardising the others' role)
- when the alleged non-offending parent should be first contacted or formally interviewed
- when the alleged offending parent should be interviewed
- assessment of need and subsequent time of need for forensic medical examination
- appropriateness of uniform or plain clothes for police.
Note: This list is not exhaustive. Depending on the case there may be other circumstances to consider. Take the time to discuss these considerations and others and make sure you reach agreement on these matters before commencing an investigation.