The aim of an MDC is to respond to child and adult victims/survivors of sexual assault in an integrated, multi-disciplinary context and environment which provides safety, support and access to justice. Some MDCs may also respond to matters relating to physical abuse and serious family violence where a multi-disciplinary response is required. While the MDC service responds to the needs of adults, children and young people, child protection is only involved where a child or young person may be in need of protection.
MDCs have been developed to improve responses to sexual offences and child sexual abuse. The centres co-locate child protection practitioners with specialist police investigators and sexual assault counsellor/advocates, as well as having strong links to forensic medical personnel. These specialist professionals work collaboratively to provide victims/survivors a centred, specialist, integrated and holistic response to victims of sexual abuse from a single location. Better integration and co-location of various agencies has the capacity to significantly improve the response to victims/survivors. MDCs provide services to any person who has experienced or any child who is at risk of sexual abuse.
While the primary focus of MDCs is responding to victim/survivors of sexual assault, some MDCs, with approval, also respond to matters relating to physical abuse and serious family violence in circumstances where a joint investigation is required by child protection and Victoria Police.
Adult and child victims/survivors of sexual abuse may be inhibited from reporting their experiences and may not seek support due to a number of barriers, including:
- community attitudes and beliefs
- the trauma being experienced
- past experiences or negative expectations about likely service responses
- accessibility of services and information.
The primary goal of the MDC response is to meet the needs of victims/survivors by addressing their safety, wellbeing and ability to regain control of their circumstances; and providing access to support, information, justice and services appropriate to their needs.
The complexity of response to child victims of sexual abuse may be compounded by their age and vulnerability, conflicted family relationships (particularly where the offender is a family member) and the secrecy and divided loyalties that can surround the abuse. MDCs provide a holistic approach that centres on supporting the child while attending to the family’s needs through a highly coordinated approach to the forensic investigation and support and counselling. Responses are intrinsically guided by the best interest principles.
Providing specialist responses to children
The multidisciplinary approach supports a timely and skilled response to sexual abuse cases for children and their non-offending family members.
Child protection practitioners, police members and sexual assault counsellors/advocates work together to develop interventions that best meet the needs of children and support non-offending parents to understand the child’s experience of abuse so that they are better positioned to support the child and provide safety.
MDCs provide children and non-offending family members with access to support and counselling throughout the disclosure process, thus assisting the child and their family to manage the impact of the abuse and to anticipate and manage further disclosures which may emerge later.
MDCs improve the capacity of agencies to work collaboratively leading to:
- provision of improved support for victims/survivors
- integrated investigation of sexual offences and child abuse
- improved quality of evidence in sexual offence and child abuse cases
- increased reporting of sexual offences and reduced attrition from justice (complaints withdrawn), health and support systems.
Victims/survivors experience fewer service providers, more timely and accessible responses, increased sensitivity, privacy and anonymity. They are kept appraised of the legal status of the case whilst working with other service providers.
Child protection practitioners working within the MDC aim to achieve outcomes in the best interests of the child. A key goal is to support children to reside safely with non-offending family members by working with the family to enable long-term change and reduce the likelihood of an out-of-home care placement. Children’s Court proceedings are instigated only where all other options to provide safety and support within the family have been exhausted.
The term ‘victim/survivor’ is used in the MDC context to emphasise that sexual assault victims survive the experience.
MDCs aim to provide a victim centred response to sexual assault and child sexual abuse through the co-location of the following agencies:
Department of Health and Human Services - Child Protection
Child Protection’s role is to receive reports and conduct protective investigations and interventions. MDC child protection practitioners undertake joint investigations with Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) members into reports of child sexual abuse, and in consultation with CASA. In some circumstances, MDCs may also investigate child physical abuse and serious family violence involving a child. MDC child protection practitioners usually carry a case from the initial report through to closure. In the event it is necessary to issue a protection application the case is held by MDC child protection until a final order is made, and then transferred to the relevant divisional unit.
The Victoria Police SOCIT is a specialised investigative team of detectives trained to provide a victim focused specialist investigative response to the complex crimes of sexual assault and child abuse. The role of SOCIT is to investigate crime, apprehend offenders, work in partnership to ensure an empathetic, comprehensive and professional response to victims of sexual assault and child abuse and initiate and implement prevention, reduction and support strategies.
Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASAs)
CASAs are government funded organisations that provide women, children and men who have experienced sexual assault access to comprehensive, timely support and intervention to address their needs. CASA provides free and confidential specialist counselling to adults, young people and children who have experienced sexual assaults either recently or in the past, and to their non-offending parents, partners, family, carers and friends. Specialist sexual assault workers are referred to as ‘counsellors/advocates’ to reflect their dual role. Counselling and support work is complemented with the provision of information and advocacy in relation to legal, medical and social issues.
Some CASAs also provide a holistic, family focused, therapeutic prevention and early intervention service to children and young people under the age of 15 years who have engaged in problematic or abusive sexualised behaviour.
MDC Community Health Nurses
Nurses, employed by local community health organisations provide specialised health services responding to victim survivors’ immediate and long-term needs arising from their experiences of sexual assault.
Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service (VFPMS)
VIFM has statutory responsibility for the provision of forensic medical examinations in Victoria. In the case of recent sexual assault, forensic medical examinations are conducted for the dual purpose of providing immediate medical care and attention to the victim as well as collecting and documenting forensic medical evidence where consent is provided.
VFPMS co-ordinates and supports the provision of forensic medical examinations for child victims of sexual or physical assault via a network of trained doctors/paediatricians throughout Victoria.
Neither VIFM or VFPMS are currently located at any of the MDC sites.
MDC partners collaborate with agencies, children, families and divisional child protection programs to achieve outcomes in the child’s best interests. Coordination and cooperation are vital to managing these complex cases. Interagency collaboration is recognised as the defining benefit of co-location of services. These collaborative partnerships are characterised through each agency’s willingness to enhance the capability of other partner agencies to create a better service system for victims/survivors.
In addition, the partners proactively share specialist knowledge and skills with their professional collaborators through formal and informal mechanisms including specialist training, formal and informal case consultation, planning sessions, and regular staff and management meetings.
Common characteristics of partner agencies include a commitment to provide a supportive, empathic, professional and comprehensive response to victims/survivors and their families and to initiate prevention strategies.
The principles which underpin the operation of MDCs apply to all co-located agencies, including child protection. Agencies:
- provide victims/survivors with empathic, professional and comprehensive responses
- work according to the best interests of the victims/survivors and uphold their rights including their human rights
- work collaboratively to ensure that the victims/survivors receives an integrated response
- recognise each other’s distinct roles and professional approach
- engage and support families to provide a safe and stable environment for victims/survivors
- support victim/survivors throughout all parts of any investigation process
- provide victim/survivors with timely responses and information
- endeavour to support all victims/survivors from marginalised and disadvantaged groups so that services are accessible
- are committed to continuous strengthening of their MDC partnerships.
Child sexual abuse
MDCs respond to reports of child sexual abuse and children at risk of sexual abuse. While MDC child protection practitioners work collaboratively with partner agencies, practice requirements and procedures are the same as for all Department of Health and Human Services child protection practitioners. Once transferred to the MDC, a case will usually be held by the MDC until case closure or a final order is made.
Child physical abuse
MDCs, with approval (see section below on approval process), may respond to reports of child physical abuse where a multidisciplinary response is required. Consistent with matters relating to child sexual abuse, practice requirements and procedures are the same as for all Department of Health and Human Services child protection practitioners.
Serious family violence
MDCs, with approval (see section below on approval process), may respond to reports of serious family violence recognising that some reports of this nature require a coordinated, joint response from child protection and Victoria Police. Consistent with matters relating to child sexual abuse, practice requirements and procedures are the same as for all Department of Health and Human Services child protection practitioners.
Registered sex offenders (RSOs)
Victorian Police is responsible for managing the Sex Offender Register. The aim of the register is to ensure people convicted of sexual offences against children (and other serious sexual offences) after 2003 are able to be monitored by police once they have served their sentence. MDC child protection practitioners work with Victoria Police who monitor RSOs. Where concerns arise regarding contact between a RSO and a child in an area covered by an MDC, a report is made directly to MDC child protection by Victoria Police. MDC child protection practitioners respond to the report as they would any other report. RSO reports comprise a relatively large proportion of work at MDCs. For further information see Child in contact with sex offender.
Therapeutic treatment orders (TTOs)
Therapeutic treatment orders (TTOs) aim to ensure early intervention for young people who exhibit sexually abusive behaviours to help prevent the potential for ongoing and more serious offences. Child protection practitioners co-located in MDCs may accept a report and/or investigation in relation to a child exhibiting sexually abusive behaviours and transfer case management responsibility to another divisional unit where longer term involvement is required. Reporting arrangements between child protection and Victoria Police in relation to children exhibiting sexually abusive behaviours is addressed in the Police protocol. MDC child protection practitioners may be involved in TTO matters. See Allegations of sexually abusive behaviour (TTR), Investigation of sexually abusive behaviour and Therapeutic treatment resources.
Another role of MDC child protection is to provide support to families where there are concerns of sexual harm for the wellbeing of an unborn child once born, pursuant to sections 29 and 30 of the CYFA.
Where there is an allegation of sexual abuse in an existing case within the divisional child protection program, MDC child protection may provide secondary consultation to divisional child protection colleagues. This may involve assistance in planning a response or conducting an interview. A case note about the consultation will be placed on CRIS.
Approval to investigate a harm type other than sexual abuse
Where a child protection area seeks to expand the harm type investigated by a MDC beyond the investigation of sexual abuse, for example to also investigate physical abuse and/or serious family violence, endorsement is required from the Deputy Secretary, Community Services Operations (CSO) Division. To obtain Deputy Secretary CSO endorsement a memo and proposal from the Deputy Secretary Operations Division must outline the rationale, merits, costs, resource and staffing implications of the proposed change. Demand should be anticipated based on the experience of recent investigations of the same nature requiring a joint response with Victoria Police undertaken by investigations teams in the area.
Each agency remains responsible for its own statutory responsibilities under their respective authorising legislation. The CYFA provides the legislative basis for child protection actions, including the authority to respond to reports about children believed to be in need of protection.
Interaction between the MDC partner agencies is governed by three documents that form the ‘MDC Framework’, which has been agreed upon by the MDC partners. The ‘MDC Framework’ should be considered in conjunction with this service description.
- The Letter of Understanding (LoU) outlines the roles and responsibilities of the partner agencies, governance arrangements, information sharing obligations of the agencies in the MDC setting and procedures for conflict resolution.
- The Statewide Agreement articulates the statewide parameters for MDCs to support delivery of a client centric service from one location. The agreement intends to provide consistency in the operation of MDCs across Victoria, whilst also supporting local decision making.
- The Local Agreement sets out the local operational arrangements of each MDC specific to that particular division.
The number of child protection staff located at each MDC will vary according to local service demand, proportional to the number of investigations undertaken by the respective departmental area and reviewed on an annual basis.
All child protection practitioners should have a minimum of 12 months child protection experience prior to being co-located at an MDC with an experience level of two years preferable. Where a child protection practitioner does not meet these requirements, but there is an acute business need to co-locate them in an MDC, a support plan must be in place including a timeframe within which they will receive all necessary training and arrangements for direct supervision to be provided by an experienced CPP5. Training requirements for child protection practitioners co-located in MDCs is outlined below under ‘training.’
MDCs may invite divisional child protection practitioners to experience working at the local MDC for a period of time, such as one or two weeks. These practitioners are not appointed to the MDC, but rather come on a rotational basis. This affords divisional child protection practitioners the opportunity to enhance their skills, and gain insight into the workings of the MDC. In addition it gives divisional child protection practitioners an opportunity to establish working relations with SOCIT and CASA that they can take with them back to the division.
The principal practitioner and area-based practice leasers in each division are available for consultation with MDC child protection practitioners. Most often this will involve the principal practitioner or practice leader attending the MDC site to consult on cases. In some instances the principal practitioner must be consulted, such as when consideration is being given to closing a report about a child in contact with a sex offender.
Joint training is provided for all staff and supported by each agency to ensure collaborative practices are developed and maintained. Joint training assists in facilitating acceptance and understanding of professionals’ distinct and collective roles, boundaries of expertise and strategies to prevent conflict and subsequent system failure. The training also assists professionals to build skills in conflict prevention and resolution (such as open communication, assertiveness and team building).
In addition to joint-training, child protection practitioners co-located at an MDC must have completed the following departmental training:
- Beginning Practice
- Working with Children and Families Affected by Sexual Abuse
- Family Violence.
Where an experienced child protection practitioner or manager has completed Working with Children and Families Affected by Sexual Abuse more than six years prior to being co-located at an MDC, the practitioner should be enrolled in forensic interviewing training.
In circumstances where a recently recruited child protection practitioner has previous child protection experience interstate or overseas, child protection operational areas may determine, on a case-by-case basis, their suitability to be co-located in a MDC provided they are enrolled in all necessary training and directly supervised by an experienced CPP5 until training is completed.
MDC child protection operates in the same manner as divisional child protection in terms of recording of information and file management. MDC child protection practitioners have access to CRIS at the MDC site and record information on CRIS in accordance with usual child protection practice. Hard files are stored in secure areas. See Information security.
MDCs may be housed in buildings that also accommodate other services. Consideration should therefore be given to ensuring the privacy and safety of victims/survivors. Adult alleged sex offenders are not permitted access to the MDC. However treatment programs for adolescents with sexually abusive behaviours or children with problem sexual behaviours may occur in a set of rooms adjacent or attached to an MDC. Where this occurs, a separate space should be used that is separate, unlinked and accessed differently to victims/survivors spaces to limit the risk of contact between children and young people accessing these programs and victims/survivors attending the MDC.
Process evaluation mechanisms will be established to ensure that trends, outcomes and continuous improvement opportunities are identified for MDC child protection practice. Data collection is essential to this and will be undertaken by MDCs through case recording on CRIS and other identified means.
The practice at MDCs has developed gradually over time in each of the seven existing locations. Accordingly there are variations in the operation of the seven existing MDCs as follows:
New allegations of sexual/physical abuse in existing divisional case
Where new allegations of sexual/physical abuse arise in existing divisional cases, some MDCs will accept the transfer of these cases while others will not. However, secondary consultations may be available to assist child protection colleagues in the division, helping plan the response and assisting with interviews.
Direct MDC intake
Where a report is made directly to MDC child protection, MDC child protection practitioners at most MDC sites will refer the reporter to the division’s intake unit to assess and classify the report.
Following the intake phase, where a report is classified as a wellbeing report, some MDCs will accept the transfer of the report, to conduct any necessary follow up to ensure the child’s safety. However other MDCs will only accept a report that has been classified as a protective intervention report.
MDCs are presently located in: Bayside Peninsula; Dandenong; Morwell; Barwon; Werribee/Wyndham; Mildura and Loddon.