Child protection practitioners located in MDCs respond to child victims/survivors of sexual abuse in an integrated, multidisciplinary context and environment which provides safety, support and access to justice. They work collaboratively with Victoria Police and Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) to protect children experiencing, or at risk of, sexual abuse.
Terminology / Definitions
MDCs enable a specialist response to sexual offences and child sexual abuse. The centres co-locate child protection practitioners with: Victorian Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) - specialised investigative teams of detectives trained to provide a victim focused specialist investigative response to the complex crimes of sexual assault and child abuse; and Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) - government funded organisations which provide women, children and men who have experienced sexual assault access to comprehensive, timely support and intervention to address their needs.
The MDCs also have close ties with Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service (VFPMS) that provide forensic medical examinations in Victoria, VFPMS for child victims of sexual or physical assault. These specialist professionals work collaboratively to provide a victim/survivor centred, integrated and holistic response to victims of sexual assault from a single location. The primary child protection response at all MDC sites is for child sexual abuse. Some sites have capacity to respond to child physical abuse.
The term ‘victim/survivor’ is used in the MDC context to emphasise that sexual assault victims survive the experience.
Multidisciplinary child protection practitioners are protective interveners
Child protection practitioners located at MDCs have the same responsibilities and delegations as any other child protection practitioner. As protective interveners, child protection practitioners located at MDCs assess risk and act to promote the safety, development and wellbeing of clients. Where a child protection practitioner assesses that a child may be in need of protection they will execute their statutory responsibilities as protective interveners.
Key goals of child protection in the MDC setting are to:
- work with children and their families to develop interventions that best meet the needs of children
- 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
- work with the family to enable long-term change and reduce the likelihood of an out-of-home care placement.
Intake of clients by Multidisciplinary Centre
Child protection reports may be received directly by MDC child protection staff or may be transferred from the child protection divisional intake unit.
Reports of child sexual abuse will most commonly be received and assessed by the divisional child protection intake unit. The divisional intake unit may consult with child protection at the MDC in assessing the report during the intake and assessment phase.
Following an assessment of the information related to the child’s safety and wellbeing, where the report is classified as:
- a wellbeing report, it may be transferred to child protection at the MDC for further follow up to ensure the child’s safety; or
- a protective intervention report requiring further investigation, the report will be transferred to MDC for a child protection response.
Transfer of a report from a divisional intake unit to child protection at the MDC follows the same procedure as when divisional intake transfers protective intervention reports to another divisional child protection investigation unit. It will be followed up by a telephone call, particularly where an urgent response is required. See procedure Investigation for tasks that must be undertaken.
Direct MDC intake
Reports may also be received directly by child protection located at MDC. This will usually be from co-located partners or directly by a member of the public – in this instance, if the MDC SOCIT or CASA are approached by a member of the public or a client who wishes to make a report, they may be supported by the MDC partner agency to provide that information to child protection directly who will take the details of the report either in person or by telephone.
Responding to reports – joint investigations
Where a report is received and classified as a protective intervention report, there will be consultation between the MDC agencies to plan the most suitable way of responding to the presenting issue. An investigation plan will be jointly devised by MDC child protection and MDC SOCIT, and where appropriate in consultation with CASA. See advice Joint visits with the police.
Most commonly one MDC child protection practitioner and one MDC SOCIT member will undertake investigations together where an allegation of child sexual abuse has been made. Even if it transpires during the investigation that there is no role for the MDC SOCIT the responding MDC SOCIT member will remain with the child protection practitioner throughout the visit, or interview, to ensure the practitioner’s safety. At a suitable opportunity a secondary child protection practitioner will be identified from the MDC or wider child protection program to assist with any further visits, interviews, court or placement arrangements.
Joint investigation with police, which would be normal practice in relation to reports concerning alleged sexual abuse, may be problematic in relation to reports about children in contact with registered sex offenders. Police may take the view that the report from the Sex Offender Registry or a Victoria Police compliance manager does not derive from a report of an offence and this may limit police involvement in any investigation. Specific negotiation with the SOCIT may be required, or consideration given to undertaking a joint visit with the compliance manager.
Role of MDC Child Protection
Casework - 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, the practice requirements and procedures are the same as for all Department of Health and Human Services child protection practitioners.
Registered Sex Offenders (RSOs)
The Victorian Police are responsible for managing the Sex Offender Register (SOR). The aim of the register is to ensure that 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. A report from the SOR constitutes a mandatory report from police relating to concerns of likelihood of sexual abuse. These reports are registered in CRIS as ANCOR reports, noting ANCOR is now the National Child Offender System (NCOS). Reports from SOR differ somewhat from other reports received by child protection as they are based on knowledge of the potential perpetrator of abuse, rather than any direct knowledge regarding the subject child or other persons within the child’s immediate family.
Most offenders on the Sex Offender Registry have been convicted of at least one sexual offence against a child (although offenders who have been convicted of offences against adults only may also be placed on the register). This should be central to the intake assessment as it relates directly to the concept of likelihood. When considering whether or not there is a likelihood of significant harm to the subject child, previous behaviour is a key predictor of future behaviour, and therefore of risk to the child.
RSO reports comprise a relatively large proportion of work at MDCs. See procedure Child in contact with sex offender for tasks that must be undertaken.
Consultation when closing RSO reports
Where consideration is being given to closing a report about a child in contact with a sex offender in the intake phase or at any time during child protection involvement, the decision for closure must be reviewed by a team manager in consultation with a principal practitioner or practice leader. Where closure is endorsed, the consultation and rationale for the closure decision must be recorded on the client file by the team manager.
Where there is an allegation of sexual abuse in an existing case within the divisional child protection program, the case may be transferred to MDC child protection, subject to the capacity of the MDC. Where the case is not transferred, MDC child protection may provide secondary consultations to divisional child protection colleagues. This may involve assistance in planning a response or conducting an interview.
Working with families
The provisions relating to child protection in the CYFA have a focus upon protection of children from harm and the reunification of children with their families where this is assessed as in the child's best interests. It is not the role of child protection to apportion and engage in conduct to blame or punish parents. Where a family is alleged to have sexually assaulted a child, the police are responsible for the criminal investigation.
The CYFA provides the power to intervene in families to protect children from abuse, and safeguards and accountability procedures to protect the rights of parents and children. It requires that intervention into the lives and privacy of families is no more intrusive than that required to ensure the safety of children, participation in decision making by parents and timely decision-making and actions on behalf of children. A key goal of child protection in the MDC setting is to support children to reside safely with non-offending family members by working with the family to enable long-term change in the best interests of the child.
While the CYFA provides the legislative authority to respond to reports regarding children believed to be in need of protection, the manner in which this authority is exercised by individual practitioners and managers has a significant impact upon child protection’s ability to achieve outcomes which protect children’s safety, development and wellbeing. There is much research which illustrates that best outcomes in child protection require building respectful and supportive partnerships with families where children are at risk, whilst keeping a primary focus upon risk.
Case closure or transfer
Child protection will remain involved with clients until assessments have been completed and decisions regarding the future long-term role of child protection in supporting the child and family have been made.
In most instances this means MDC child protection retain the case until case closure. However if the decision is reached that a protection application needs to be issued, the case will remain with MDC child protection until a final order is made, and then the case will transfer to another appropriate team for case management.
If there is a dispute about whether MDC child protection should have case responsibility for a new report, the dispute should be managed as quickly as possible through line management with the final decision resting with the area operations manager/assistant director. While the dispute is being resolved, the unit with interim responsibility should commence any necessary investigation or contact with children and families. The aim is to ensure that cases are responded to promptly so that children and young people are protected appropriately.
Arrangements are in place that enable child protection practitioners to both ride in and drive (subject to certain requirements) designated police vehicles. Equally SOCIT members may drive and ride in Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) child protection vehicles. There are procedural requirements to be fulfilled prior to a police officer driving a DHHS vehicle, such as obtaining a photocopy of the police officer’s driver’s licence. Further information can be obtained from DHHS Fleet Management services. The ability of child protection practitioners and Victoria Police SOCIT members to work collaboratively and respond jointly to allegations of sexual assault is fundamental to meeting the objectives of MDCs. This includes travelling together when responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.