SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Child Protection intervenes with families where there is a significant risk of harm to a child or young person.
- A report to Child Protection is appropriate when the risk of harm to children is significant.
- Child First or The Orange Door may be able to help families having difficulties, and a referral to these services may be appropriate if you have a significant concern for the wellbeing of a child, but do not believe they need protection from significant harm.
- Some professional groups are legally mandated to make a report to Child Protection if there is a reasonable belief that the child has been or is being physically or sexually abused.
- Anyone who forms a reasonable belief that a child needs protection can make a report to Child Protection.
- If a child is in immediate danger, contact police on 000.
On this page
In Victoria, any person who believes, on reasonable grounds, that a child is in need of protection from abuse or neglect can make a report to Child Protection. Child Protection will assess and, where necessary, investigate whether the child or young person is at risk of significant harm.
Child Protection is part of the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. It provides child-centred, family-focused services to protect children and young people from significant harm caused by abuse or neglect, where a parent is unable to keep a child safe. It also aims to make sure that children and young people are linked in with the appropriate support services and therapeutic intervention to effectively manage the trauma they have experienced.
Types of abuse and potential signs
If you work with children and young people, you can help to keep them safe by understanding the different types of abuse and being alert for the signs or indicators of harm and taking appropriate action early.
Physical abuse consists of any non-accidental form of injury or physical harm inflicted on a child by any person. Physical abuse can include beating, shaking, burning and assault with weapons.
Physical injury and significant harm to a child may also result from neglect by a parent or caregiver. The failure of a parent or caregiver to adequately ensure the safety of a child may expose the child to extremely dangerous or life-threatening situations, which result in physical injury and significant harm to the child. Exposure to extremely dangerous situations can exist where family violence is present.
Physical abuse also includes Fabricated Illness Syndrome (previously known as Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy), conversion therapy, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female external genitalia and/or injury to the female organs for cultural or any non-therapeutic reasons.
A child is sexually abused when any person uses their authority or power over the child to engage in sexual activity. Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity and may include fondling genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by finger, penis or any other object, voyeurism and exhibitionism. It can also include exploitation through pornography or prostitution.
Failure to protect a child from sexual abuse may occur from a parent’s lack of sufficient capacity to protect the child from such abuse.
Emotional abuse occurs when a child is repeatedly rejected, isolated or frightened by threats or the witnessing of family violence. It also includes hostility, derogatory name calling and put-downs, or persistent coldness from a person to the extent where the behaviour of the child is disturbed, or their emotional development is at serious risk of being impaired.
Family violence is behaviour by a family member that is physically, sexually, economically, emotionally and/or psychologically abusive. It also threatening or coercive or that controls or dominates the family member and causes them to feel fear for their own safety or wellbeing or that of another family member or person.
Children and young people as victim survivors in their own right who have unique experiences, vulnerabilities and needs. The experiences of family violence may vary across communities and people from Aboriginal or diverse backgrounds may additionally experience structural inequalities.
Planning with families to address these concerns requires particular attention to the perpetrator’s patterns of coercive control, and recovery needs of both the child and adult victim survivor. Planning with the adult victim survivor and the child needs to be accompanied by strategies aimed at holding the perpetrator accountable for their family violence and related parenting practices, in ways that continue to support the adult victim survivor’s and child’s safety.
Neglect includes a failure to provide the child with an adequate standard of nutrition, medical care, clothing, shelter, or supervision to the extent where the health or development of the child is significantly impaired or placed at serious risk. A child is neglected if they are left uncared for over long periods of time or abandoned.
People who work with children and young people should pay attention to:
- Physical signs of abuse or neglect – these could include bruises, burns, fractures (broken bones), frequent hunger, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or poor hygiene.
- Behavioural signs of abuse or neglect – these could include showing little or no emotion when hurt, wariness of their parents, alcohol or drug misuse, age-inappropriate sexual behaviour, stealing food, excessive friendliness to strangers or wearing long sleeves and trousers in hot weather (to hide injuries).
- Disclosure – if the child tells you they have been abused.
Responding to signs of child abuse
Each situation is different. In considering the most effective response that will ensure the child’s safety and wellbeing, you may need to gather information and facts. These could include:
- If you have a reasonable belief that a child is being abused in any form, do not wait, contact Child Protection and/or the Police.
- Make notes – record what you observe. Date and sign the entry.
- Consult colleagues – get support and advice from your colleagues and supervisors. Compare notes and brainstorm possible strategies.
- Develop action plans based on procedures – familiarise yourself with your employer’s procedures and processes about what to do.
- Talk to other agencies about helping the family – collaborate with or engage family support services, community health services, local government services, Department of Families, Fairness & Housing and Child Protection contacts, and disability services. You may want to call a case conference for professionals to discuss their concerns.
- Talk to the child – do this with respect for the child’s or young person’s need for privacy and confidentiality. Your role in speaking to the child is not to investigate but rather to provide support.
- Talk to the parent or parents – only if you believe it will not jeopardise the safety of the child or young person or compromise a Child Protection or police investigation should this be required.
Responsibilities of a mandated reporter
The following professional groups are required to make a report to Child Protection where they form a reasonable belief, that a child has been or is at risk of significant harm, as a result of physical or sexual abuse, and the parents/carers are unable or unwilling to protect the child from that abuse:
- registered medical practitioners
- nurses, including midwives
- Victoria police officers
- registered teachers and school principals
- out of home care workers (excluding voluntary foster and kinship carers)
- early childhood workers
- youth justice workers
- registered psychologists
- school counsellors
- people in religious ministry.
As a mandated reporter, you:
- are legally obliged to make a report to Child Protection if you believe on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection from physical or sexual abuse
- must make the report as soon as practicable after forming your belief
- must make a report each time you become aware of any further grounds for your belief.
- are encouraged to make a report to Child Protection in relation to other reasons is in need of protection.
Keep in mind:
- You don’t have to prove that the abuse has occurred, Child Protection will make an assessment and investigate if required.
- If you have formed the belief that a child is in need of protection from physical or sexual abuse, you are obliged to make the report even if someone in a position of authority directs you not to make a report.
- You are responsible for reporting your belief – it is not the responsibility of your manager, supervisor, principal or anyone else – however, if you honestly and reasonably believe all of the grounds for your belief have already been reported to Child Protection by someone else, this is a valid reason for you not to make the same report.
- Mandatory reporting requirements take precedence over professional codes of practice where confidentiality or client privilege would otherwise apply.
- A report made in good faith does not constitute unprofessional conduct or a breach of professional ethics, nor does it subject the person to any liability, or contravene the confidentiality provisions in the legislation governing health and mental health services.
More information is available on the Department of Families, Fairness, and Housing’s Mandatory reporting page.
Contacting Child Protection
To make a report in relation to a child being in need of protection, contact the Child Protection intake service where the child resides as soon as possible. If you are making a report, please use the main Intake Unit number.
For all other enquiries, please contact the appropriate local office.
How to make a report
Call the appropriate Intake phone number. The Child Protection Intake worker will ask you for certain information, including:
- Details – the child’s or young person’s name, age and address.
- Indicators of harm – the reason for believing that the injury or behaviour is the result of abuse or neglect.
- Reason for reporting – the reason why the call is being made now.
- Safety assessment – assessment of immediate danger to the child or children. For example, information may be sought on the whereabouts of the alleged abuser or abusers.
- Description – description of the injury or behaviour observed.
- Child’s whereabouts – the current whereabouts of the child or young person.
- Other services – your knowledge of other services involved with the family.
- Family information – any other information about the family.
- Cultural characteristics – any specific cultural or other details that will help to care for the child, for example, cultural origins, interpreter or disability needs.
A report should still be made, even if you don’t have all the information listed above. The reporter’s identity is protected unless they provide consent for it to be disclosed or it is required by order of the Court.
Your ongoing role when making a report
When Child Protection becomes involved, this may provoke a crisis for the family. After making a report, some of your ongoing responsibilities can include:
- acting as a support person for the child or young person during interviews
- attending a case conference
- participating in case planning meetings
- continuing to monitor the child’s or young person’s behaviour and circumstances for signs of reduced or increased risk
- providing written reports for case planning meetings or court proceedings
- helping families make the changes required to keep children safe.
Where to get help
In Victoria, reports to Child Protection must be made to a protective intervener, or other appropriately delegated officer. Reports cannot be made via the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing’s website or email, as staff who monitor the department’s website are not delegated officers. Almost all reports are made to Child Protection by phone.
To make a report, you should contact the Child Protection intake service covering the local government area (LGA) where the child normally resides.
Telephone numbers to make a report during business hours (8:45 am to 5 pm), Monday to Friday, are listed below.
- North Division intake: 1300 664 977
- South Division intake: 1300 655 795
- East Division intake: 1300 360 391
- West Division intake (metropolitan): 1300 664 977
- West Division intake (rural and regional): 1800 075 599
If you are not sure which number to call, check the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing website for details on the LGAs covered by each intake service.
For immediate help for a child
To report concerns that are life threatening, you should contact Victoria Police on 000.
To report concerns about the immediate safety of a child outside of normal business hours, you should contact After Hours Child Protection Emergency Service on 13 12 78.
If you have a significant concern for the wellbeing of a child, but do not believe they are in need of protection, or that the immediate safety of the child is compromised, a referral to Child FIRST or The Orange Door is appropriate.
- Child protection, Child Protection and Family Services, Children Youth & Families, Victorian Government.
- How to make a report to child protection, Child Protection and Family Services, Children Youth & Families, Victorian Government.
- Responding to children and young people’s disclosures of abuse, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Child protection and mandatory reporting, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victorian Government.