Working with JIRT

Information for NGO caseworkers working with Joint Investigation Response Teams (JIRT) to support children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC) NGOs

The response a child or young person receives following a disclosure of abuse can be critical to their ongoing wellbeing and in ensuring their future safety and the safety of other children and young people. The relationship between your organisation and JIRT is instrumental to the wellbeing of children and young people, including those who may be identified as the alleged offender/person of interest (POI).

JIRT requires NGO caseworkers and carers to ensure JIRT has timely and unencumbered access to any child or young person involved in their investigation.

The timing of JIRT interviews can often be pivotal to the progress and integrity of an investigation and once a child has made a disclosure, it generally signals that the child or young person is ready to begin to talk about the abuse. It is helpful to remember that a child’s disclosure of abuse is a process, rather than an event, which often means that children will continue to tell different aspects of their story over time. It is important that any new information is communicated to JIRT via the Helpline.

What is JIRT?

JIRT is an interagency service delivery model consisting of FACS, Police and Health. These agencies work collaboratively to enable timely exchange of information and planned and coordinated responses designed to minimise the trauma for the child or young person and support non-offending family members and carers. JIRT is guided by the legislative principle that a child or young person’s safety and wellbeing are paramount.

There are 22 JIRTs across NSW. A local JIRT response involves a FACS Caseworker and a Police Investigator, who are trained in assessing and investigating reports of serious child abuse that may involve a criminal offence. Liaison with the JIRT Senior Health Clinician enhances this response and ensures that the support needs of the child, young person and family are addressed.

There will be times when JIRT will need to assess and investigate a report about a child that is being case managed by an NGO. This will require NGOs and JIRTs to work collaboratively to provide the best opportunity for optimum outcomes for children and young people. This collaboration requires a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities and processes.

Legislative responsibilities and framework

Section 9 of the Children and Young People (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (the Care Act) outlines that in any action or decision concerning a particular child or young person, the safety, welfare and well-being of the child or young person are paramount. This means FACS has responsibilities to all children irrespective of whether that child or young person is a victim of abuse or a perpetrator of abuse.

Chapter 16A of the Care Act allows JIRT and OOHC NGOs to share information relating to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children or young people without having to gain consent from parties.[1]

Section 157 of the Care Act outlines authorised carers authority in making decisions about the day-to-day care of the children and young people in their care. This authority does not extend to authorised carers and NGO caseworkers making decisions about a child or young person’s participation in a JIRT investigative process. This is a decision made by JIRT, given the parental responsibilities held by the Minister and administered by the FACS arm of JIRT.

There are provisions under the Care Act that can result in an offence should it be determined that individuals have hindered, obstructed or delayed FACS staff exercising their duties under the Act. Additionally, the Crimes Act 1900 provides Police with the ability to take action against persons who are hindering an investigation.

Initial responsibilities for NGO caseworkers

What are my record keeping and reporting responsibilities?

When a child’s disclosure is brought to the attention of the NGO caseworker, it is important to ensure that the information is accurately recorded and reported to appropriate bodies. NGO caseworkers should keep written records of all conversations, actions and decisions (and reasons for decisions). These records should be signed and dated and include what was said, where, when and by whom.

Foster carers should also keep a record of the disclosure. Caseworkers may need to ask foster carers some clarifying questions to establish the extent of risk and harm that has occurred.

An assessment of risk should be made at the time of the initial disclosure and should be recorded and updated regularly, particularly when new or additional information is obtained. Any risk management action must be taken with the clearance of, or in liaison with FACS or JIRT. Taking action without clearance from investigative agencies may result in damaging criminal or other investigative processes with adverse effects on the ongoing safety of children and young people.

NGO caseworkers need to consider:

  • Has a report been made to the Child Protection Helpline? It is recommended that the Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) is applied to guide your decision making about whether or not to make a report to the Child Protection Helpline.
  • Is there an immediate risk of harm? If there is, or if it is alleged that a sexual offence has occurred within the last five days, contact your local police.
  • What are the internal reporting requirements of your agency? The disclosure may require reporting to the Office of the NSW Ombudsman and the Office of the Children’s Guardian.

How can I support my carers?

The process of a child’s disclosure can be distressing and stressful for all parties. It is important that caseworkers provide the necessary support and guidance for the foster carer. This in turn will enable foster carers to provide the day to day support and care to the child or young person. It is also important that caseworkers access the appropriate supervision or professional support to assist them in their responsibilities.

Caseworkers need to ensure that the foster carers they support are confident about:

  • how to identify a disclosure of abuse and potential signs of abuse
  • how to appropriately respond to a child making the disclosure
  • the appropriate recording and reporting mechanisms.

What if the disclosure raises concerns about an OOHC NGO carer?

When a disclosure involves the behaviour of a carer, the OOHC NGO has additional responsibilities under the Ombudsman Act 1974. For full details of OOHC NGO’s responsibilities under this Act and what constitutes reportable conduct, please contact the Office of the NSW Ombudsman.

OOHC NGOs also need to ensure that they update the Carers Register when a reportable allegation is made. For full details of OOHC NGO’s responsibilities in relation to the Carers Register, please contact the Office of Children’s Guardian.

In addition to reporting and investigating responsibilities, the OOHC NGO must assess and manage risks in relation to the carer. It is important that the OOHC NGO does not take any risk management or investigative action until liaison and clearance is gained from JIRT. The Office of the NSW Ombudsman can provide practical advice and support in relation to the management of these processes.

Working with JIRT to support children and young people in OOHC

OOHC NGOs and JIRT have the shared goal of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the child or young person, this includes children and young people who may be an offender or person of interest (POI). It is important for JIRT to communicate information about their process to the OOHC NGO particularly as it can have ramifications for risk management, case management and planning. If you are having difficulties managing risk or accessing services please contact your local JIRT.

What happens at the Child Protection Helpline?

Once a report is made to the Child Protection Helpline, a decision will be made about whether the information reaches the threshold of risk of significant harm (ROSH). The Helpline will advise the reporter in writing about whether the information reaches the ROSH threshold and, when appropriate, will include advice that the matter has been referred to the JIRT Referral Unit (JRU) for a more detailed assessment.

Helpline staff will ask the reporter for consent for FACS to share their identifying information with NSW Police and NSW Health.

If you have not received advice about the outcome of your report you can make further enquiries by contacting your local CSC and providing them with the Helpline reference number.

What happens at the JIRT Referral Unit (JRU)?

The JRU reviews, analyses, and gathers information to inform the decision about whether the referral will be accepted for a JIRT response. The JRU will then transfer accepted matters to the relevant JIRT. The decision about which JIRT is allocated a matter is based on where the alleged victim is residing, not where the alleged incident occurred.

Matters that are not accepted for a JIRT response will be referred to a Community Service Centre (CSC) or Police Local Area Command (LAC).

The JRU timeframes for decisions ensure field staff are able to comply with required response times. If a matter has been assessed as ROSH requiring a less than:

  • 24 hours response, a decision to accept or reject must be made by JRU within 2 hours and transferred to the relevant JIRT/CSC/LAC
  • 72 hours response, a decision to accept or reject must be made by JRU within 24 hours and transferred to relevant JIRT/CSC/LAC
  • 10 days response, a decision to accept or reject must be made by JRU within 72 hours and transferred to relevant JIRT/CSC/LAC.

What happens when JIRT accepts and commences an investigation?

Once JIRT receives a referral from JRU the three agency arms of JIRT meet to review the referral and may seek additional information (including from the OOHC NGO and other stakeholders) before they progress to a field response. Ongoing communication between JIRT and the OOHC NGO should occur throughout the JIRT process.

JIRT needs to tailor its response to ensure the individual needs of the child or young person are met (including children and young people who may be the alleged offender or POI). It is important to remember that not all matters will result in a criminal prosecution. Each process is different and may involve the following:

  • Medical examination: this is coordinated by the JIRT Senior Health Clinician and has a number of purposes including ensuring that the child is well and addressing any physical issues or injuries, collecting any forensic evidence and providing assurance to the child and carer about any ongoing health issues.
  • Interview of the child or young person/alleged victim: conducted by highly trained JIRT staff (police and FACS) and is:
    • usually conducted in an interview suite or another appropriate safe setting by JIRT interviewers who are experienced and trained to interview in a way that minimises trauma for the child. The child will be asked to tell their story in detail.
    • video recorded, as required by legislation (if the child is under the age of 16 years). The video may become the child’s ‘evidence in chief’ if the matter proceeds to a court hearing so that the child does not have to re-tell his or her story in its entirety and only has to respond to cross examination.
    • usually conducted without a support person. If a child wishes to have a support person present, JIRT can make appropriate arrangements.
  • Interview of the child or young person who may be the alleged perpetrator / person of interest (POI): These children are case managed by the local CSC. If the child or young person is:
    • under ten years of age, the matter is not pursued criminally and JIRT generally will not interview the offending child, however it is important that it is reported so that protective action is taken and therapeutic intervention arranged to address the behaviour. This is critical for children in OOHC and seeks to protect the offending child and other children they may be placed with.
    • aged between 10 and 18 years, JIRT considers each matter individually to determine whether pursuing criminal action against the child will result in the best outcome for those involved. This decision is guided by the principle that the safety, welfare and well-being of the child or young person are paramount. JIRT will liaise with the local CSC who has case management responsibilities for the offending child and will consider:
      • what action needs to be taken to secure the safety of children and young people, this may include a placement change or increased supervision for children in OOHC
      • alternate options to criminal prosecution to address the issue, such as accessing support and counselling to address sexualised or other violent behaviour. We know that early take up of counselling has long term wellbeing benefits for the perpetrating child, as well protecting other children
      • severity and nature of the alleged abuse and the age of the child.
  • Interviews of potential witnesses and forensic analysis (court ordered and other): including carers and caseworkers
  • Health and counselling support: The JIRT Senior Health Clinician:
    • participates in the interview planning stage, provides information and support at the time of the interview to the child and the carer including enabling the carer to provide support directly to the child.
    • coordinates plans for the health and support needs, including arranging referrals for counselling for the carer and child. Often counselling for the child will focus on what is happening now for the child and young person, not necessarily the abuse. Counselling support and information for the carer is crucial to ensure the quality of the overall support of the child or young person and the ongoing stability of the placement.
  • Placement review and change (if necessary)
  • Court proceedings: including criminal proceedings and Children’s Court care proceedings.

More information about JIRT

What is JIRT? podcast and transcript can be accessed on the NGO Learning website.

The NGO Learning Centre website also contains an online classroom that includes modules on the MRG, online reporting and ‘What is child protection reporting and Keep Them Safe’

Additional information about role of JIRT can be found on the FACS website.

For JIRT Manager Client Service contact details please contact CSStatewideServicesJIRT@facs.nsw.gov.au

[1] The Care Act also allows FACS to request information from prescribed agencies under section 248, which is used in strictly limited circumstances and with the approval Director Community Services. In the exercise of the Minister’s parental responsibility, FACS may also require information from OOHC NGOs or access to certain information about the performance of services under section 6 of the Standard Service Agreement.

To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111 (24 hours/7 days)