Critical Incidents

Information and resources for out-of-home care non-government organisations

The following is a collection of resources and information to assist OOHC NGOs improve their response to critical incidents and to think about what their organisation needs to consider in managing critical incidents.

There are a number of partner organisations that can assist OOHC NGOs to develop systems to mitigate the risk of critical incidents occurring and to help them to respond and manage when a critical incident occurs

The Office of the Children’s Guardian’s (OCG) website www.kidsguardian.nsw.gov.au contains considerable information about how to become a child safe organisation including developing child safe policy, codes of conduct, staff recruitment and management, risk management, privacy considerations, listening to children and young people, and complaints management. The OCG also provides Child Safe organisation training.

Their website also contains information about the Carers Register. OOHC NGOs have particular responsibilities to update carers’ details in relation to reportable conduct investigations.

The Office of the NSW Ombudsman’s (Ombudsman) website www.ombo.nsw.gov.au contains a number of fact sheets on specific reportable conduct topics to assist in the development of your policies and procedures. Topics include; an agency self-assessment checklist for reviewing child protection policies, planning and conducting an investigation, defining reportable conduct, risk assessment and management, how their office assesses an investigation, making a finding, keeping records and addressing child protection issues in codes of conduct.

Heads of OOHC NGOs are required to contact the Ombudsman as soon as practicable and within 30 days that an agency becomes aware of a reportable conduct allegation. Information about what constitutes reportable conduct and the notification form can be found on the Ombudsman’s website. The Ombudsman encourages OOHC NGO’s to contact their office early in the process as this is often when the Ombudsman can add the most value.

OOHC NGOs have a responsibility to conduct an investigation and take reasonable management action based on a risk assessment informed by all available evidence. At the end of this process, the OOHC NGO needs to make a finding in relation to the reportable conduct and provide these findings and all relevant documentation to the Ombudsman. Information about investigative processes and training provided by the Ombudsman can be found on their website.

The Ombudsman also has a role in reviewing deaths of children in OOHC. NGOs providing OOHC need to report the death of a child to the Ombudsman only when it relates to a reportable allegation. NGOs are expected to provide the Ombudsman with access to records to allow them to undertake their review and should carefully consider any reports provided by the Ombudsman about the death of a child. Systemic findings and recommendations made by the Ombudsman can be a helpful tool for practice improvement.

Joint Investigation Response Teams (JIRT) Every matter that comes to the attention of JIRT is a critical incident. JIRT teams are made up of police (criminal investigation and prosecution), FACS (ROSH assessments and protective interventions) and health (medical and therapeutic interventions). Collaborative work between OOHC NGOs and JIRT will provide the best opportunity for optimum outcomes for children and young people.

More information about JIRT and access to the JIRT podcast and Working with JIRT help sheet can be found on the NGO Learning Centre website. Further information about JIRT including information for NGO caseworkers working with JIRT following a disclosure of abuse is also available on the Community Services website.

The Helpline can provide tours of the Helpline and their representatives are able to come to your organisation to speak directly with your staff about their role and processes. The Mandatory Reporter Guide (MRG) should be used by organisations to assist their decision making about risk of significant harm (ROSH). More information and resources including how to make an e-report are available on the FACS Community Services website.

NSW Police If there is an immediate risk of harm it may be necessary to contact the police before a helpline report is made.

Family and Community Services (FACS) will often have an investigative or other role in critical incidents particularly when parental guardianship is with the Minister. When reportable conduct matters have been referred to FACS or NSW Police, it is important for NGO’s to work collaboratively with these agencies and not take any investigative or risk management action until they have gained clearance from these agencies. Failure to liaise and gain clearance from FACS and police can have serious and detrimental consequences for the ongoing safety and welfare of children and young people.

Further guidance is available about information sharing under Section 16A Children and Young People (Care and Protection) Act 1998.

When a child dies who was placed with an NGO, the NGO is responsible for undertaking their own internal child death review that looks at their policy and practice. FACS’ Office of the Senior Practitioner liaises closely with the NGO to guide and provide assistance with reviews and to share findings from FACS and NGO child death reviews with interested parties such as the Minister for Family and Community Services, NSW Ombudsman and NSW Coroner’s Court.

The FACS Community Services website www.community.nsw.gov.au contains information, links and resources for OOHC NGOs.

Victims Services provide support for victims of crime including information, referral, counseling and financial support. OOHC NGO’s have particular responsibilities under the Charter of Victims Rights and the Code of Practice that need to become part of your organisations policies and procedures. The Supporting victims of crime guidelines and Supporting victims of crime: Information for OOHC NGO caseworkers factsheet are designed to provide assistance to NGO OOHC service providers in meeting their responsibilities to victims of crime.

Further information and publications can be found on the Victims Services website: www.victimsservices.justice.nsw.gov.au.

The Coroner, in the event of a child death, section 172 of the Children and Young People (Care and Protection) Act 1998 requires OOHC NGOs (as the designated agency having supervisory responsibility for the child or young person) to notify the parents of the child or young person, the Children’s Guardian and the Coroner. A death of a child in care is subject to Section 24 of the Coroners Act 2009 and will be reviewed by the FACS Critical Review Team, the NSW Ombudsman’s Child Death Review Team and the NSW Coroner. The Coroner will liaise with FACS when a child has died. The central point of contact within FACS is the Serious Case Review unit (formally Child Deaths and Critical Reports).

Information about support services that can be provided by the Coroners Office is available on their website.

When a child dies in an NGO foster placement, the NGO is generally the agency that has a relationship with the foster family and would be responsible for contact and support with the foster family and liaison with the Coroner’s Court. Involvement in coronial liaison with biological parents would depend on whether the NGO has an established relationship with the parents. This would differ from case to case.

The Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec) is recognised as the peak NSW Aboriginal body providing child protection and out-of-home care (OOHC) policy advice to the government and non government sector on issues affecting Aboriginal families involved in child protection and OOHC system. They also provide information, resources and training to Aboriginal OOHC NGOs in relation to a wide variety of issues including reportable conduct, which can be found on their website www.absec.org.au

The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) is the NSW non-government peak body representing the voice of community organisations working with vulnerable children, young people and their families. ACWA also has a training arm, the Centre for Community Welfare Training (CCWT). More information can be gained on their website: www.acwa.asn.au

NGO Learning Centre website provides accessible training and resources for non-government organisation employees who work with children, young people, families and communities in NSW. It contains a number of podcasts outlining the role of JIRT, ACWA, AbSec, OCG and the Ombudsman in managing critical incidents.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse’s website contains information about their comprehensive research program into topics relevant to its work. The program studies prevention, reporting and responding to allegations of child sexual abuse as well as support and redress. The Royal Commission also releases Issues Papers and invites public submissions on these papers. Their work is ongoing and their publications include: Hear no evil, see no evil: Understanding failure to identify and report child sexual abuse in institutional contexts, Taking Us Seriously: Children and young people talk about safety and institutional responses to their safety concerns.

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