What if a report is made about me or a child in my care?

woman holding child

See also: is your child in care?

Children and young people have a right to be safe in their homes and in the community.

Parents and carers are responsible for the safety and welfare of children or young people in their care. Where this does not occur, or is not possible, Community Services becomes responsible for ensuring that children and young people are safe from abuse and neglect.

This means Community Services must respond when someone tells us they think a child or young person has been significantly harmed or injured, or is currently at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect.

If Community Services receives a report about a child or young person in your care, a Community Services caseworker may contact you by telephone or a visit to your home to talk with you and other family members.

Caseworkers are trained to assess the family situation and its effect on children, young people and parents. The knowledge you have about your family is very important and the caseworker will work closely with you and other family members to ensure that relevant information is used in the assessment and that your family’s circumstances are fully considered.

What happens when a caseworker visits me?

When we receive information about a child or young person who may have been significantly harmed or injured, or is at risk of significant harm, we make decisions about how to assess or investigate the report.

Where a serious crime against a child or young person has been alleged, the Joint Investigative Response Team (JIRT, comprised of Community Services, NSW Police and NSW Health) investigates.

In order to find out if a child or young person is safe and their needs are being met, a caseworker may talk to you and ask you certain questions. The caseworker may also need to talk to the child or young person in your care.

Sometimes a caseworker may speak to the child or young person first and parents or carers may not be aware of this. If this happens, please don't worry as caseworkers are trained to talk with children and young people in an age-appropriate way and will be sensitive to their feelings.

The caseworker may also need to talk to teachers, child care workers, doctors, family members, family friends, counselors and other people who are close to the child or young person, or who are responsible for their welfare.

Mostly, children and young people stay with their family throughout Community Services involvement. However where a child or young person has been significantly harmed or injured, or there is a high risk of significant harm or injury to the child or young person, Community Services may have to move them to a safe place. The safe place might be with a relative, trusted friend or foster carer, depending on the situation.

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What can I expect from the caseworker?

Caseworkers are trained to work sensitively and respectfully with you, the child or young person in your care, and other family members.

Your views and opinions and, where possible, those of the child or young person, are important to the caseworker. The caseworker will encourage you and the child or young person's involvement in decisions that affect you both.

When decisions or actions are taken that significantly affect the child or young person, the caseworker must consider the child or young person’s culture, disability, language, religion or sexuality and if relevant, yours too.

You can help the caseworker by letting them know about important beliefs that you have. The caseworker can also help arrange any extra support you need to ensure you can be fully involved in all decisions, such as an interpreter or help with getting to meetings.

The level of action taken by Community Services will be in keeping with the level of harm or risk of significant harm to the safety welfare or wellbeing of the child or young person.

By law, the caseworker’s first priority must be the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the child or young person.

How long will it take Community Services to deal with the matter?

Most inquiries take about a month, however sometimes a longer period of time is needed to make an assessment, for example to allow time to see if a family crisis settles down. Your caseworker can tell you how long the assessment will take.

What if my child is not at risk?

If there is no evidence of harm or risk to the child or young person in your care, the case will be closed. However, if you need help with other matters, you may be referred to services which can provide help and support.

What if my child has been harmed?

If our assessment confirms that the child or young person in your care has been abused or neglected or is at immediate risk of this, we will take action to ensure they are safe from further harm.

What action might Community Services take?

In most cases, Community Services provides practical help, such as organising child care, emergency finance, counseling or information and referral to health or other services.

If the situation is more serious, we will develop a plan with you to protect the child or young person in your care from harm or further harm. This could include counselling and referral to support services for you, the child or young person and other children or young people in your care.

In some cases, Community Services might take the matter to the Children’s Court and apply for an order. The Court can make a range of orders that include (but are not limited to):

  • an assessment order (to authorise a physical, psychiatric or other medical examination of a child or young person, or to authorise an assessment of a person’s capacity to parent)
  • an order accepting undertakings (the parent makes undertakings to the Court about how they will care for their child or young person in their care)
  • an order for supervision (allows Community Services to regularly meet with the child or young person)
  • an order for the provision of support services (a person or organisation is ordered to provide support for the child or young person as specified)
  • an order allocating parental responsibility, or aspects of it (where parental responsibility is transferred in full or in part, to another person).

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What would the caseworker do if they think that the child is not in immediate danger, but they would be unsafe if they continued to live in that house?

The caseworker could apply for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO). The advantages of an AVO in this case is that the person alleged to have caused harm to the child or young person can be ordered to leave the house, rather than requiring the child or young person to leave.

If the caseworker doesn't think an AVO would be enough to protect the child or young person, they may consider making a Care Application to the Children’s Court for an order that the child or young person live somewhere else until it's safe again.

In this case, the Court needs to be satisfied that there is no other or better way to protect the child or young person. The Court makes the decision on the basis of information provided to it by Community Services, parents, caregivers  and sometimes other professionals or people involved.

In a small number of matters, the Court can make an order that places the child or young person in Community Services' care for a period of time.

If this happens, Community Services will arrange a placement for the child or young person, which might be within their extended family (e.g. with their grandparents), with a authorised carer, or in alternative accommodation. In finding a placement for a child or young person, Community Services considers the child or young person's wishes and needs arising from identity, language, cultural and religious ties.

For children or young people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, every effort is made to place the child or young person with extended family, or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family within kinship group or another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family within the local community.

Who else can help?

If the child or young person in your care has been reported to Community Services, we can put you in touch with a counselling service to give you support.

You may also be referred to other services for help such as your local family support agency, a community health centre or other government departments such as Housing or Centrelink.

For legal information or information about Legal Aid call Law Access NSW on 1300 888 529 or TTY 1300 888 529

Who will be involved?

We treat everyone involved in a child protection assessment with courtesy and respect. We respect personal privacy - only people who need to know about Community Services involvement will be informed.

Your views (and where possible, those of the child or young person in your care) are important. Our caseworkers work to ensure that you and the child or young person in your care are involved in any decision-making which will affect them, you or family.

What if I’m not satisfied?

If you are unhappy with the way you are treated by our staff, or not satisfied with the way we are working with you and the child or young person in your care, see our Client Complaints section.

What official records are kept?

Where a child has been reported, it is against the law for Community Services to delete or destroy records. These records are kept in permanent storage.

The law says Community Services must limit access to all personal records to authorised staff only.

If you think someone has reported your child or young person in your care to ‘get back at you’ or the information provided to Community Services is wrong, you can apply in writing to have the matter reviewed by your local Community Services Centre Manager — see our Client Complaints section.

ACWA fact sheets

The Association of Children's Welfare Agencies (ACWA) has fact sheets for parents on issues regarding Community Services and child protection. See the fact sheets on:

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Is Family and Community Services (formerly DoCS) or a non-government organisation talking to you about the safety and wellbeing of your children?  You can get free legal advice to understand what’s going on and what you need to do.

There are free legal assistance services that are state-wide.  These include:

  • Aboriginal Legal Service: 1800 733 233
  • Intellectual Disability Rights Service: free call 1800 666 611 or 9318 0144
  • Legal Aid - Early Intervention Unit: 1800 551 589
  • Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre: 1800 686 587 or 9569 3847
  • Women’s Legal Service NSW
    • Care and Protection Advice Line: 8745 6908
    • Indigenous Women’s Legal Contact Line: 1800 639 784 or 8745 6977
    • Women’s Legal Contact Line: 1800 801 501 or  8745 6988
  • Salvos Legal Advice Bureau:  8202 1500

Otherwise you can call LawAccess NSW for information and referrals on 1300 888 529 and they can direct you to a free legal service in your area.

If you need an interpreter call the Telephone Interpreter Service 131 450.

If you are Deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment, you can contact a free legal service through the National Relay Service (NRS) 1800 555 660

National Relay Service (TTY/Voice) 133 677

Internet Relay: www.relayservice.gov.au

National Relay Service (Speak and Listen) 1300 555 727

Video Relay – choose the available NRS video relay content on Skype and ask for LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529

There are local community legal centres in most FaCS districts. There are also local Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in some FaCS districts. The contact numbers for your local community legal centre and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services are listed below.

FaCS District

FaCS offices

Local Community Legal Centre or Family Violence Prevention Legal Service

Central Coast

Gosford, Lakes, Peninsula, Wyong

Central Coast Community Legal Centre

call 4353 4988

Far West

Broken Hill, Dareton, Wilcannia

Far West Community Legal Centre
call (08) 8088 2020 or 1800 300 036

or

Warra Warra Legal Service

Call (08) 8087 6766

Hunter New England

Armidale, Cessnock, Charlestown, Edgeworth, Glen Innes, Inverell, Maitland, Mayfield, Moree, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Raymond Terrace, Tamworth

North & North West Community Legal Service

toll free 1800 687 687

Hunter Community Legal Centre

call 02 4040 9120

Illawarra Shoalhaven

Nowra, Ulladulla

Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre

call 4422 9529
Toll Free 1800 229 529

Illawarra Shoalhaven

Shellharbour, Wollongong

Illawarra Legal Centre, Warrawong

call  133 677 or 4276 1939

Mid North Coast

Kempsey, Port Macquarie

Many Rivers Family Violence Prevention Legal Service call 6562 5856

or

Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre call 6580 2111

Mid North Coast

Coffs Harbour

Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre call 6580 2111

Murrumbidgee

Albury, Cootamundra, Deniliquin, Griffith, Leeton, Tumut, Wagga Wagga

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service
call 1800 918 377

Murrumbidgee

Griffith

Binaal Billa Family Violence Prevention Legal Service (covers Lake Cargelligo/Murrin Bridge)

call 1800 700 218 or 6850 1234

Nepean Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains, Lithgow,

Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre
call 4782 4155 or 1300 363 967

Nepean Blue Mountains

Hawkesbury, Penrith,
St Marys

Western Sydney Community Legal Centre call 9675 2009

Northern NSW

Ballina, Clarence Valley, Lismore, Tweed Heads

Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre call 6621 1000

Northern NSW

Taree

Many Rivers Family Violence Prevention Legal Service:  6562 5856

or

Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre call 6580 2111

Northern Sydney

Chatswood

Inner City Legal Centre call 9332 1966

Northern Sydney

Pennant Hills

Western Sydney Community Legal Centre  call 9675 2009

South Eastern Sydney

Redfern

Inner City Legal Centre call 9332 1966

or

Redfern Legal Centre call 9698 7277

Redfern Legal Centre also provides a free legal advice at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown

South Eastern Sydney

St George, Sutherland

Marrickville Legal Centre

call 9559 2899

South Western Sydney

Bowral, Campbelltown, Ingleburn

Macarthur Legal Centre

call 4628 2042

South Western Sydney

Bankstown, Fairfield, Liverpool

South West Sydney Legal Centre

call  9601 7777

Southern NSW

Batemans Bay, Bega, Cooma, Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Yass

Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre  
call 4422 9529 or Toll Free 1800 229 529

Southern NSW

Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Yass

Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre

call 4422 9529 or Toll Free 1800 229 529

Sydney

Burwood, Lakemba

South West Sydney Legal Centre

call 9601 7777

Sydney

Central Sydney

Inner City Legal Centre call 9332 1966

or

Redfern Legal Centre call 9698 7277

Western NSW

Bathurst

Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre
call 4782 4155 or 1300 363 967

Western NSW

Bourke, Brewarrina, Cobar, Coonabarabran, Coonamble, Dubbo, Mudgee, Nyngan, Parkes, Walgett

Western NSW Community Legal Centre
call 6884 9422 or Toll Free 1800 655 927

Western NSW

Parkes

Binaal Billa Family Violence Prevention Legal Service (covers Forbes & Peak Hill)

call 1800 700 218 or 6850 1234

Western NSW

Condobolin, Cowra, Orange

Western NSW Community Legal Centre

call 6884 9422 or Toll Free 1800 655 927

Western Sydney

Auburn, Blacktown, Parramatta, Mt Druitt,

Western Sydney Community Legal Centre call 9675 2009 or 8833 0911

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