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