8. Responding to Abuse and Neglect

Policy

Promoting and protecting the emotional, physical, and sexual safety and general wellbeing of all Girl Guides is central to all aspects of the culture and operation of Girl Guiding in Australia (GGiA). Any reference to abuse and neglect includes harm and risk of harm of any kind.

All Adult Members, Volunteers and Employees, regardless of whether they are mandated by their state or territory legislation, will report any concerns regarding the abuse or neglect of a child or young person as if they were a mandated reporter. This means it is reported to the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency. Support is provided for the making of a report in the Procedures and Guidance Notes for this Policy. The State Commissioner and/or CEO of the relevant SGGO must be informed of any report made to the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency.

GGiA will provide all Adult Members and Volunteers with an ongoing role, and Employees with role appropriate supervision, training, and development to enable them to appropriately recognise and respond to:

(i) disclosures
(ii) allegations
(iii) observations, and
(iv) suspicions of the abuse or neglect of any child or young person.

The procedures to support this policy are included below.

1. Reporting Obligations

In many states and territories, Adults in Guiding may be mandated (required) by law to report the abuse or neglect of children and young people. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has produced a Resource Sheet which provides information about mandatory reporting in each state and territory.

Even where reporting is not mandated, it is the policy of GGA that if any Adult in Guiding believes, suspects, or even worries, that any child or young person has been abused or neglected, or is likely to be abused or neglected, they must follow these procedures and report their concerns as if they were a mandated reporter. Some state and territory legislation uses terminology such as harm and risk of harm from which the child should ordinarily be protected. Whatever the terminology, Girl Guides has ZERO tolerance to child abuse, neglect, harm or risk of harm (of the type the child should ordinarily be protected). Child abuse and neglect should be read to include harm or risk of harm in this context.

All Adults in Guiding must make reports to the police and/or the statutory child protections agency as soon as they form a reasonable belief that a child has been abused, neglected, harmed, or is at risk of harm (harm being non-accidental and of a kind the child which the child is ordinarily protected). In most states and territories failure to make a report of this nature is a criminal offence.  See Contact Details for Reporting Under CSCF.

Each SGGO has an internal process to manage how it receives and processes information about responding to abuse and neglect and how it supports its members through these processes. In all instances you can contact your State Commissioner or the CEO for clarification if your supervisor is not available.

The Guidance Note – Handling and Reporting Child Safety Allegations will provide additional information.

2. Types of Abuse and Neglect (including harm and risk of harm)

Abuse and neglect (including harm and risk of harm) may include any (or all) of the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Child exploitation
  • Emotional abuse (including spiritual and cultural abuse)
  • Exposure to family violence
  • Neglect
  • Grooming.

Most commonly a child will be exposed to more than one form of abuse and neglect. It could be a single incident or recurring– regular or sporadic. A witnessed ‘one-off’ event may be part of a pattern or just one aspect of the abuse and neglect. The lifelong consequences for the child requires all Members, Volunteers and Employees to be aware and ready to act.

For more information, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has produced the When is a Child in Need of Protection webpage, which outlines different types of abuse and neglect reportable in each state or territory.

You (i.e., any Member, Volunteer, or Employee) may become aware of the possible abuse, neglect, harm or risk of harm of a child or young person through:

  • Someone telling you that something happened to them, or to someone else
  • You see or hear something that makes you think that someone has been harmed
  • You just have a feeling, or something doesn’t seem normal or ‘quite right’.

This conduct may:

  • Involve a Youth Member, or another child or young person, as the ‘victim’
  • Involve a Youth Member, or another child or young person as the ‘perpetrator’ (children or young people may also be perpetrators of abuse)
  • Involve an Adult Member, Volunteer, or Employee, or any other adult, as the ‘perpetrator’
  • Occur anywhere, including at a GGiA run or organised event.

If an allegation of abuse or neglect names an Adult Member, Volunteer, or Employee as a perpetrator, this is a potential breach of the GGA Code of Conduct and must be reported to the relevant statutory child protection agency immediately. It must also be reported to the relevant Commissioner (or her delegate) and/or CEO. You must take action as detailed below in accordance with your legal obligations.

See the Guidance Notes for additional support:

3. Reporting Abuse and Neglect (including harm and risk of harm)

While the thresholds for reporting are slightly different in each state or territory of Australia, a good guide is as soon as you form a reasonable suspicion or reasonable belief that a child has experienced, or is at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect or harm (of the type they would ordinarily be protected from) you should make a report. You do not need to have evidence that proves the abuse, neglect, harm or  risk of harm – you only need to have grounds for the reasonable belief or suspicion. It is the role of the relevant statutory child protection agency to manage the report.

You will always start by responding and making sure the child is as safe as possible at the time. There are a number of reporting requirements to make sure everyone who needs to know has the information needed. You should always take steps to review what has happened – this will help keep you safe and there may be learnings to contribute to the Child Safe Child Friendly Policy. There are three key steps: 1 – Respond, 2 – Record and Report, and 3 – Review.

Step 1 – Respond

  • Respond immediately, and calmly

If the child or young person is with you, your first responsibility is to respond to the immediate needs of the child.

Are they safe NOW? Do they need to see the police, a doctor, a counsellor? If so, attend to that immediately. Does someone, such as a parent or sibling, need to come and be with them?

Is everyone else in the vicinity safe NOW? If not call the police (000) or other relevant emergency services.

Tell the child that you believe them, that they did the right thing by telling you, and that you will do what you can to assist them.

Tell the child that you will have to tell other people whose job it is to help children and young people (including the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency), and explain to the child what will happen once you do so.

Don’t ask the child any additional questions about the abuse or neglect – it is not your job to investigate the allegations – that is up to the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency.  It is your job to believe and support the child or young person and to report matters to the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency.

If there are other people who are with you, in particular other children and young people, and they are distressed, respond to their needs as well. Do they need support?

For more information see the Guidance Note – Responding to Abuse and Neglect – What Should I Do

Step 2 – Record and Report

Once you have responded to the immediate concerns, you must start to make a record of what has occurred and other important details. Recording has to be prioritised with considering and/or making reports to the relevant statutory child protection agency. The following is information that will assist you to prioritise this second step of the process. For more information on any area of Step 2 refer to the Guidance Note – Reporting Abuse and Neglect – Who Needs to Know.

  • Record the details

Write down everything that you have seen or heard that makes you think that a child or young person may have been abused or neglected.

Be as accurate and detailed as possible but try not to interpret or analyse what someone may have said or done. Just write down the facts (as you understand them).

Remember, you cannot take an audio or video recording of a child without parental consent.

  • Tell your supervisor

Tell your supervisor as soon as you can. You may do this before you record the details, depending on the circumstances. When you talk to them, give them a summary of what has happened and what you have done, advising them whether or not you have reported the matter to the police and/or the relevant statutory child protection agency.

If the matter involves an allegation against your supervisor, you must contact and speak with your State Commissioner and/or CEO as soon as possible.

  • Report your concerns to the relevant authorities

Once you have spoken with your supervisor, YOU must report the details to police and/or the relevant statutory child protection agency IF you have formed a reasonable belief that the child has been abused or neglected.

Even if your supervisor doesn’t think you should tell the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency, the decision and responsibility to do so is yours – not theirs.  No-one can, nor should, tell you that you cannot formally report the possible abuse or neglect of a child or young person, and you need to be sure that the report is made, and made accurately.

Record:

  • the report number or reference provided to you by the police and/or relevant statutory child protection agency
  • the name of the person you made the report to or the email address/website address used to make the report.

Contact Details for Reporting Under CSCF provides relevant contact details to support Adults in Guiding make reports in line with their responsibilities under the Girl Guides Australia Child Safe Framework.

If you make a report in good faith, you cannot be held legally liable, regardless of the outcome of the report.

If you make a report, you must inform your State Commissioner and/or CEO as soon as practicable. Your State Commissioner and/or CEO (or their delegate) can also provide you with support during the reporting process or with making the decision about whether or not you have a reasonable belief that a child has or is being abused or neglected.

  • Inform parents/carers of the child/children involved

Consider whether or not it is appropriate to notify the parents/carers of the child involved. It will depend on whether there is an immediate risk, whether informing the parents/carers will jeopardise the safety of the child and whether the issues involve the parents/carers. If informing the parents/carers will put the child at risk then you are not required to inform them – use your best judgment or seek the advice of your supervisor.

  • Complete a Girl Guide Incident Report

You must complete a Girl Guide Incident Report, and send the completed report to the relevant Commissioner and/or CEO within 24 hours. If there is delay in completing this form for any reason the relevant Commissioner and/or CEO should be contacted by telephone. Region Managers will be able to help make contact with State Commissioners. This is important as many states and territories require SGGOs to make a formal report under a ‘Reportable Conduct Scheme’ (refer to the Guidance Note – Reportable Conduct Schemes for more information).

Your SGGO may have a special email address to lodge a Girl Guide Incident Report when child abuse is included in the Report. For example for Girl Guides Victoria the email address is: childsafe@guidesvic.org.au. Check the website of your SGGO or call the State office during business hours for further clarification.

If the allegation of abuse or neglect names an Adult Member, Volunteer, or Employee as a perpetrator, this is considered a potential breach of the GGA Code of Conduct and must be referred to the relevant Commissioner (or her delegate) and/or the CEO for internal investigation in accordance with the GGA Complaints Resolution and Investigations Process.

  • Do not investigate

Please remember it is NOT your responsibility to investigate. Any investigation will be undertaken by the police and/or the statutory child protection agency.

  • Confidentiality

You should only share information about your concerns and the disclosures or allegations made to you if it is absolutely necessary to keep the child or other people safe, to comply with this procedure or as required by law.

Step 3 – Review

Being involved in a disclosure can be challenging in many ways. It is challenging even for professional people working in child protection. It is important that you have an opportunity for self-care as soon as this is possible. It is also important that GGiA improves the manner in which it supports people to comply with the Child Safe Child Friendly Policy and make reports appropriately. Your feedback on how to improve our processes will be very welcome. You may have a chance to do these things during the reporting process. If not, take the first opportunity to follow the review steps below.

  • Review the whole reporting process

It is important that you take some time to discuss with your supervisor the impact the whole incident has had on you, and to review the steps you took, what challenges or barriers you came across, and what you might do differently next time.

All Adults, Volunteers and Employees that were involved in the incident should have the opportunity to discuss the matter with their supervisor. Please provide feedback to the relevant Commissioner (or her delegate) and/or the CEO.

  • Seek support if needed

It is also important that you seek help or support if needed.

In addition to receiving personal support from your supervisor (and other GGiA colleagues), you may have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential counselling support. Your SGGO will provide details.

There are other support services available should you need it. Counselling support is available 24/7 from organisations such as Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

  • Debrief

If you are a supervisor involved in this process you will check with all Members, Volunteers and Employees involved in the process to ascertain whether they need to debrief and/or require additional support. Assistance with this process can be sought from the relevant Commissioner (or her delegate) and/or the CEO.

4. Ongoing Concerns about the Safety or Wellbeing of a Child or Young Person

If you have ongoing concerns about the safety or wellbeing of any child or young person, despite following the above procedures, discuss the details with your supervisor.

It might be that you need to make another report to the police or the statutory child protection agency or you may need to speak with an oversight agency in your state or territory (for example: your state or territory Ombudsman, or relevant Children’s Commissioner). This applies even if your supervisor does not agree. If you do make a report to any of these agencies you MUST inform the relevant Commissioner (or her delegate) and/or the CEO as soon as possible. Refer paragraph 3 Reporting Abuse & Neglect above.

5. Support for Youth Member

Where it has been established that abuse of a Youth Member involves a Member, Volunteer or Employee, GGiA will offer appropriate support to the Youth Member. The nature of the support will be determined by the relevant State Commissioner (or her delegate).

6. Allegations of Abuse and Neglect occurring in the past

Even if allegations of abuse relevant to GGiA are received about events that have happened in the past (i.e., that has not been reported in the past or if you do not know if it has been reported in the past) these allegations must be reported to the relevant authorities in line with these policies and procedures.

You must also complete a Girl Guide Incident Report, and lodge it with the State office as per the instructions on that form.

7. Cooperating with all Relevant Authorities

When the reported allegations or concerns involve the abuse or neglect of a child, GGiA will cooperate with all relevant authorities, and will provide information and support in accordance with legal and ethical obligations.

8. Parental Rights and Court Orders

Under Australian law, both parents of a Youth Member will usually have equal ‘parental responsibility’ for that Youth Member unless:

  • there is a ‘Child Protection Order’ in place which has taken away all, or some, of the parental responsibility
  • there is a ‘Family Court Order’ in place which has taken away all, or some, of the parental responsibility
  • there is another legal restriction on ‘parental responsibility’.

If both parents have parental responsibility of a Youth Member, then both parents have an equal say in what happens in the life of the Youth Member and are entitled to equal information about the Youth Member.

If anyone makes an allegation or complaint involving a parent of a Youth Member, GGiA must not ‘take sides’ with one particular parent and must abide by all Court Orders e.g., Child Protection, Family Court Orders and Domestic Violence Orders.

If a Court Order makes reference to how relationships between Unit Leaders, Managers and parents are to be conducted, these must be followed.

Note that a ‘Domestic/Family Violence Order’, or ‘Protection Order’, does not necessarily take away a parent’s parental responsibility, it usually just says who can and cannot have contact with a person. Such orders often extend to children (Youth Members).

If you are uncertain as to how to respond to any of these court orders, then consult with your District or Region Manager. If you do not have a District or Region Manager consult the State Commissioner and/or the CEO.

Last Modified: 23/11/21 at 12:21 PM