It’s generally accepted that parents are responsible for the care, protection and upbringing of a child. Matters to do with children and the family are usually dealt with under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), or alternatively, by the Federal Circuit Court. However, if a child has been charged with a criminal offence, is suffering from abuse, or is in need of care, the states and territories have the authority to act in respect to the maltreatment of a child. Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is: What are the general laws relating to the reporting of child abuse? Are reporting requirements voluntary or mandatory? There are a number of elements related to reporting of child abuse which this piece will broadly cover.
The ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, and Victoria provide for voluntary reporting to an authoritative body if a child is being maltreated or requires care. The provisions differ slightly between the jurisdictions. For instance in New South Wales, s 24 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) provides that a person believing on reasonable grounds that a child is at risk of harm, may notify the Director-General of the Department of Community Services. Additionally, some jurisdictions provides that any person acting honestly and without recklessness in their reporting, will not be been deemed to have breached their professional ethics and is protected from civil liability, such as s 874 of the Children and Young People Act 2008 (ACT).
Although there are no specific provisions in South Australia and Western Australia for voluntary reporting, both jurisdictions still provide for those who have acted in good faith when reporting maltreatment of a child to the relevant authority, and will generally be protected from civil or criminal liability.
Although the majority of jurisdictions provide for mandatory reporting of maltreatment of a child, all States and Territories in Australia makes it an offence for certain professionals who fail to report suspected child abuse to the relevant authority. Similar to a number of the legislative instruments related to voluntary reporting, professionals that are legally compelled to report child abuse will generally be protected from civil or criminal liability and will not be seen to have breached professional confidentiality if they have acted in good faith.
Professionals who may be mandatorily compelled to report child abuse are generally in occupations that deliver health care, welfare, education, children’s services, residential services, or law enforcement, wholly or partly to children. Additionally, any person who holds a management position in organisations that are directly responsible for the provision of the aforementioned services wholly or partly to children are also required to mandatorily report child abuse (per s 27 Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW)).
How are abused children cared for?
All States and Territories allow either the police or an authorised officer to enter any premises and remove a child from immediate danger, and to provide for their protection and welfare. If the child requires hospital care or immediate treatment, legislation provides that a child can be detained for a specific period of time before an application for an order for the provision of further care is required.
Depending on the situation, a child may also be removed against the will of a parent and be made a ward of the court.