Investigation and assessment phase

All notifications recorded by the department are required to be investigated and an assessment made as to whether the child is in need of protection.

As soon as a notification is received by the department, the assessment of a child’s safety begins. The child protection history of the child and family is reviewed, and, where necessary, the department will contact other agencies and professionals such as teachers, police and service providers to gather further information about the child. 

At this stage, the investigation and assessment is not considered to be commenced even though child safety officers are actively working on gathering information about the safety and wellbeing of the child.

Commencement is recorded when the child is sighted and interviewed. The child safety officer also interviews the child’s parents and may gather information from other individuals, such as family and those in the family’s support network, as well as other agencies. At this stage, the primary focus of child safety officers is on assessing the child’s immediate safety.

Where the concerns relate to an unborn child who may be in need of protection after birth, the investigation is deemed commenced when the pregnant woman is first sighted, interviewed, and consents to the investigation and assessment.

In exceptional circumstances where a child safety officer is not able to access and sight a child or pregnant woman, a police officer or health professional can sight the child or pregnant woman on the department's behalf.

Investigations will usually be conducted with the consent of the parents. Where this is not possible or appropriate, an application is made for an assessment order to enable the actions required to complete the investigation to take place.

Once a child safety officer has considered the information gathered during an investigation and completed an assessment, a decision is made about the appropriate outcome for each child and the need for ongoing intervention. There are four possible outcomes of a finalised investigation and assessment:

  • Substantiated – when it is assessed that the child or young person has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm, or is at unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm. Where the risk of future significant harm is present and the child does not have a parent able and willing to protect them, a child is considered to be in need of protection.
  • Unsubstantiated - there is no evidence that the child has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm, or is at unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm. In these instances the family may be referred to a support service to help them address risk factors that may lead to possible harm in the future.
  • Other - a full investigation for a child was not possible for a variety of valid reasons, and the case was closed. For example, this may occur in circumstances where:
    • the family has relocated to another state or overseas, or
    • insufficient information is provided and the family cannot be located, despite all reasonable steps having been undertaken to identify the family and their location

         NOTE: From 2015-16, the category ‘Other’ has been renamed (previously named “no investigation and assessment outcome”) to avoid misinterpretation.

  • No subject child - it is determined the child does not exist or is not a member of the household being investigated, and the case was closed.  

         NOTE: From September 2016 reporting, a new category ‘No subject child’ has been added to separately report on outcomes where it is determined the child does not exist or is not a member of the household being investigated. Prior to September 2016 reporting, no subject child was reported in the ‘other’ category.