5. Undertake an investigation and assessment

The term 'contact parent' is used where a parent has an order to spend time, and/or communicate, with their child.

5.1 Alleged harm during contact ordered by a family court

Where a notification relates to harm or risk of harm during a visit required under a family court order:

  • consider when the next contact visit is due to occur when determining the appropriate response timeframe for commencing the investigation and assessment
  • if possible, complete the investigation and assessment prior to the child's next contact visit - refer to Chapter 2. Investigation and assessment.

If the investigation and assessment cannot be completed prior to the next ordered contact visit, attempt to negotiate with the parent against whom the child protection concerns apply (the contact parent) to agree in writing not to exercise contact while the investigation and assessment is being undertaken.

Handle the attempted negotiation sensitively, clearly outlining the authority of the department to investigate under the Child Protection Act 1999, section 14. In no circumstance will the parent with whom the child lives be required to negotiate the contact parent's consent.

If the contact parent will not agree to suspend contact and it is considered necessary to ensure the child's safety while the investigation and assessment is undertaken, apply for a TAO or CAO - refer to Chapter 2, 2. What if a parent will not consent to actions required - use of a TAO? or Chapter 2, 3. What if a parent will not consent to actions required - use of a CAO?

In no circumstance will the parent with whom the child lives be told by a departmental officer to prevent the child from having contact as ordered by a family court, without either the written consent of the contact parent or a Childrens Court order directing the contact parent not to have contact. Otherwise, the parent with whom the child lives would be in breach of a family court order for which there are penalties under the Family Law Act 1975. These penalties include fines and imprisonment. A parent with whom the child lives will not be in breach if the contact parent has consented in writing to not having contact, or an order has been made under the Child Protection Act 1999.

Note: A TAO or CAO directing a parent not to have contact, or to only have supervised contact with a child, may override a family court order, depending on the wording of the family court order. The Family Law Act 1975, section 69ZK, provides that a parenting order made by a family court does not affect the operation of a state child welfare law in relation to a child.

5.2 Alleged harm by a parent with whom the child lives under a parenting order

Generally, the investigation and assessment process is the same for a child subject to a parenting order as for a child where there is no family court order - refer to Chapter 2. Investigation and assessment.

If the contact parent is assessed as able and willing to safely care for the child, attempt to negotiate written agreement from the parent with whom the child lives, for the child to reside with the contact parent, until such time that the investigation and assessment is completed and/or the matter is finalised in the family court.