3. Assess the notified concerns and the child's need for protection

3.1 Complete the family risk evaluation

The purpose of the family risk evaluation is to provide an objective evaluation about the probability of further incidents of abuse or neglect by a parent in the family, which may result in harm to a child in the next 12 to 24 months, and help guide decision-making about the need for ongoing intervention with the family to reduce the likelihood of future harm.

The family risk evaluation is completed after all the investigation and assessment information has been gathered and prior to the determination of the investigation and assessment outcome. It includes two sets of questions, or indices - one for neglect and one for abuse. Each possible answer has an assigned score. The scores from each of the indices are totalled and the highest score becomes the 'scored risk level' for the family. The 'scored risk level' classifies the family into one of the following three risk levels: low, moderate or high.

The risk level recorded on the initial family risk evaluation will later be used, if ongoing intervention occurs with the child and their family, as part of assessing the family risk re-evaluation assessment to evaluate the family’s progress.

The family risk evaluation is not completed for a harm report or for the investigation and assessment of an unborn child, unless the child is born prior to the approval of the investigation and assessment, in which case, the family risk evaluation will be completed.

To complete the family risk evaluation:

  • complete one family risk evaluation only per household, or one for each family, where more than one family lives in one household
  • use the information gathered during the investigation and assessment and the definitions in SDM: Family risk evaluation to work through the list of questions and answer all questions for both the neglect and abuse indices - where the answer is unknown, take all possible steps to gather the information required, and if no information is available, score the item as ‘0’
  • refer to the primary parent when answering each question 
  • use professional judgement to determine whether either a policy override is applicable, which changes the 'scored risk level' to 'high', or whether there are additional risk factors that require a discretionary override to increase the scored risk level by one
  • seek senior team leader approval for the use of a discretionary override, if required
  • record the family risk evaluation in ICMS and submit it to the senior team leader for approval.

Note: Where parents are separated and two notifications have been recorded due to alleged significant harm or risk of significant harm occurring in both households, complete a family risk evaluation for each household.

For further information in relation to the primary parent and the use of a policy override, refer to the practice resource Family risk evaluation (PDF, 33 KB).

Use the risk level to:

For an ASC co-response, Child Safety retains responsibility for completing the Family Risk Evaluation.

Case open/close recommendation

The family risk evaluation risk level does not determine whether a case is opened for ongoing intervention, but it assists the worker's professional assessment and decision-making about whether a child is in need of protection and, for families with a final 'scored risk level' of 'high', it recommends that a case be opened for ongoing intervention.

For further information refer to 4.1 Decide whether there will be ongoing intervention and 4.2 Determine whether there will be a referral to another agency.

3.2 Determine whether the child is in need of protection

The purpose of an investigation and assessment is to determine whether a child is in need of protection(Child Protection Act 1999, section 10). A child in need of protection is a child who:

  • has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant  harm or is at unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm, and
  • does not have a parent able and willing to protect the child from the harm.

Assessing a child's need for protection

The determination about the child's need of protection is informed by risk assessment. This risk assessment is based on professional judgement and a weighing up of:

For further information about assessing a child's need for protection, refer to the practice resource Recording your professional assessment about whether the child is in need of protection.

For an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, where an outcome of ‘child in need of protection’ is being considered or is likely, arrange for a private convenor or family group meeting convenor to convene a family-led decision making process, to assist with determining whether the child is in need of protection , where:

  • it is practicable and in the best interests of the child
  • the family agrees to the process taking place.

Note: where a family-led decision making process is convened by the Family Participation Program service, the process is referred to as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family-Led Decision-Making.

The purpose of the family-led decision making process is to give the child’s family group a culturally safe process to consider the concerns and develop a family plan to respond to the child’s needs, including:

  • any family resources and capabilities to support the child and parents and mitigate risk, with the intent of preventing the need for ongoing intervention for the child
  • family strategies to minimise the degree and length of any necessary ongoing intervention
  • alternatives to placement in out-of-home care or culturally appropriate placement options in line with the child placement principle.

For more information about the family-led decision making process, refer to Chapter 10.1, section 3 Refer the family for family-led decision-making.

Prior to a family-led decision making meeting, advise the family and where relevant the child, of their right to have an independent person help facilitate their participation in this process and, where requested arrange for the independent person, including determining suitability, unless it is:

  • not practicable because an entity is not available
  • likely to have a significant adverse effect on the safety or emotional wellbeing of the child or another person
  • not in the child’s best interest.

For information about determining suitability to be an independent person, refer to Chapter 10.1 Decision-making about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

In determining with the child’s parents, the degree of involvement the child will have in the family- led decision-making process, consider:

  • their age and ability to understand
  • whether it is in their best interest taking into account their emotional and psychological wellbeing
  • how much information the child is already aware of and needs to know, given it has not been determined whether they are in need of protection and therefore the child may not be subject to ongoing intervention in the future.

While arranging the family-led decision-making process may take additional time, ensure all necessary action is taken to ensure the child’s safety, including, where necessary, application for a temporary assessment order or assessment care agreement.

For an unaccompanied humanitarian minor (UHM) contact the UHM program officer, Adoption Services, prior to finalising the decision about the investigation and assessment outcome. For further information, refer Chapter 1, 7. What if the child is an unaccompanied humanitarian minor?

The outcome of the investigation is not focused on whether an alleged incident or abusive action has occurred, but whether the child has been significantly harmed and whether there is unacceptable risk of significant harm in the future.To complete an investigation and assessment, consider all of the information gathered and draw on relevant professional knowledge to analyse the information and determine the appropriate outcome for each child. This decision requires:

  • a holistic risk assessment for the child and family, including the consideration of cumulative harm
  • an assessment of the protective factors present for the child and family.

The main focus of the investigation and assessment is determining whether the child is at unacceptable risk of significant harm in the future without at least one parent able and willing to protect them from the harm.

The outcomes do not require the criminal standard of proof ('beyond a reasonable doubt'), but are determined on the 'balance of probability', that is, more likely than not. The rationale for the outcome must be clearly recorded.

Based on the assessment of information gathered during the investigation and assessment, accurately answer the following questions in ICMS for each subject child. The answer to the first three questions, determines whether the child is in need of protection.

  • Was the investigation and assessment completed for this child?
  • Has the child been harmed?
  • Is the child at unacceptable risk of significant harm, with no parent able and willing to protect them from harm?
  • Is the child already subject to ongoing intervention?

Determine an answer to the question 'Was the investigation and assessment completed for the child?'

This question can only be answered 'yes' when the key steps for completion of the investigation and assessment have been undertaken, and there is sufficient information to accurately answer the next two questions outlined below.

Determine an answer to the question 'Has the child been significantly harmed?'

This question can only be answered 'yes' when actual harm has occurred and the harm is having a significant detrimental effect on the child's physical, psychological or emotional well-being. This includes an assessment of the impact of cumulative harm.

Determine an answer to the question 'Is the child at unacceptable risk of significant harm, with no parent able and willing to protect them from harm?'

This question focuses on whether there are current factors that place the child at unacceptable risk of significant harm, based on the assessed level and severity of risk, the outcome of the family risk evaluation and an assessment of the parent’s ability and willingness to protect the child. 

In order to answer this question, assess:

  • whether at least one parent is both able and willing to protect the child
  • the parent's capacity, not just intention, to act protectively
  • the parent's ability and motivation to protect the child - in circumstances where a child resides across two households, the ability and willingness of both parents to protect the child needs to be assessed.

In order to answer 'no' to this question at least one parent must be both able and willing to protect the child. A parent may be willing to protect a child, but not have the means or capacity to do so. This includes situations where the parent’s inability is due to factors outside their control. Alternatively, a parent may have the means and capacity to protect a child, but may choose not to do so.

If there is at least one parent able and willing to protect the child, the child cannot be considered at unacceptable risk of significant harm and therefore, is not a child in need of protection. In some circumstances, this will require an assessment of both parents, irrespective of the custody arrangements in place.

For a child already subject to ongoing intervention, including a child in out-of-home care, the answer to this question relates to the assessment of the new child protection concerns only. This question focuses on:

  • the level and severity of harm that may have occurred
  • the ability and willingness of the parents to protect the child from risk of that harm occurring in the future, as separate from the overall assessment of the parents that led to the ongoing intervention occurring.  

Determine an answer to the question 'Is the child already subject to ongoing intervention?'

This question refers to whether the child is currently subject to an open ongoing intervention case, as it has previously been assessed that:

  • the child is in need of protection
  • the unborn child will be in need of protection following their birth
  • the child is not in need of protection, but the level of risk in the family is 'high'.

When 'yes' is answered for this question, the investigation and assessment outcome will be either 'substantiated - ongoing intervention continues' or 'unsubstantiated - ongoing intervention continues'.

Outcomes

Once the questions above have been answered for each subject child, one of the following outcomes will be recorded:

  • substantiated - child in need of protection
  • substantiated - child not in need of protection
  • unsubstantiated - child not in need of protection
  • substantiated - ongoing intervention continues
  • unsubstantiated - ongoing intervention continues
  • no investigation and assessment outcome.

For further information about the outcomes, refer to 4.3 Record the investigation, assessment and outcome.

Determine the outcome

The outcome for each subject child must be supported with clear information about the professional assessment of the significant harm or risk of significant harm to the child and the reasons for the outcome recorded.

A substantiated - child in need of protection outcome is recorded when it is assessed that there is unacceptable risk of significant harm to a child, as defined by the Child Protection Act 1999, section 9, and it meets one of the following:

  • significant harm has been experienced by the child and there is unacceptable risk of significant harm, as the child does not have a parent able and willing to protect them, whether or not the significant harm was part of the concerns received
  • no actual harm has occurred but there is unacceptable risk of significant harm, as the child does not have a parent able and willing to protect them
  • there is unacceptable risk of significant harm to the unborn child after birth and the parents will not be able and willing to protect the child from the harm

In most cases, the outcome of the family risk evaluation for these matters will be high.

A substantiated - child not in need of protection outcome is recorded when it is assessed that harm, as defined in the Child Protection Act 1999, section 9, has been experienced by the child but there is no unacceptable risk of harm as the child has a parent able and willing to protect them.

There must be clear information recorded to support the ability and willingness of the parents to protect the child, not just statements to this effect.

An unsubstantiated - child not in need of protection outcome is recorded when it is assessed that either:

  • no actual significant harm has occurred and there is no unacceptable risk of significant harm, as the child has a parent able and willing to protect them
  • an unborn child will not be at unacceptable risk of significant harm after birth.

In most cases, the outcome of the family risk evaluation for these matters will be moderate or low. Where the outcome is high, ongoing intervention is recommended by the family risk evaluation, and the family will be offered ongoing intervention via a support service case, to address the risk factors identified. Clear information needs to be recorded about the risk factors identified and the family's response to the services offered.

When this outcome is recorded for an unborn child, no further action is required, however, where there are identified needs, and the pregnant woman has expressed a willingness to receive support and provided consent, make a referral to one of the following:

An unsubstantiated - ongoing intervention continues outcome is recorded when the subject child is already subject to ongoing intervention and:

  • no actual significant harm has occurred and no unacceptable risk of significant harm has been identified during the current investigation and assessment, refer to 3.2 Determine whether the child is in need of protection
  • an unborn child is not at unacceptable risk of significant harm after birth.

A substantiated - ongoing intervention continues outcome is recorded when the subject child is already subject to ongoing intervention and:

  • the child has suffered significant harm but no unacceptable risk of significant harm has been identified during the current investigation and assessment, refer to 3.2 Determine whether the child is in need of protection
  • the child has suffered significant harm and is at unacceptable risk of significant harm, without a parent able and willing to protect the child
  • the child has not suffered harm, but is at unacceptable risk of significant harm, without a parent able and willing to protect the child
  • an unborn child will be at unacceptable risk of significant harm after birth.

Record a no investigation and assessment outcome on rare occasions only, when:

  • the investigation and assessment has not commenced because the child and family could not be located and actions taken to locate them have been unsuccessful
  • the investigation and assessment has commenced, but is not able to be completed, as there is insufficient information to decide on an outcome, and either:
    • the family has subsequently moved following contact by Child Safety, and is not able to be located
    • the parent has refused contact with the child and a TAO or CAO has been applied for, but the order has not been made by the magistrate or the court
  • a subject child has died prior to the completion of an investigation and assessment and there is insufficient information to decide on an outcome
  • a pregnant woman advises she is no longer or has never been pregnant, her appearance supports this information, and this is confirmed with her medical practitioner (or reasonable attempts have been made to do so)
  • the pregnant woman has not been located and two months have passed since the estimated date of delivery.

This outcome is not to be used to:

  • manage a lack of resources, or high workloads
  • finalise an outstanding investigation and assessment that is only partially completed.

Prior to approving this outcome, other than for an unborn child notification, the senior team leader must consult with the senior practitioner, and record a clear rationale for its use.

When this outcome is used, complete the 'Record of actions - mobile family' form (if applicable) in the investigation and assessment event in ICMS and a 'no investigation and assessment' outcome will be recorded.

There may be times when this outcome is used for one of a number of subject children in a family, due to a child’s location not being known, and they are not able to be located or contacted. In these cases, there must be an assessment that there is insufficient information already gathered about the child and family to record an outcome for the child, without the child being sighted or interviewed. In this case another outcome must still be recorded for all other subject children.