7. Investigate and assess a harm report

This section outlines the procedures for responding to a harm report for a child in care and placed with a carer or a care service, through an investigation and assessment.

A harm report investigation and assessment is a more formal process than a standards of care review. While the focus of a standards of care review is to assess whether the standards of care have been met for a child, an investigation of a harm report focuses on whether the child has been harmed, including who is responsible for the harm. For care services, these procedures refer specifically to the ‘staff member’ of a care service, where they are the person alleged to be responsible for the harm, rather than a more generic reference to the care service.

7.1 Allocate the investigation and assessment

The investigation and assessment of a harm report will be allocated to an authorised officer with the required level of skill and experience to manage the complexities of the process. The CSSC manager is responsible for the decision about who will be allocated the case, and will consider the following on a case-by-case basis:

  • the investigation and assessment of a harm report is a different process to that of conducting an investigation and assessment for a child in the general community
  • the focus of the investigation and assessment is to assess whether the child has experienced harm in their care environment, and what action is required to ensure their current and future safety, belonging and well-being
  • whether an officer who is independent of the case is required due to the complexities or case history
  • who the child may be comfortable with so that that they can disclose information
  • the involvement of the CSO with case responsibility for the child may assist in the child and carer feeling supported through the process due to their existing relationship
  • whether a joint investigation with the QPS may be required.

Investigation and assessments in relation to the staff member of a care service will be undertaken by an authorised officer and the manager or co-ordinator of the care service. The CSSC manager will nominate a senior team leader, senior practitioner or other experienced CSO to conduct the investigation and assessment, due to the complexities associated with potential industrial relation issues for the care service.

Where the harm report relates to a carer, interviews with the child and the carer will be conducted by two CSOs, or a CSO and the QPS, where a joint investigation is being undertaken.

7.2 Plan the investigation and assessment

Prior to commencing the investigation and assessment, develop an investigation and assessment plan in partnership with staff of the foster and kinship care service or the care service.

The planning process will also include the allocated officer, senior team leader and senior practitioner. In some circumstances, it may also be appropriate to involve the CSO with case responsibility for any child currently placed with the carer or care service or the regional team responsible for funding and contract management for the care service.

The purpose of the planning process is to ensure that: 

  • any immediate actions to secure the child’s safety are considered
  • all the relevant activities required to undertake a targeted investigation and assessment of whether a child has been harmed are identified
  • all the key people are involved, and that interviews and information gathering occurs in the most appropriate sequence
  • the investigation and assessment is conducted in a manner which limits any unnecessary disruption to the child.

The planning process must take into consideration that while the concerns are about harm or suspected harm to a child only, where risk of harm to a child is identified during the investigation and assessment, it must be identified and responded to, and will be included in the outcome for the child.

The planning process will take into consideration:

  • what information is required to determine whether a child has been harmed
  • whether QPS involvement is required – refer to Chapter 2, 4. What if a joint investigation with the Queensland Police Service is required?
  • whether the information in the harm report meets the mandatory referral criteria for a referral to the SCAN team and may benefit from discussion and multi-agency coordination of service delivery - refer to Chapter 2, 11. What if a matter needs to be referred to the SCAN team system? - a referral can also be made once the investigation and assessment has commenced, if the mandatory referral criteria is satisfied
  • relevant information from departmental files about the child, including the case plan, the child protection history, case notes and previous standards of care reviews or harm reports
  • relevant information from departmental files about the carer, staff member or care service, including previous standards of care reviews or harm reports
  • how the child and the carer or staff member will be provided with access to a support person or advocate as part of the process
  • whether interviews will occur with children who have previously been placed in the care environment
  • whether interviews will be pre-arranged, where it will not jeopardise the safety of the child, the integrity of the investigation and assessment process or potential criminal investigations
  • when to verbally inform the child’s parents of the harm report investigation and assessment - refer to 7.7 Inform relevant parties.

Note: Where a child has a long-term guardian, the long-term guardian must give permission for the child to be interviewed - refer to 9. What if the child has a long-term guardian?

The Checklist for investigating and assessing a harm report is available to assist staff in the investigation and assessment process.

Once the planning process is completed:

  • gain verbal approval for the plan from the senior team leader, prior to the commencement of the investigation and assessment
  • record the plan in the ‘Harm report - I&A plan’ form under the investigation and assessment planning tab in ICMS
  • where possible, provide a copy of the investigation and assessment plan to all persons who are responsible for activities associated with undertaking the investigation and assessment. 

7.3 Provide information to relevant parties

Contact the child and carer or staff member to arrange interviews

Following approval of the investigation and assessment plan, contact the child, where age and developmentally appropriate, the carer or care service staff member to pre-arrange interviews, and:

  • tell them about the harm report
  • provide them with sufficient information regarding the process, the alleged harm and which standards may not have been met, to ensure their full participation throughout the investigation and assessment process
  • inform them of their right to have a support person present throughout the process, including during interviews, and assist in identifying options for accessing a support person - refer to the practice resource The role of a support person (PDF, 25 KB)
  • inform the child that at the commencement of the interview they will be provided with the Information sheet for children and young people (PDF, 178 KB)
  • inform the carer or staff member that at the commencement of the interview they will be provided with a Letter to carer/staff member - advice of harm report
  • schedule the interview times with the child, the carer (including any other persons listed on the certificate of approval) or staff member and any other persons identified as requiring an interview.

Provide written advice

When the child and carer or staff member have been contacted, complete the Letter to carer/staff member - advice of harm report, which is to be provided to the carer or staff member prior to, or at the time of the interview, and:

  • forward a copy of the letter, where relevant, to:
    • the manager or coordinator of the foster and kinship care service
    • the manager or coordinator of the care service
    • the team responsible for funding and contract management in the region with responsibility for the care service
    • relevant staff or another government department, where a care service is funded or regulated by that department.
  • attach a copy of the letter to the ‘Harm report - I&A’ event in ICMS.

7.4 Conduct the investigation and assessment

Commence the investigation and assessment

An investigation and assessment is commenced when the child is either sighted or sighted and interviewed, as age and developmentally appropriate, by the allocated officer. In circumstances where a child cannot be sighted within the required timeframe, a police officer or health professional may sight the child and provide Child Safety with information in relation to the safety of the child.

The CSSC manager is responsible for seeking the regional director’s advice in situations where it is not possible to commence an investigation and assessment within the required 24 hours.

Consent to sight and interview the child must be obtained from a child’s parent if the child is subject to a care agreement. 

Undertake interviews

The interview of the subject child must not occur in the presence of the carer or staff member. In addition, when conducting the investigation and assessment, ensure that:

  • the relevant information sheet is provided to, and discussed with, the child (where of an appropriate age and ability to understand) prior to the interview
  • there is face-to-face contact with each subject child
  • interviews are conducted with:
    • each subject child who is able to communicate, including children with disabilities who require assistance or aides
    • any other child currently in the care environment and any other child who was in the care environment at the time of the concerns
    • all the alleged persons responsible for the harm
    • the carer (and any other persons listed on the certificate of approval) or staff member - refer to Chapter 2, 2.4 Interview the parents and other adults
    • any adult household member, or care service staff who may have relevant information
  • the Letter to carer/staff member - advice of harm report and the Information sheet for carers and staff members (PDF, 176 KB) are provided to the carer or staff member prior to the interview
  • any support person understands their role and is made aware of the requirement for confidentiality under the Child Protection Act 1999, section 188, prior to commencing the interview.

During interviews with the child, carer or staff member, facilitate discussions and gather information that will enable an assessment of the following matters:

  • whether the child has experienced harm in this placement
  • the impact, if any, of the concerns on the child - for more information about assessing the impact, refer to the Practice guide: The assessment of harm and risk of harm (PDF, 886 KB)
  • whether the alleged harm to a child may have involved the commission of a criminal offence relating to the child, which must be immediately notified to the QPS, in accordance with the Child Protection Act 1999, section 14(2) and (3)
  • whether an immediate change of placement is required to ensure either:
    • the subject child’s safety
    • the safety of any other child residing in the care environment
  • whether any further placements can be made with the carer, or care service while the investigation and assessment is being undertaken
  • whether the carer, care service or staff member has:
    • not met the legislated standards of care and if so, which standards of care have not been met
    • the ability and willingness to meet the standards of care, immediately and on an ongoing basis
    • had their documented support and training needs met by Child Safety, the foster and kinship care service or the care service
    • outstanding or additional supervision, support and training needs
  • whether systemic issues have contributed to the standards of care not being met and if so, what actions could be taken by Child Safety, the foster and kinship care service or the care service, if applicable, to address identified issues.

Record all interview information in the ‘Record of interviews’ form under the ‘Information gathering and interviews’ tab in the ‘Harm report - I&A’ event in ICMS.

The assessment of the above matters will take into account:

  • the child’s views about the alleged concerns
  • the length of the child’s placement, previous history of harm, current case plan and other contextual factors
  • whether the child has any concerns about the standards of care or the care environment
  • the nature of the carer or staff member’s relationship with the child’s family and culture
  • whether there has been the use of force, corporal punishment or other behaviour management strategies prohibited by the statement of standards, as outlined in the Positive Behaviour Support (PDF, File not found)policy
  • the outcome of previous standards of care reviews and harm reports, and any resulting actions, where applicable
  • the current level of stress within the care environment, including:
    • any overcrowding in the care environment
    • the placement of a child in a care environment that does not match the child’s assessed needs
    • the current supervision, support and training provided to the carer or staff member
    • any action, inaction or decision by Child Safety for the child or other children in the placement that may have contributed to the harm report.

The carer, staff member or child are entitled to have a legal representative present during the interview, and if requested, make all reasonable attempts to accommodate such requests.

Harm to children not recorded as subject children

Where it is assessed that other children in care who are living in the care environment may have experienced harm, but were not recorded as subject children, record them as subject children in the investigation and assessment and include them in the investigation and assessment process.

If it is considered that a child who is not in out-of-home care may have experienced harm or be at risk of harm, refer to the procedures for responding to a child in the general community, as outlined in Chapter 1. Intake.

Remove the child from the placement, if necessary

If at any time during the investigation and assessment, it becomes apparent that the child is at immediate risk of harm or unacceptable risk of future harm in the care environment, and protective intervention would not adequately ensure the child’s safety and well-being in the care environment, the CSSC manager can make the decision to remove the child from the placement, as outlined in Chapter 5, 3. What if a child is to be removed from a care placement?

Record additional concerns

When a harm report has been recorded and the investigation and assessment has not been approved by the senior team leader in ICMS, record any new concerns about harm received in an 'additional notified concerns’ form under the ‘Investigation and assessment planning’ tab in the ‘Harm report - I&A’ event in ICMS, unless exceptions apply. For further information refer to 2. What if additional concerns are received?

Respond to time delays

In exceptional circumstances, where there are matters that will prevent the investigation and assessment being completed within the six week timeframe, the CSSC manager is required to advise the carer or staff member in writing of the delay, the reasons for the delay and an estimated completion date, that is to be the minimum time required to complete the investigation and assessment.

Assess the information gathered during the investigation and assessment

The critical focus when deciding the outcome of the investigation and assessment is not whether a child is in need of protection, but whether the child has suffered harm in the placement, whether the child is currently safe and whether action is required to ensure that the child does not continue to experience harm in their care environment in the future.

The assessment process highlights the complexity of decision-making for these matters and the critical need for consultation and discussion between all those who have relevant information.

Assessing harm

When determining whether the child has experienced harm, it is not sufficient to focus only on whether an alleged incident or abusive action has occurred, and the actions or inactions of the carer or staff member. The child’s experience must meet the legislative definition of harm, that is, ‘any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical, psychological or emotional well-being’, taking into account the impact of cumulative harm.

For a detrimental effect to be of a significant nature it must have more than a minor impact upon a child’s physical, psychological or emotional well-being. The harm experienced, or being experienced, by the child must be substantial, serious and demonstrable - that is, measurable and observable on the child’s body and/or in the child’s functioning or behaviour. A detrimental effect of a significant nature may also be indicated by being likely to be long-term (more than transitory), or adversely affecting the child’s health or well-being to an extent which would be considered by the general public to be unacceptable. Refer to the Practice guide: The assessment of harm and risk of harm (PDF, 886 KB), to assist with the determination of whether a child has been harmed.

Incorporate knowledge of cumulative harm

The assessment requires a holistic approach, including the consideration of harm from past experiences together with current harm and future risk of harm being considered.

Cumulative harm may occur when a child experiences a series or combination of acts, omissions or circumstances that have a cumulative effect on the child’s safety and well-being (Child Protection Act 1999, section 9(4)). Consideration must be given to the impact of prior experiences of the child in their family and in any previous out-of-home care placements, when assessing the level of detrimental effect.

Cumulative harm is harm experienced by a child over a prolonged period of time due to the impacts of recurring incidents of harm, which may be from a single recurring adverse circumstance or event, for example, ongoing neglect, or by multiple different circumstances and events, such as a combination of persistent verbal abuse, harsh discipline and exposure to domestic and family violence. Not all incidents may meet the Child Safety threshold for intervention however the resulting impact on the child can accumulate.

Incorporate an assessment of risk of harm

While the focus of the investigation and assessment is on whether or not the child has been harmed, any risk of future harm for the child in the care environment must also be assessed as part of the investigation and assessment, including:

  • the likelihood and level of harm that may occur to the child in the future
  • the presence and impact of risk factors in the care environment
  • the appropriateness of the placement to meet the child’s needs - refer to Chapter 5, 1.1 Placement matching - an overview.

Risk of harm also includes circumstances where the impact of the harm is not yet observable, however, harm is a predictable result of what has occurred.

Incorporate an assessment of the standards of care

The assessment will also focus on whether or not the standards of care have been and are being met for the child. Refer to 5.2 Conduct a standards of care review if the matter relates to a carer, or to 6.2 Conduct a standards of care review if the matter relates to a care service.

7.5 Decide the investigation and assessment outcome

When all of the information has been gathered and assessed, an assessment must be made about whether or not the child has experienced harm, or is at risk of harm, taking into account the contextual factors specific to the child, the carer or staff member and the care environment.

Determine the investigation and assessment outcome for each child, in consultation with the senior team leader, senior practitioner, foster and kinship carer service staff, care service staff and, if required, the CSSC manager.

Investigation and assessment outcomes

There are four possible outcomes for the investigation and assessment of a harm report, as outlined below.

1. Substantiated - standards not met

This outcome is recorded when:

  • the child has experienced harm or is likely to experience future harm
  • the actions or inactions of the carer or staff member have contributed to the harm.

When this outcome is recorded, at least one of the carers or a staff member must be identifiedas a person responsible. This outcome cannot be used if a person responsible is unable to be identified.

2. Substantiated harm - standards met

This outcome is recorded when:

  • the child has experienced harm or is likely to experience future harm, but the actions or inactions of the approved carer or staff member have not contributed to the harm (for example, there is no indication of a carer or staff member’s failure to protect a child)
  • there is no indication that the carer, staff member or care service has not met the standards of care required under the Child Protection Act 1999.

When this outcome is recorded, the ‘person responsible’ for the harm will be either:

  • another adult who resides in, or frequents, the carer household or care environment 
  • another child (if aged 10 years or over and the child is assessed as having the developmental ability or capacity to understand the consequences of their actions)
  • a ‘person responsible unable to be identified’.

Review the child’s case plan in order to respond to any needs of the child identified during the investigation and assessment.

3. Unsubstantiated - standards not met

This outcome is recorded when:

  • the child has not experienced harm and is unlikely to experience future harm
  • there is an indication that the approved carer or staff member has failed to meet the standards of care required under the Child Protection Act 1999.

When this is the outcome, record an ‘Unsubstantiated - matter of concern - breach of standards’ outcome in ICMS.

4. Unsubstantiated - standards met

This outcome is recorded when:

  • the child has not experienced harm and is unlikely to experience future harm
  • there is no indication that the carer or staff member has failed to meet the standards of care required under the Child Protection Act 1999.

5. No outcome

In exceptional circumstances only, it may not be possible to record an outcome for an investigation and assessment, for example:

  • where the investigation and assessment cannot be completed, for example, because the concerns are historical and relevant persons cannot be contacted
  • when the decision is made not to conduct an investigation and assessment, in accordance with the procedure for responding to vexatious or malicious notifiers - refer to Chapter 1, 5. What if the notifier is vexatious and malicious?

Where it is not possible to record an outcome, record ‘Matter of concern I & A - no outcome’ in ICMS. Please note, this outcome is not to be used when the reason for non-completion is due to departmental resources or workloads.

The senior team leader must consult with the senior practitioner and provide a clear rationale for its use prior to approving an investigation and assessment with no outcome.

Please note, this outcome is not to be used when the reason for non-completion is due to Child Safety resources or workloads.

Record the investigation and assessment

Record the following investigation and assessment information in the ‘Harm report – assessment & outcome’ form in ICMS:

  • in relation to the actions undertaken
  • an assessment of whether the child has been harmed and whether there is any risk of harm should the child remain in the placement
  • an assessment of whether the standards of care have been met for the child, and if not which standards have not been met
  • what action is required to reduce any identified risk to the child
  • the information provided in relation to the safety of the child by a police officer or health professional, where applicable
  • a summary of the information gathered, including contextual factors that may have contributed to the concerns, for example, high levels of stress or overcrowding in the care environment
  • the date of commencement and/or completion and the reasons for any delays, where the investigation and assessment is not commenced or completed within the specified timeframes.

Submit the assessment and outcome to the senior team leader for approval.

When a child has experienced sexual abuse

When the outcome of an investigation and assessment is that a child in care has been sexually abused, the Response to children and young people sexually abused whilst placed in out-of-home care (PDF, File not found) policy outlines the responsibility of Child Safety to provide a response to the child, irrespective of who is responsible for the sexual abuse. The response includes a review of the child’s case plan to respond to the child’s needs as a result of the abuse. For further information, refer to Chapter 5, 15. What if a child is sexually abused whilst in out-of-home care?

7.6 Subsequent action required

Develop an action plan

When the investigation and assessment outcome for a child is ‘Substantiated - standards not met’ or ‘Unsubstantiated - standards not met’, an action plan must be developed to address agreed upon issues in order to ensure the standards of care are met in the future, prior to finalising the investigation and assessment. To develop an action plan, referto 8. Action plans.

The investigation and assessment must be completed in a timeframe that allows for the action plan to be finalised and approved by a senior team leader within six weeks of the decision that a matter constitutes a harm report. 

Carers

For a carer, Child Safety is responsible for developing the action plan, as outlined in 8.1 Develop an action plan for a carer.

Care services

For a care service, the care service is responsible for developing an action plan, in consultation with the department, given the legislative obligations of the care service nominee under the Child Protection Act 1999, section 129A and 130. For further information refer to 8.3 Develop an action plan for a care service..

7.7 Inform relevant parties

Provide verbal and written advice

Following the completion of the investigation and assessment, provide advice to relevant parties as outlined below.

Provide verbal advice only of the outcome to:

  • the child (having regard to their age and developmental level)
  • the CSO responsible for any child currently placed with the carer or care service
  • at least one parent of the child or the long-term guardian.

Provide both verbal and written advice, using the Letter to carer - outcome of harm report or Letter to staff member – outcome of harm report, as follows:

  • provide the original letter to the carer or staff member
  • provide a copy of the letter and where applicable, the action plan, to:
    • the manager or coordinator of the foster and kinship care service, for a carer, if applicable
    • the manager or coordinator of the care service, if applicable
    • the regional team responsible for funding and contract management
    • relevant Child Safety staff or another government department, where the care service is funded or regulated by that department.

Where the child is placed with a care service, request the regional team responsible for funding and contract management to:

  • forward a copy of the letter and the action plan to the nominee of the care service
  • file a copy of the letter and the action plan on the care service’s file.

Attach a copy of the letter to the ‘Harm report - I&A’ event in ICMS.

In addition, alert all parties to applicable complaints and review mechanisms. Refer to 7. What if a person wants to make a complaint or seek a review?

When the staff member of a care service is responsible for serious concerns

Where there are substantiated concerns of a serious nature for the staff member of a care service, such as matters resulting in criminal proceedings, ensure that the information provided to relevant parties in the Letter to staff member – outcome of harm report is clear, thorough and sufficient to support any decisions required by the licensee. In cases where the licensee may consider the dismissal of a staff member, organisations must provide clear grounds for dismissal in order to minimise their likelihood of being summoned to the Unfair Dismissal Tribunal. Processes need to be transparent and accountable and employers need clear information on which to base their decisions.

Provide information to the child’s parents

Advise at least one the child’s parents about the concerns in the harm report and the investigation and assessment outcome.

If the child is subject to a child protection order granting long-term guardianship to a suitable person, the requirement to advise at least one of the child’s parents will be based on consideration of whether it would be in the child’s best interest, having regard to:

  • the nature and extent of the child’s connection with the child’s parents
  • the evidence in support of the allegation
  • any other relevant matter.

Exceptions to the provision of advice

The Child Protection Act 1999, section 15(3), permits discretionary compliance to inform the parents or long-term guardian, if the authorised officer reasonably believes either:

  • someone may be charged with a criminal offence for the harm to the child, and compliance may jeopardise an investigation into the offence
  • that compliance may expose the child to harm.

If discretionary compliance is exercised:

  • it must be approved by a senior team leader
  • record the decision, rationale and approval process in a standards of care case note in the Harm report - I&A event ICMS.

When a child has a long-term guardian, refer to 9. What if the child has a long-term guardian?