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2.2.13 Mandatory Reports of Child Sexual Abuse

Last Modified: 02-May-2022 Review Date: 02-Jan-2017

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Legislation

Overview

The Department of Communities (the Department) receives and responds to mandatory reports (reports) of child sexual abuse from persons who are mandatory reporters under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (the Act). An initial assessment of a report is completed by the Mandatory Reporting Service (MRS) to determine if there is an ongoing role for the Department.

Where an ongoing role is identified, the case will be sent through to the relevant district office for a Child Safety Investigation (CSI).  In some regional areas a case may also be sent through to the relevant district for an Initial Inquiry. The assessment and response to a mandatory report is the same as for any other referral. The MRS worker will complete the Interaction Tool, screen for FDV concerns, consider the risk of cumulative harm and ensure other children living in the home, or who regularly visit the home, are considered in the assessment.  Once the MR assessment is completed, a copy is sent to the Western Australia Police Force (WA Police)

The specific response will depend on the nature of the allegation and protectiveness of the parents or carers. If the circumstances of the report meet the ChildFIRST referral criteria, a Joint Response Strategy Meeting (strategy meeting) will be held between the district office, ChildFIRST, and WA Police. Strategy meetings facilitate collaborative practice and ensure the best interest of the child is jointly considered and prioritised. 

Note:  CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities (the Department). Throughout this entry, the term 'child' includes both includes both children and young people. Care arrangements are referred to as "placement arrangements" in the Children and Community Services Amendment Act 2004. It means an arrangement for the placement of a child with certain persons, made under section 79(2)(b).  

Rules

  • You must comply with the legal requirements outlined in Division 9A Reporting sexual abuse of children in the Act. 

Process Maps

Statewide Referral and Response Service - Assessing Child Abuse 

Information and Instructions

  • Mandatory reporters
  • The Mandatory Reporting Service
  • Receiving a mandatory report
  • Mandatory reports made via a district office
  • Other practice issues
  • Defence for not submitting a report
  • Mandatory reporters

    A mandatory reporter is a person who is required by law under section 124B of the Act to make a report to the Department if, since the day they became a mandatory reporter (referred to as commencement day), they form a belief on reasonable grounds in the course of their work (paid or unpaid) that a child: 

    1. has been sexually abused on or after commencement day; or
    2. is subject to ongoing sexual abuse.

    Commencement day is the day on which a person became a mandatory reporter under the Act.  Not all mandatory reporters have the same commencement day because of the different years in which they became reporters.   

    Mandatory reporters in WA are doctors, nurses, midwives, police officers, teachers and boarding supervisors. 

    In section 124A of the Act, "sexual abuse in relation to a child includes sexual behaviours that have occurred in circumstances where: 

    • the child is the subject of bribery, coercion, a threat, exploitation, or violence; or
    • the child has less power than another person involved in the behaviour; or
    • there is a significant disparity in the developmental function or maturity of the child and another person involved in the behaviour."

    Mandatory reporting laws are intended to protect children from sexual abuse rather than to address historical child sexual abuse which occurred to a person when they were a child.  The duty to report does not apply where an adult discloses sexual abuse they may have suffered as a child.  However, if a mandatory reporter believes that another child has been sexually abused by the person the historic disclosure relates to or is believed to be the subject to ongoing sexual abuse by that person, the duty to make a mandatory report still applies.

    A mandatory reporter may come to form a belief that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused for many reasons. These might include, for example:

    • receiving a disclosure from either the child or the perpetrator
    • receiving information from a third party, such as another child, a parent or colleague
    • observing behaviours of concern, such as the child displaying harmful and/or age-inappropriate sexual behaviours
    • Being told by the child, or, if they are a doctor or a nurse, observing that the child presents with physical symptoms that could indicate sexual abuse, such as genital injuries or  infection, or 
    • observing behaviours in people close to the child that they find concerning, such as inappropriate touching.

    A mandatory report must be made as soon as practicable after forming the belief, which should be within 24hrs. 

    For a detailed list and definitions of mandatory reporter groups, see Mandatory Reporters (in related resources).

    When a mandatory reporter makes a report online, they will receive an automated response which includes a receipt number. This receipt number can be provided again by an MRS worker, if required.

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    The Mandatory Reporting Service

    The Mandatory Reporting Service (MRS) is a state-wide 24-hour centralised reporting service within the Statewide Referral and Response Service (SRRS). The MRS is responsible for receiving, assessing, processing, and recording all mandatory reports of child sexual abuse, and referring matters to the district that require further assessment or investigation. By calling the MRS, mandatory reporters will be able to ask questions and discuss the grounds on which they might have formed a belief of child sexual abuse. 

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    Receiving a mandatory report


    A mandatory report should be submitted in writing as soon as practicable after the reporter has formed a belief that a child has or is being sexually abused. 

    The report should be submitted via the Mandatory Reporting Information System. 

    Alternatively, a printed copy of the template can be filled-out and sent via: 

    Email: MRS_DL@communities.wa.gov.au
    Post: PO Box 8146, Perth BC 6849 WA
    Fax:  9223 1190
    Telephone:  1800 708 704

    A preliminary verbal report via telephone can be made and is encouraged where a child is at immediate risk. This  must be followed by a written report as soon as practicable after the verbal report is made. Preferably within 24 hours.

    Failure to make a mandatory report is an offence with a maximum penalty of $6000.  As well as a criminal record if convicted, there is the possibility of deregistration from any professional or registration body the person may be required to be a member of. 
     
    A maximum penalty of $3000 applies if a reporter fails to submit a report in writing after making a verbal report. 


    On receipt of a report,  an initial assessment is undertaken to determine if the Department has a role. MRS has clear processes for contacting the reporter and the family, where appropriate, to clarify information already provided, and to gather further information.

    See below for the details on how each mandatory report is processed:

    1. Information gathering and assessment by the MRS

    Information is gathered from relevant persons, including the parents or carers, the referrer and WA Police to determine if there is a role for the Department. The process for gathering information is the same across all services within the SRRS. The resulting assessment will:

    • detail what the concerns are
    • identify existing safety, and
    • propose actions the Department will take to safeguard the child's wellbeing.

    Section 31 of the Act allows the Department to make enquiries to determine if action should be taken to safeguard or promote the child's wellbeing if the information raises concerns about a child's wellbeing.   Gathering information is critical to determine if a child has suffered or is likely to suffer harm as a result of sexual abuse, and to determine if a child's parent has not been protective or unable to protect the child from harm.

    An assessment around parental protectiveness is important to establish if there is an ongoing role for the Department, as child sexual abuse where parents are protective falls outside the Department's mandate to investigate. It is also important to establish whether the sexual abuse occurred within the family or kinship network (intrafamilial) or outside of the family (extrafamilial).

    It is important to consider if the child's parents (or the alleged perpetrator if they have a caregiving / parental role) have:

    • been able to protect the child from harm and are likely to protect the child from further harm related to sexual abuse
    • placed their child at risk of being sexually abused, or 

    provided adequate support to their child after that child has been sexually abused or assaulted.

    Where the parents have deliberately harmed their child, allowed their child to be harmed, or have demonstrated they lack the capacity to keep their child safe, consider if a priority response is required. Immediate safety planning with the child and their family may be required, prior to the CSI being initiated. For more information on CSI's, see Chapter 2.2 Conducting a Child Safety Investigation.


    2. Referrals to WA Police and ChildFIRST

    A referral for each report must be made to the WA Police. The is done through the Police Extranet where the referral is received by the Child Assessment and Interview Team (CAIT), as detailed in the relevant Memorandum of Understanding and as directed under s.124D(2) of the Act. ChildFIRST is also provided with a copy of the written mandatory report and the MRS assessment.

    A joint investigation will proceed where there are ongoing concerns for the child's safety, the parents have not acted protectively, and a criminal act has occurred.

    Police may pursue a criminal investigation as a single-agency response where the MRS has determined there is no role for the Department. This occurs where a clear sexual assault or sexual abuse has been perpetrated against a child, but where the parents have acted protectively and there are no ongoing concerns for the child's safety.

    3. Receipt of the report by MRS

    All reports lodged via the MRS website generate an automatic receipt number. This is displayed on the screen after the report has been successfully lodged. If the reporter requires this receipt number, they can call the MRS to ask for it at any time.

    4. Recording
    To complete an Intake from a mandatory report, use the following steps: 
    • Mandatory reports are initially recorded in the mandatory reporting component of Assist and the data transferred to an interaction in Assist.
    • Record "child protection" as the primary issue for all mandatory reporting interactions.
    • Where you have determined there is a role for the Department, select the outcome "concern for a child", and "intake" as the next action. An Intake can be progressed to Initial Inquiry (II) or to CSI, depending on the nature of the concern.
    • When the intake is complete and has been approved by a Team Leader, allocate the case to the appropriate district office.

    Where you have determined there is no further role for the Department, or the information is already known and has been assessed, close the interaction and select the outcome "No further action". In all cases, place the mandatory report and any other relevant documents on the child's Objective file.

    If the report contains new information, and the child already has an open case, make contact with the Child Protection Worker (CPW) allocated to the case. A new Intake is usually required, but in some instances, a new "issue" of sexual abuse can be added to the CSI. Any decision to add an issue of sexual abuse to an existing CSI should be made in consultation. Where the CPW and the TL agrees to incorporate this assessment into the existing CSI, an Interaction should be completed with an outcome of "No further action" and an explanation of why this outcome was selected. Copies of the mandatory report and the assessment should be emailed to the CPW.

    5. Priority One response

    If the MRS receives a report that requires an immediate response during business hours, it will contact the relevant district to advise them. This response is referred to as a Priority One response and the MRS will:

    • provide the district with a summary of the concerns and the identification details for the child and anyone else who is relevant. This information should be conveyed via telephone and email wherever possible
    • email a copy of the mandatory report to the district via the districts frontdesk inbox
    • email a copy of the mandatory report to CAIT and provide them with a brief overview of the situation via telephone, and
    • complete the written assessment and intake. This will be sent to the relevant district as soon as possible.

    Where a mandatory report has been received which indicates sexual abuse has occurred in the previous 72 hours, or the person believed to be responsible has ongoing contact with the child, the matter should be deemed a Priority One. This is to ensure the immediate safety of the child, and for forensic considerations. In these cases, the following actions are required:
    • Contact the reporter immediately to clarify any issues or queries regarding the ongoing safety of the child. You should also ask any clarifying questions necessary about possible forensic evidence and it the parents are aware of the concerns.
    • Call CAIT and advise there is a Priority One response required for forensic consideration.
    • Load the report onto the Police Extranet.
    • If it is afterhours, the Crisis Care Unit (CCU) will consult with the on-call detective from the Child Abuse Squad.
    • Determine if there is a role for the Department and act accordingly.
    • Complete the assessment and process the report.

    For more information on completing a Priority One response and liaising with ChildFIRST, see the Memorandum of Understanding CPFS and WAPOL Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse.  The district office will organise the strategy meeting with ChildFIRST and the WA Police.

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    Mandatory reports made via a district office

    If you receive a concern about a child in relation to sexual abuse from a non-mandatory reporter process the referral as you would any other concern. For more information, see Chapter 2.2 Processing referrals and interactions.


    Refer all general enquiries about mandatory reporting to the MRS. The MRS can assist the caller to:
    • confirm if they are a mandatory reporter
    • clarify what sexual abuse means and its definition in the Act
    • submit the report if they are unsure how to do it
    • consider what else may be relevant when deciding if they believe a child has been sexually abused
    • understand age-normative sexualis behaviours
    • consider how to support the child and their family in the future, and
    • seek further support and advice from within their organisation.

    If a mandatory reporter contacts a district office to make a mandatory report, contact the MRS directly to confirm they can accept the call before transferring the reporter. If the reporter cannot or does not want to be transferred, take and assess the information in its own right alongside the Interaction Tool and determine whether further assessment is required. This should be recorded in its own separate interaction.  

    Urgent concerns

    If a mandatory reporter has an urgent concern that requires a Priority One response, do not transfer the call. Take the information and continue as you would with any other urgent concern for a child's safety.  Advise the reporter that they will still need to make a written mandatory report to the MRS. Contact the MRS to advise them of the Priority one response, provide them with a summary of the concerns and the identification details of the child and other relevant people. The MRS will prioritise processing this report and send the information through as soon as possible, as the written report may include additional information. 

    Non-urgent concerns

    If a reporter does not have an urgent concern for the child, but wishes to submit a mandatory report, confirm the following before transferring their call to the MRS.

    1. The person is a mandatory reporter.
    2. The reporter has formed a belief that a child has been or is being sexually abused in the time the person has been a mandatory reporter (commencement day)
    3. The reporter formed this belief in the course of their paid or unpaid work.
       

    Always conduct a 'warm transfer' when forwarding calls to MRS. This means you speak with the MRS to confirm they can accept the call, and provide an information summary, prior to completing the transfer. 

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    Other practice issues

    Assessment

    Mandatory reports of child sexual abuse are assessed in the same manner as all other notifications of abuse, including neglect. For further information, refer to:

    Working collaboratively with mandatory reporters

    Submitting a mandatory report can feel overwhelming, distressing and anxiety-provoking for some reporters, particularly where they are not familiar with the area of child development or child sexual abuse. They may feel anxious about the family learning they submitted a report and be worried about their safety. Reporters may also struggle to write the report or to articulate what they are worried about. To obtain the necessary information, and the best outcome for the child, develop a positive and collaborative relationship with the reporter where possible.

    Whether you work in the MRS or in a district office, you should:

    • explain your role and why you need the information you are asking for
    • support the reporter if they are not sure the child has been sexually abused. The reporter may have general concerns, but feel reluctant to state they believe the child has been sexually abused
    • encourage the reporter to seek out and follow their own agency policies and guidelines regarding when to contact the Department and managing child protection concerns
    • explain and define sexual abuse to the reporter. Help them feel confident making a decision about submitting a report
    • reassure the reporter of the protections they have if they are making a report in good faith (refer to below section)
    • provide the reporter with feedback and keep them informed of any relevant case management decisions, where this is appropriate.
    • acknowledge the privacy concerns and anxieties associated with submitting a mandatory report, and
    • where the reporter is willing and the family feel it is helpful, invite the reporter to attend a Signs of Safety mapping meeting.

    Confidentiality of the mandatory reporter's identity (s.124F of the Act) 

    When engaging with staff from external organisations, making mandatory report enquiries or contacting parents, including when leaving telephone messages, identify yourself as a worker from the Department, not from the MRS.  This is very important to help maintain a mandatory reporter's confidentiality.

    There are a number of circumstances in which a reporter's identity may be disclosed. Refer to s.124F(2) of the Act for further information.

    A Court may give permission for identifying information to be revealed in legal proceedings under s.124H(2) of the Act, but can only do so if satisfied that:

    • necessary to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of the child 
    • critically important in the proceedings and there is compelling reason in the public interest to make the disclosure, or 
    • the reporter consents to the disclosure.

    Mandatory reporters are protected from liability if they make a report in good faith. This includes protection from:

    • civil or criminal liability
    • breach of confidentiality or secrecy imposed by law, and 
    • breach of professional ethics or standards, principles of conduct related to employment,  or engaging in unprofessional conduct (s.129 of the Act).

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    Defence for not submitting a report


    Having a legal defence for not submitting a mandatory report doesn't necessarily mean that a report is not legally required.

    Where a Mandatory Reporter is unsure, but willing to submit the report, encourage them to do so. 

    If a person is charged with the offence of not making a mandatory report, it is a defence if the person is able to prove that they honestly and reasonably believe that:

    • the details and grounds for them believing that a child was or is being sexually abused have been included in a report made by another person
    • the Department was making inquiries into the child's wellbeing, or
    • the Department had taken or was taking action in respect of the child's wellbeing.

    Where a reporter makes a query about submitting a report and they believe a report has already been submitted by a reporter from another agency, you should encourage the reporter to make the report. Different agencies are likely to hold slightly different information and it is important to gather information from different sources and perspectives.

    Mandatory reporters must comply with their reporting obligations in addition to any other reporting legislation that may be relevant to their position or profession. 

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