C4: INVESTIGATION PROCEDURE - CHILD ABUSE
An allegation of child abuse is a very serious matter and must be handled with a high degree of sensitivity. The initial response to a complaint that a child has allegedly been abused should be immediate if the incident is serious or criminal in nature, while less serious / urgent allegations should be actioned as soon as possible, preferably within twenty four hours.
The following is a basic outline of the key processes to follow. More information can be obtained from your relevant State or Territory Government agency.
4.1 Step 1 - Clarify basic details of the allegation
(1) Any complaints, concerns, or allegations of child abuse should be made or referred to the Chief Executive Officer.
(2) The initial response of the person that receives the complaint from the child (or person on behalf of the child) is crucial to the well-being of the child. It is important for the person receiving the information to:
· listen to, be supportive and do not dispute what the child says;
· reassure the child that what has occurred is not the fault of the child;
· ensure the child is safe;
· be honest with the child and explain that other people may need to be told in order to stop what is happening; and
· ensure that what the child says is quite clear but do not elicit detailed information about the abuse. You should avoid suggestive or leading questions.
(3) The person receiving the complaint should obtain and clarify basic details (if possible) such as:
· the child’s name, age and address;
· the person’s reason for suspecting abuse (ie, observation, injury, or other); and
· names and contact details of all people involved, including witnesses.
4.2 Step 2 – Report allegations of a serious or criminal nature
(1) Any individual or organisation to which this Policy applies, should immediately report any incident of a serious or criminal nature to the Police and other appropriate authorities.
(2) If the allegation involves a child at risk of harm, the incident should immediately be reported to the Police or other appropriate Government agency. You may need to report to both the Police and the relevant Government agency.
(3) The relevant State or Territory authority should be contacted for advice if there is any doubt about whether the complaint should be reported.
(4) If the child’s parent/s is suspected of committing the abuse, report the allegation to the relevant Government agency.
4.3 Step 3 – Protect the child
(1) The MPIO should assess the risks and take interim action to ensure the child’s / children’s safety. Some options could include: redeployment of the alleged offender to a non child-related position, supervision of the alleged offender, or removal / suspension from duties until the allegations are finally determined.
(2) The MPIO should also address the support needs of the person against whom the complaint is made. Supervision of the person should ideally occur with the knowledge of the person. If stood down, it should be made clear to all parties that are aware of the incident, that this does not mean the person is guilty and a proper investigation still needs to be undertaken.
4.4 Step 4 – Further clarify and investigate allegation
For allegations of a serious or criminal nature (for example, sexual abuse):
(1) seek advice from the Police and relevant Government agency as to whether the ABF should carry out its own internal investigation (in addition to any Police or relevant Government agency investigation). If the police and / or the relevant Government agency advises that it is appropriate, then appoint an independent person (where possible) with appropriate expertise to conduct an investigation. The investigator should:
· contact the parents / carers of the child at an appropriate time and as directed by the Police or relevant Government agency;
· if appropriate, meet with parents / carers and the child to clarify the incident and offer support on behalf of the ABF if required (ie, professional counselling);
· meet with the person against whom the allegation refers at an appropriate time and as directed by the relevant authority and give the person an opportunity to explain or respond to the allegation and identify any witnesses and supporting evidence. The person should have an opportunity to invite a support person / advisor to attend at a meeting and should be offered support (ie, professional counselling) if necessary;
· obtain a signed statement and record of interview from the person;
· make contact with any witnesses and obtain written and signed statements outlining details of the allegation (what happened, when, how). This should only occur following advice from the relevant authority; and
· obtain other information that could assist in making a decision on the allegation.
(2) The information collected during the investigation should be made available to the relevant authorities.
(3) Strict confidentiality, impartiality, fairness and due process must be maintained at all times.
For allegations of a less serious nature (eg, verbal abuse):
(1) where possible, appoint an independent person with appropriate expertise to make contact and meet with each of the people involved to obtain details of the allegation;
(2) the investigator should follow the procedure set out in Part C3; and
(3) strict confidentiality, impartiality, fairness and due process must be maintained at all times.
4.5 Step 5 – Record and analyse all information
(1) If an internal investigation was conducted under Step 4 above, the investigator will provide a report to the Chief Executive Officer.
(2) The decision-maker/s will be and appeals tribunal of the ABF and will remain separate and at arm’s length from the investigator.
(3) The appeals tribunal will consider all the information and determine a finding. It will also recommend action and its rationale for the action.
4.6 Step 6 – Undertake disciplinary action
(1) For incidents of a serious or criminal nature, consideration must be given to the findings of the Police and / or the Government agency before making a decision on disciplinary proceedings.
(2) If disciplinary action is to be taken, follow the procedures outlined in Part C6 of this Policy.
(3) Implement any disciplinary decision recommended by the appeals tribunal. The action should be immediate.
(4) Check with the relevant State Government authority to see if you need to forward a report (eg, the NSW Commission for Children and Young People requires notification of relevant employment proceedings).
(5) Complete the Report form in Part E of this Policy. Retain the original in a secure place and forward a copy to the Chief Executive Officer of the ABF.