Child sexual abuse Things you need to know Department of Communities

Department
of Communities
Department
of Communities
Child Safety Services
Child Safety Services
Child sexual abuse
Things you need to know
Photos are for illustrative purposes only
Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
What is child sexual abuse? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Myths and facts about child sexual abuse. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Incidence and impact of child sexual abuse . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Normal sexual development and how to identify
a problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Indicators of child sexual abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Responding to suspicion or disclosure of child
sexual abuse. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Speaking out about child sexual abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Reporting child sexual abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
The reporting process. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Confidential reporting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
If you make a report and believe no action has
been taken . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Information for employees of organisations
related to children or child care. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Making a report to Child Safety Services or the
Queensland Police Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Contact numbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
3
Introduction
Harm caused by child sexual abuse can impact on a child’s
physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing. All adults
have a responsibility to protect children from harm. This
booklet will assist you in making informed decisions to help
ensure children under the age of 18 years are safe and
protected from harm.
The booklet provides information about child sexual abuse and
its impact on a child’s life. It also provides advice on what to do
if a child tells you they have been abused or if you suspect that
a child has been sexually abused.
This information is relevant for all adults who have contact with
children.
Organisations providing programs or activities for children can
use the information in this booklet to better inform policies
and procedures for handling suspicions or disclosures of child
sexual abuse.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult, stronger child or
adolescent uses his or her power or authority to involve a child
in sexual activity. Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal
or emotional and can include:
• kissing or holding a child in a sexual manner
• exposing a sexual body part to a child
• having sexual relations with a child
• talking in a sexually explicit way that is not age or
developmentally appropriate
• making obscene phone calls or remarks to a child
• sending obscene mobile text messages or emails
to a child
• fondling a child in a sexual manner
• persistently intruding on a child’s privacy
• penetrating the child’s vagina or anus by either the
penis, finger or any other object
• oral sex
• rape
• incest
• showing pornographic films, magazines or photographs
to a child
• having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner
• forcing a child to watch a sexual act
• child prostitution.
Secrecy, misuse of power and the distortion of adult-child
relationships are key factors in the sexual abuse of children.
Other factors may be a consideration when the person
responsible for the abuse is an adolescent, another child
or a female.
5
Grooming behaviour of sex offenders?
Grooming refers to the process by which sex offenders groom
people in the community, such as parents, carers, teachers
and children to engage, establish trust and gain access to
a child. Sex offenders spend considerable time targeting,
enticing and trapping a child for sexual purposes. Grooming
involves the offender integrating themselves into places where
they have access to children and then grooming the adults
to create opportunities for the offender to abuse their victims.
Some examples of grooming behaviour can include a person:
• regularly offering to babysit a child for free or take a
child on overnight outings alone
• actively excluding a child from other adults or children
• insisting on physical affection such as kissing, hugging,
wrestling or tickling even when the child clearly does
not want it
• being overly interested in the sexual development of a
child
• insisting on time alone with the child with no
interruption
• enjoying taking lots of pictures of children
• sharing alcohol or drugs with younger children or
adolescents
• exposing their genitals to a child.
Myths and facts about child sexual abuse
Very often when a child is sexually abused, the people affected
by the abuse are offered advice and information by concerned
friends, family members and professionals. It is not unusual for
the child and others affected to become confused about what
to believe and what not to believe.
The following table lists some of the more common myths
(things that are not true), and facts (things that are true) about
child sexual abuse.
Myth
Fact
Children make up
stories or lie about
sexual abuse.
While children do make up stories, they
seldom lie about sexual abuse. Children
who have not been abused do not usually
have explicit knowledge of intimate sexual
behaviour. Research indicates that most
reports of child sexual abuse are true.
Abuse is most
often committed by
strangers.
Most abuse is committed by someone the
victim knows and trusts.
Offenders look
sleazy, cruel or
unusual.
Offenders come from all walks of life and
are ordinary people. It is because they
are ordinary people that it is easy for them
to offend undetected. They can be family
members, family friends, babysitters,
coaches, teachers, visitors or neighbours.
The community can protect children from
sexual abuse by being observant of the
way they are treated by others, rather
than by concentrating on whether an
individual ‘looks’ like a sex offender.
7
Myth
Fact
Acts like fondling,
french kissing or
touching are not
really sexually
abusive, and do
not really harm the
child.
Any form of direct or indirect sexual
contact with a child by an adult, an older
child or a sibling who is mature is abusive.
Every individual has a unique reaction
to sexual abuse regardless of the type,
extent or duration of the abuse.
If a male child or
young man has
an erection, or
if a female child
or young woman
does not complain
or display any
signs of distress
during the sexual
abuse, then what
is occurring is not
abuse.
Physical reactions to sexual stimulation
indicate only that one’s biological
body functions are healthy. Under no
circumstances should these physical
reactions be taken to mean that the child
is enjoying the abuse.
All sexually
abused children
are scarred or
damaged forever.
Many children who have experienced
sexual abuse will heal and go on to lead
normal lives like everyone else. In most
cases, sexual abuse leaves no visible
physical marks on a person, and no one
will know that abuse has occurred unless
they are told.
Children who have
been sexually
abused by a
member of the
same sex (or
opposite sex)
grow up to be
homosexual.
The sex of the person who commits the
abuse does not determine the victim’s
sexual orientation.
Sexual assault is a criminal offence
regardless of whether or not some of the
acts make the child feel good physically.
A child does not have the emotional tools
to understand what is happening.
Myth
Fact
Children are
sexually abused
because their
parents or carers
neglect to care for
them, or supervise
them properly.
Offenders use a range of tactics to gain
access to their victims. The offender alone
is responsible for their actions. Many
offenders are experts in manipulating
both the victim and the people who
care for them.
Children are
sexually abused
because their
mothers are not
sexually available
to their husbands
or partners.
Offenders may have normal sex lives
with their partners and still abuse a child.
An offender may
be so drunk or high
that they cannot
be considered
responsible for
what they did.
With or without alcohol or drugs, the
offender is responsible for their actions
and may need specialised treatment
for their offending behaviour and for the
alcohol or drug abuse.
A child who is
sexually abused
will grow up to
sexually abuse
children.
Many children who are sexually abused
do not become child sexual abusers
when they grow up.
It is important that members of the
community behave in ways that reduce
the likelihood that children will be exposed
to sexual abuse either by a family
member or another person.
9
Incidence and impact of child sexual abuse
Incidence
• The exact figures for child sexual abuse are unknown.
• Research shows that between one and five girls are
sexually abused. For boys, the range is between one
and 101.
• Sexual abuse experienced by children is underreported and therefore it is likely that rates may be
higher. Fear of being labelled homosexual is a common
barrier for boys in disclosing if they have been abused
by a male.
• In 90 per cent of child sexual abuse cases the child
knows the offender2.
• Children with a disability are four times more likely to
be sexually abused than children without a disability3.
• One in five children aged 10 to 17 years will receive
a sexual invitation from a stranger over the internet4.
1 Dunne, M., Purdie, D., Cook, M., Boyle, F. & Najman, J. (2003). Is child
sexual abuse declining? Evidence from a population-based survey of men and
women in Australia. Child Abuse and Neglect, 27, 141-152.
2 Trewin, D. (2005) Personal Safety Survey (Catalogue No. 4906.0). Canberra:
Australian Bureau of Statistics.
3 Charlton, M., Kliethermes, M., Tallant, M., Taverne, A. & Tishelman, A. (2004).
Facts n Traumatic Stress and children with developmental disabilities. Los
Angeles: National Centre for Child Traumatic Stress.
4 Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K. & Wolak, J. (2001). Highlights of the Youth Internet
Survey. OJJDP Fact Sheet. (online). Available at: http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/
Youth_Internet_info_page.html
Perpetrators
• Perpetrators can be male or female, an adult or a child
over the age of 10 years. They come from all walks of
life.
• Sexually abusive behaviours displayed by children
over the age of 10 years may be considered a criminal
offence, depending on the circumstances.
• Some very young children, who are themselves victims
of sexual abuse, can act out sexually with their siblings
and friends.
• Between 2000 and 2006, the Egret Team (Crime
and Misconduct Commission, Anti-paedophile Unit,
Queensland) arrested 103 people on 1328 charges
related to child sexual abuse5.
Impact of abuse
No two children react to abuse in the same manner. Sexually
abused children exhibit more distress than non-abused
children, yet no one sign is common to all.
Some children show no observable negative effects of child
sexual abuse while others show a wide range of signs. A
child’s support network and bonds with those who believe and
protect them will help them cope.
5
rime and Misconduct Commission, Queensland, Press Release
C
04.09.2006
11
The impact of sexual abuse on children varies:
• Some children show no signs of distress immediately
after sexual abuse, yet may present signs of distress a
year, or many years, later.
• Some children display behaviour problems and have
difficulties with emotional stress, new anxiety, low selfesteem, appropriate boundaries or personal space
and use of sexual language, yet they may respond to
professional counselling with family support.
• Some children display signs of serious distress such
as depression, high levels of anxiety, repeat sexualised
behaviour, self-loathing, aggressiveness and confused
thoughts.
• Some children who have been sexually abused show
one or more signs similar to post-traumatic stress
disorder. These include isolated flashbacks, bedwetting, sudden changes in wanting to sleep with
parents or being afraid of the dark.
• Although children who have been sexually abused
show a wide variety of symptoms or difficulties, the two
most consistent are post-traumatic stress disorder and
sexualised behaviour.
The impact on a victim may be influenced by events other than
the abuse, such as factors existing in the child’s life before the
abuse. This may include the overall development of the child
at the time of abuse and the level of support received by the
child after the child sexual abuse is disclosed or discovered.
The impact may also be influenced by factors after the
abuse such as lowered risk of harm and increased protective
situations. These factors may also influence a child’s decision
to retract their allegations.
Long-term impact of child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse can impact on the child’s ability to feel
safe, develop trust, and have positive intimate relationships in
adult life.
Research links child sexual abuse with psychological problems
such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and poor
self-esteem.
Child sexual abuse can impact on the child’s social and
personal relationships and may increase a sense of
hopelessness, or helplessness to make positive changes in
their world, as well as an inability to relate well to others.
Normal sexual development and how to
identify a problem
Ages 0–5
• Children at this age have intense curiosity about
almost everything, including their bodies, and are often
happier with no clothes on.
• Sexual self-stimulation or masturbation normally begins
during infancy and continues throughout development
as both a self-soothing and exciting behaviour.
• In addition to their own bodies, children of this age
group are also curious about others’ bodies. Their
curiosity may lead them to try to look at or touch others’
genitalia. This is exploratory looking and touching,
typically accompanied by giggling and amusement
rather than behaviour of a coercive nature.
• When clear limits are set, pre-schoolers take redirection easily.
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Ages 6–10
• School-age children continue to explore their own
bodies.
• Children begin to seek information about sex and look
for books and diagrams that explain their own organs
and functions.
• Curiosity about sexuality takes the form of playing
games such as, “I’ll show you mine if you show me
yours”.
• Some boys of this age compare penis size.
• Children become interested in sex words and dirty
jokes.
• Limited interest in the opposite sex may be evident.
• Interest in the child’s own and other bodies continues,
particularly if changes in their bodies begin to occur.
• Feelings of needing privacy emerge.
Ages 11–12 (pre-adolescence)
• Masturbation continues during pre-adolescence.
• Pre-adolescents are focused on establishing
relationships with peers.
• Some engage in sexual activity with peers, including
kissing and fondling.
• Pre-adolescents may imitate sexual behaviours they
have seen or heard about.
• While most of these experiences are with the
opposite sex, pre-adolescents may engage in sexual
activities with their own gender. Such sexual activity
with the same gender does not necessarily indicate
homosexuality.
How can I tell when a sexual behaviour is a problem?
You will need to assess whether:
• the type of sexual activity is normally expected for the
child’s age and level of development
• the children involved have relatively equal power
• force or intimidation is used
• the behaviour is kept secret
• the behaviour appears compulsive or the child is
obsessed with it
• the child’s behaviour can be redirected quickly to
another activity.
Teaching children about sexual safety
Just as adults teach children about water safety, fire safety or
car safety, is important to teach children about sexual safety.
It is important to show children that you are aware of sexual
safety by discussing with them ways to respect their bodies
and reject sexual put downs or jokes.
Set clear behavioural limits in relation to sexual safety, such
as “we don’t touch other people’s private parts”. Implement
these rules along with other general house rules. Talk with
children about respectful words for the private parts of their
body. Although children are able to learn concepts about
safety, adults should not rely on a child’s knowledge of these
concepts as a measure of their ability to protect themselves.
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Indicators of child sexual abuse
There are some behavioural and physical indicators that a
child is being, or has been sexually abused, even if the child
does not disclose the fact.
A child’s age and level of maturity and development must be
considered when interpreting possible behavioural indicators
of sexual abuse.
Behavioural indicators can include:
• displaying greater sexual knowledge or language that
normally expected for the child’s age or developmental
level
• hints about sexual activity through actions or
comments that are inappropriate to the child’s age
or developmental level
• inappropriate sexual play and behaviour with
themselves, other children or dolls and toys
• excessive masturbation or masturbation in public
after kindergarten age
• an unusual interest in or pre-occupation with sexual
matters
• persistent bedwetting, urinating or soiling in clothes
• regressive behaviour such as baby talk and
thumb-sucking
• fear or avoidance of any aspect of sexuality
• sexually suggestive behaviour with adults or older
children
• persistent psychosomatic complaints or frequent
depression
• poor social boundaries
• starting fires or a fascination with fire
• running away
• destroying property
• hurting or mutilating animals
• promiscuity or prostitution
• refusing to undress for activities or often wearing layers
of clothing
• creating stories, poems or artwork about abuse
• suicidal feelings or attempts at suicide
• difficulty concentrating and being withdrawn or overly
obedient
• being seemingly accident-prone.
Please note that some of the indicators listed above may
be signs that a child is at risk of harm, but not necessarily
because of sexual abuse.
Physical indicators can include:
• bruising, bleeding, swelling, tears or cuts on genitals
or anus
• an unusual vaginal odour or discharge
• torn, stained or bloody clothing, especially underwear
• pain or itching in the genital area, difficulty going to the
toilet, walking or sitting
• a sexually transmitted disease, especially in a
pre-adolescent child
• pregnancy.
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Responding to a suspicion or disclosure of
child sexual abuse
Sexual abuse of children in any form, by anyone, is
unacceptable. It is not unusual for a child to deny that anything
is wrong as this is a natural way of coping when something
may be overwhelming. Disclosure is a process which can
include the child saying she or he was sexually abused and
then withdrawing the statement by saying it didn’t happen. This
can happen particularly if there is a negative consequence or
response to the child or family, for example, punishment of the
child or family separation.
If you have suspicions that a child has been sexually
abused:
• be alert to any warning signs that may indicate a child
is experiencing or is at risk of abuse
• observe the child and make written notes as soon
as you begin to have concerns — pay attention to
body cues such as changes in their behaviour, ideas,
feelings and the words they use
• have a gentle, non-judgemental discussion with the
child — expressing your concern that a child looks sad
or unwell can result in disclosures
• do not pressure a child to respond and do not ask
questions that put words into a child’s mouth
• assure the child that he or she can come and talk
to you when they need to, and listen to them when
they do
• remember that child abuse does not go away and
usually becomes more serious over time
• seek expert advice by calling Child Safety Services
or the Queensland Police Service to talk about your
concerns
• remember that not acting on a child’s disclosures or
your suspicions may result in a child being further
abused.
If a child tells you they are being abused:
• remain calm
• do not express shock, panic or disbelief — the child is
counting on you to provide calm reassurance that they
are being listened to and heard
• find a private place to talk
• thank the child for coming to talk to you about it and
recognise their bravery for talking about something that
may be very difficult for them
• be supportive, tell them that you believe what they are
saying and thank them for helping you to understand
• be a listener not an investigator — encourage the child
to talk in their language and ask just enough questions
to act protectively, for example, “can you tell me more
about that?”
19
• do not conduct any form of interview with the child
• stress that what has happened is not their fault, for
example, “you are not in trouble” and, “if I look and
sound upset it is because I want you to feel safe”
• be aware of your tone of voice and help the child make
sense of what you are feeling, for example, “I am
feeling concerned for you,” or, “what we can do right
now is talk about ways to help you feel safe”
• act proactively, for example, “I know some people
do wrong things and it is up to grown-ups to protect
children” or, “every child has a right to be safe, there
are laws to help protect children”
• reassure the child that they have done the right thing
by telling you, and that they are not in trouble
• do not make promises you cannot keep, such as
promising you will not tell anyone — you need to tell
someone in order to get help for the child
• as a concerned community member you can contact
Child Safety Services or the Queensland Police
Service and ask how best to respond to the situation
• do not contact the person responsible for the abuse,
regardless of who that person is — leave this to the police
• keep information confidential — only those who
absolutely need to know should be told at this point.
If a parent tells you that a child has been abused but the
person responsible no longer has contact with the child, you
should still contact Child Safety Services or the Queensland
Police Service to help protect other children. You could also
provide information to the parent about where they can get
help and advice.
Speaking out about child sexual abuse
Acknowledging child sexual abuse can be very difficult. Often
people find it easier to down play their concerns or avoid
thinking about the possibility that a child may have been
abused. This can leave a child unprotected and allow the
abuse to continue.
Why you should break the silence about child sexual
abuse
• Every child has the right to be protected by caring
adults.
• Sexual abuse can affect a child for the rest of their life.
• Think about how you may feel if you do not act to
protect a child.
• A child is never to blame for sexual abuse.
• If you suspect that a child has been sexually abused
it is better to report it, even if you are not sure, rather
than do nothing.
• Trust your gut feeling, rely on intuition and speak out if
you think someone is sexually abusing a child.
• If the person responsible is a child or adolescent,
speaking up may enable them to get help to address
their sexual behaviour.
• If you do report sexual abuse, the child will always
remember that someone had the courage to speak out
and do something to protect them.
• If a child has been sexually abused, it is important for
the family to reach out for help and not to isolate itself.
If you do not take action when you suspect a child is being
sexually abused, you may place the child at serious risk of
ongoing abuse and prevent the child’s family from receiving
the help they need.
There are many organisations in the community that can
provide services to help children and families. Take some time
to find out what is available in your community.
21
Communities need to do something about child sexual
abuse. Stand together, be strong and break the silence. Stop
protecting the person responsible and speak out against child
sexual abuse.
Common concerns you may have when deciding whether
to speak out about child abuse:
• The person responsible could be a relative or a
wellknown person in the community.
If the person is related to you, it may put you in a
difficult position. It is very important that you talk to
someone who you can trust or someone outside of the
family. It is also important to access support services
for yourself, to assist you through this difficult situation.
• You might not want the person responsible to get
into trouble with the law.
The person responsible may have contact with the
police. This is not your fault, as it is a result of their own
actions.
• You might feel that the problem could best be dealt
with inside the family network or by the community.
Sometimes the community’s response is to move the
person responsible away from where they live. The
problem will not go away as they may go to another
community and continue to abuse children. People who
sexually abuse children need to get help so they can
stop this behaviour.
• The justice system can sometimes take a long time
before an outcome is reached.
Convicting people of crimes against children can
sometimes take a long time and be a stressful process.
It is important that you put support networks in place for
yourself and the family, so that you do not feel isolated
and alone.
The impact of abuse on a child can also last a long
time so it is important that the child and their family can
be supported.
• You do not want to make the situation worse for the
family.
This is a realistic concern. It may seem that reporting
your concerns will make things worse for the family,
organisation, community or the child. However, in the
long run, you could make it a better for a child who may
not have anyone else to protect them, or may be too
scared and ashamed to speak out about the sexual
abuse.
The family may not be aware that a child has been
sexually abused. Child Safety Services works with
families to support them and help them care for their
children, and in many cases, the child can remain living
at home as long as family members can keep them
safe.
You might know the person who is responsible for the
abuse and do not want to make it worse for their family.
This places you in a difficult situation. Think about what
is more important — protecting a child or protecting an
abuser? The child’s right to be safe is most important.
23
• It may cause a lot of trouble between your family
and the family that you report. It may also cause
tension and stress within your own family if the
person responsible is a close family member.
It is sad that reporting child sexual abuse sometimes
causes families to fight and can cause a rift in families
that may never be mended. However, there will also
be family members who will admire you for having the
courage to stand up for what you believe in, and for
having done something to protect a child from sexual
abuse.
• You might be afraid that you could be the victim of
verbal or physical abuse if you tell someone about
a child that is being sexually abused.
This is a real concern for people who live in close-knit
communities. Section 186 of the Child Protection Act
1999 states that a notifier’s name will not be disclosed
by Child Safety Services or the Queensland Police
Service, except in specific circumstances, for example,
when ordered to do so by a court or tribunal. You can
also choose to remain anonymous.
In small communities, people can sometimes guess
who has spoken to Child Safety Services. If you are
worried about this, find a support network of strongminded people in your community whose beliefs are
similar to your own and who agree it is important to
protect children. It is very important for communities to
put support mechanisms in place for those people who
are brave enough to report sexual abuse.
• You simply may not want to get involved or you
may think it is none of your business.
Protecting children from sexual abuse is everybody’s
business. Children cannot protect themselves against
predators or paedophiles. It is the responsibility of
government and communities working together to
nurture and protect children.
• You might be too ashamed to talk about child
sexual abuse.
If you are too ashamed to talk about child sexual
abuse, find a friend or someone who can advocate on
your behalf. There are also many agencies that you
can speak to. A full list of agencies is provided at the
back of this booklet.
Find out how Child Safety Services and the Queensland Police
Service respond to reports of sexual abuse. Speak to an
officer from Child Safety Services and the Queensland Police
Service about their policies and procedures for responding to
child sexual abuse reports. Ask for the officer’s name and ask
them to send information about the process to you.
25
Reporting child sexual abuse
If you have reason to suspect a child is experiencing sexual
abuse, there are a number of agencies that can provide
support and advice.
Child Safety Services
In the first instance you should contact the Department of
Communities (Child Safety Services), which is responsible for
the administration and implementation of the Child Protection
Act 1999 (the Act).
The purpose of the Act is to provide for the protection of
children. This involves responding to allegations of harm,
providing support services to strengthen and support families
to reduce the incidence of harm and providing services to
families to protect their children if harm or risk of harm has
been identified.
To contact Child Safety Services, call a regional intake service
on 13 QGOV (13 74 68). You can also visit
www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety for further
information.
Child Safety After-Hours Service Centre
If it is an emergency and you wish to speak to somebody
outside of normal working hours, you can contact Child Safety
After-Hours Service Centre. This is a service provided by Child
Safety Services and is available after business hours and on
weekends. Call 3235 9999 or freecall 1800 177 135.
Queensland Police Service
The Queensland Police Service is involved in investigating all
reported incidents of suspected sexual abuse against children,
serial sex offences, organised paedophilia, institutionalised
abuse, child exploitation and Internet pornography. Legal
proceedings are initiated against alleged offenders when
allegations constitute an offence under the Criminal Code
1899, the Child Protection Act 1999 or any other relevant
legislation.
The Queensland Police Service has a number of dedicated
units across the state to investigate matters relating to
children. If you wish to discuss or report an incident involving
a child, contact your local Child Protection and Investigation
Unit. If you do not have a local unit, contact your local police
station.
In an emergency call 000.
Parentline
Parentline is a free, confidential telephone service that
provides counselling and referrals.
Counsellors are available from 8am – 10pm, seven days a
week. Call 1300 301 300 to speak to a Parentline counsellor.
There is a full list of contact details for organisations that can
provide advice and support concerning child abuse on page
34 of this booklet.
27
The reporting process
Government agencies that can investigate harm to a child are
Child Safety Services and the Queensland Police Service.
When you contact the regional intake service at Child
Safety Services or the Queensland Police Service about
your concerns, the officer taking the call will gather as much
information as possible from you and decide the best way to
respond.
Child Safety Services will assess the information given by
you and decide whether an investigation and assessment will
occur to determine whether the child has been harmed or is at
risk of harm in the future.
The Queensland Police Service will decide whether a criminal
offence has occurred.
Initial information required by Child Safety Services or the
Queensland Police Service includes:
• the name, age and address of the child
• reasons why you suspect the child may have
experienced harm, or is at risk of experiencing harm
• any concerns you may have for the child’s immediate
safety in their home.
It is vital that you call, even if you do not have all the details.
Do not question the child too much as this may upset them
and make it harder for the authorities to investigate what has
really happened.
When you contact Child Safety Services, the information that
is gathered will be recorded on their information system. This
system contains records of all reports of harm received by
Child Safety Services. When making a report you may remain
anonymous. However, it is preferable that you provide contact
details so that officers are able to contact you if required.
Even if you think the information you have is trivial, your call
may provide a vital piece of information that enables Child
Safety Services or the Queensland Police Service to act.
If a decision is made that Child Safety Services intervention
is not required, a child safety officer may provide you with
information or advice, or refer the family to another service. All
details received from and given to you will be noted, but a child
safety officer may not necessarily contact or visit the family.
If the assessment determines that the child has been harmed
or is at risk of significant harm, a child safety officer will visit
the child and their family, and if necessary, make contact with
other parties such as the school, doctor or other agencies
involved with the family. When the concerns relate to sexual
abuse, a police officer will also be involved in the investigation,
as a criminal offence may have occurred.
Following a full assessment of the child’s protective needs, a
decision will be made about whether it is possible to address
the child’s needs by supporting and assisting the family. In the
majority of cases, children are able to remain at home, with
support provided to the family by Child Safety Services and
community agencies to ensure they are safe and their needs
are met. Sometimes short-term care for the child is arranged
until their safety needs can be met within the family.
If the child’s long-term protective needs cannot be met by their
family and they are unable to live at home safely, maintaining
ongoing safe and protective family contact is supported by the
department.
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Confidential reporting
When a report is made to Child Safety Services or the
Queensland Police Service, the caller’s identity and the
information provided will be kept confidential. The caller’s
identity is strictly protected.
There are specific sections within the Child Protection Act
1999 which ensure that confidentiality is maintained. These
are:
Section 22 — Protection from liability for notification of, or
information given about, alleged harm or risk of harm
This section provides protection from any legal liability for
persons who report their concerns about a child to either Child
Safety Services or the Queensland Police Service.
A person making such a report cannot be considered to have
breached any code of professional conduct or ethics. Section
22 also covers situations where information about a child is
provided to Child Safety Services or the Queensland Police
Service in the course of an investigation. Officers may talk to
relevant people or agencies who can provide information, such
as a family doctor or school teacher.
Section 186 — Confidentiality of notifiers of harm or risk
of harm
A ‘notifier’ is a person who contacts Child Safety Services or
the Queensland Police Service to report their concerns about
a particular child. This section ensures that confidentiality of
notifier information is maintained.
Section 186 prohibits officers from disclosing the notifier’s
identity except in the course of performing their duties under
the Child Protection Act 1999 or if ordered to do so by a court
or tribunal.
The child’s family will not be told who provided information
upon which the officers are acting. Remember:
• Queensland law protects the source of the report
• the details of your report are kept strictly confidential
• only discuss your concerns with those who absolutely
need to know.
You can speak with an officer from Child Safety Services if you
have any concerns.
If you make a report and believe no action
has been taken
If you have concerns about a child’s situation after a report has
been made:
• contact the Child Safety Services regional intake
service you had initial contact with to discuss your
concerns further
• if you are not satisfied with the outcome of this contact,
ask to speak with the regional intake service team
leader
• if you are still not satisfied, you can ask to talk to the
manager of the regional intake service, make contact
with the regional office or lodge a formal complaint with
Child Safety Services.
Information for employees of organisations
related to children or child care
Many child sex offenders find their victims in the organisation
where they work or volunteer.
Every organisation that cares for children should have a policy
on how best to respond to suspicions or disclosures of child
sexual abuse.
31
The organisation’s policy should be communicated to staff and
volunteers to ensure they are fully aware of, and understand,
how to manage the process of reporting child sexual abuse.
Communicating an organisation’s commitment to the
policy sends a strong message to everyone involved in the
organisation that sexual abuse will not be tolerated.
If you work in an organisation and a child tells you they are
being abused, you should immediately inform your manager,
management committee or the licensee of the service to
develop a plan of action.
If the person responsible for the sexual abuse is a staff
member, follow your organisation’s policy for this situation for
referral to the appropriate authorities.
An action plan should be developed by management.
As a concerned community member you can also notify Child
Safety Services or the Queensland Police Service if you
suspect that a child is being sexually abused or harmed in
some way.
As a staff member you do not need to prove that the abuse
has actually occurred, your responsibility is to notify your
suspicion and the reasons for it.
You have reasonable grounds to take action if:
• a child tells you, for example, that they have
experienced, or is experiencing sexual abuse
• someone tells you, for example, a sibling, relative,
friend or neighbour that a child has, or is being sexually
abused
• a child tells you that they know someone who has been
sexually abused
• you have suspicions because of the child’s physical or
behavioural indicators.
There are some people in Queensland who have a legal
obligation to report suspicions of child abuse to the appropriate
authorities.
These include:
• medical practitioners and registered nurses under the
Health Act 1937
• the Commission for Children and Young People and
Child Guardian under the Commission for Children and
Young People and Child Guardian Act 2000
• Family Court personnel, including court counsellors,
mediators, welfare officers and registrars under the
Family Law Act 1975
• persons employed in a licensed care service, under the
Child Protection Act 1999
• detention centre employees of the Department of
Communities under the Juvenile Justice Act 1992
• licensees of child care services under the Child Care
Act 2002.
There are many other organisations, both government and
non-government, that have their own procedures that require
their employees to report suspicions of child abuse.
If you work in a child-related organisation, use the following
checklist when responding to reports or suspicions of child
sexual abuse.
33
If you are informed or have suspicions that a child
is being sexually abused, an appropriate response
should include the following:
Have access to a copy of your organisation’s internal
policy and be knowledgeable about how to respond
appropriately.
Be alert to any warning signs that may indicate the child is
being abused.
Observe the child and make written notes as soon as you
begin to have concerns. Pay attention to body cues such
as changes in the child’s behaviour, ideas, feelings and
words they use.
Have gentle, non-judgmental discussions with the child.
Expressing your concern that a child looks sad or unwell
can result in disclosures. Do not pressure the child to
respond and do not ask leading questions that puts words
into a child’s mouth. Try to use language that is appropriate
to their age.
Assure the child that they can come and talk to you when
they need to. Be available and listen carefully to a child
when they do.
Promptly advise the person nominated by your
organisation of your concerns.
Seek expert advice, or make a report by contacting Child
Safety Services, or the Queensland Police Service.
X
If a child tells you they are being sexually abused
you should:
X
Remain calm. Do not express shock, panic or disbelief.
Be a listener not an investigator. Encourage the child to
talk using their language. Ask just enough questions to
be more proactive, such as, “can you tell me more about
that?” or just nod and say, “yes” to acknowledge you are
hearing the child. Do not conduct any form of interview
with the child.
Reassure the child that they have done the right thing by
telling you.
Stress what has happened is not their fault, “you are not in
trouble” or, “if I look or sound upset it is because I want you
to feel safe”.
Do not make any promises to the child that you cannot
keep, such as not telling anyone else. Explain that you will
have to speak to other people in order to help.
Make written notes as soon as possible following the
disclosure. Again, record the words that the child used and
the behaviours displayed to indicate their distress.
Promptly advise the person nominated by your
organisation of the disclosure.
Report the matter to either Child Safety Services or the
Queensland Police Service.
Important points to remember:
• Keep information confidential. Only those who
absolutely need to know should be told.
• Do not notify the individual against whom an allegation
or complaint has been made, regardless of who this
person is. Leave this to the police.
• Do not contact the parent until a plan of action has
been developed with Child Safety Services or the
Queensland Police Service.
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Making a report to Child Safety Services or the
Queensland Police Service
If a child tells you that they have been sexually abused, or you believe that a child
may be at risk of sexual abuse, remember:
• listen carefully
• thank the child for telling you
• remain calm
• do not make promises you
• record details
cannot keep
• do not blame the child
• only tell those who need
• believe and support the child
to know.
Contact Child Safety Services
Child Safety Services and the Queensland
Police Service gather information including the
child’s details and their family situation. Child
Safety Services works together with the police
during each stage of any investigation.
Child Safety Services
assesses the report
of harm to a child.
If the child is an
Aboriginal or Torres
Strait Islander child,
the local Recognised
Entity will be involved
to provide cultural
and family advice to
Child Safety Services.
If the parent is
unwilling or unable to
protect the child, the
Queensland Police
Service contacts
Child Safety Services
to conduct a joint
investigation.
If risk of harm has been identified, Child Safety
Services will provide an appropriate response,
which may include a referral to a SCAN team.
Child Safety Services will consider a range of
appropriate options under the Child Protection
Act 1999 to ensure the child’s right to protection
is exercised. If a crime has been committed the
police may lay charges.
The Suspected Child Abuse
and Neglect (SCAN) team
The purpose of the Suspected
Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN)
team system is to enable a
coordinated multi-agency
response to children where Child
Safety Services intervention is
required to assess and meet their
need for protection.
Each SCAN team includes
experienced child protection
professionals from:
•
Child Safety Services
•
the Queensland Police
Service
•
Queensland Health
•
the Department of
Education and Training
•
a Recognised Entity,
when the discussion is
about an Aboriginal or
Torres Strait Islander
child.
SCAN teams plan and coordinate
actions to assess and respond to
the protection needs of children
who have been abused or are at
risk of abuse. A SCAN team may
recommend that team members
or other agencies and services
provide support to a family to help
protect a child from sexual abuse.
For more information, you can also visit Child Safety Services’ website
www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety
Contact numbers
Child Safety Services
If you have a reason to suspect a child in Queensland has
been sexually abused, is being sexually abused, or is at
risk of sexual abuse, you need to contact the Department of
Communities (Child Safety Services).
During normal business hours contact a Child Safety Services
regional intake service on 13 QGOV (13 74 68). The regional
intake service has professionally trained child protection staff
who are skilled in dealing with information about harm or risk
of harm to children.
After hours and on weekends contact the Child Safety AfterHours Service Centre on 3235 9999 or freecall 1800 177 135.
Queensland Police Service
The Queensland Police Service investigates allegations of
harm to children when a criminal offence has been alleged.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a lifethreatening situation, contact the Queensland Police Service
immediately by calling 000.
You can also contact Brisbane Sexual Crimes Investigation,
Child Safety and Sexual Crimes Group on 3364 6430.
The Queensland Police Service has a number of Child
Protection and Investigation Units across Queensland.
To locate the unit nearest to you contact the Police District
Communication Centre (see over).
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Police District Communication Centres (24 hours)
Beenleigh
3807 7770
Brisbane
3364 6464
Broadbeach
5581 2900
Bundaberg
4153 9111
Cairns
4030 7000
Charleville
4654 1200
Gladstone
4971 3222
Gympie
5482 2111
Innisfail
4061 5777
Ipswich
3817 1585
Longreach
4652 7200
Mackay
4968 3444
Mareeba
4030 3300
Maroochydore
5475 2444
Maryborough
4123 8111
Mount Isa
4744 1111
Redcliffe
3283 0555
Rockhampton
4932 1500
Roma
4622 9333
Toowoomba
4631 6333
Townsville
4759 9777
Other contacts
For additional support, families can contact one of the confidential
organisations below that provide a variety of services, counselling
and referrals.
Crimestoppers
TTY for the speech or hearing
impaired (Police)
TTY for the speech or hearing
impaired (Child Safety Services)
Parentline
Kids Help Line
Community Child Health Service
Community Care Information Service
Women’s Infolink
Men’s Info Line
Statewide Sexual Assault Service
1800 333 000
3364 4655
3012 8655
1300 301 300 (8am – 10pm)
1800 55 1800 (24 hours)
3862 2333 or 1800 177 279
3224 4225 or 1800 637 711
1800 177 577
1800 600 636
1800 010 120
2583-3 MAR11
Department of Communities
(Child Safety Services)
13 QGOV (13 74 68)
www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety
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