I’m proud to live in a world where the majority of us care for, protect and want the best for our children. But what happens when you see something that is just not right?

It’s not a situation anyone wants to be put in.

Recently I was asked for advice not once, but twice about a very difficult issue.The question was, should Child Safety Services be called?

Both circumstances where so different, but to me seemed like at least a phone call should be made. Without giving away too much delicate information, both were a question of neglect. The first was related to drug addiction and the other absent for long periods of time with no food provided or adequate care.

As I encouraged both to call Child Safety Services both were sadly too afraid. The ‘what if’s’ were overpowering the initial desire to grab those children and take them somewhere safe, somewhere they would be cared for appropriately.

What if’s like:

What if I tear a family apart no matter how dysfunctional?

What if I read the situation wrong?

What if they find out it was me who called?

We are taught from a very young age not to be ‘dibber dobbers’ and to ‘mind our own business’ so I understand how uncomfortable it is, but we are also taught to help someone in need, and calling child services is just that.

Once you have made the courageous and caring call, Child Services will do the rest. The only do’s and don’ts are as follows.

Do call. Don’t not call.

It’s a simple as that. It’s our duty to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Bravehearts criminologist Carol Ronken has this advice:

In Queensland, teachers, doctors, registered nurses, police officers, people performing a child advocate function under the Public Guardian Act 2014 (QLD) and authorised officers, public service employees employed in the department, people employed in a departmental care service or licensed care services are all mandatory reporters. Having said that, anyone who knows or has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child is being harmed should report.  Regardless of whether or not you or your profession or organisation is subject to mandatory reporting, anyone who has reasonable grounds should report known or suspected harm of a child or young person when:

  • The child is at risk of harm
  • Any form of disclosure in regards to the child being sexually assaulted
  • If a child discloses sexual, physical, psychological or emotional harm or neglect
  • If a third party, such as a parent, relative or friend of a child tells you that a child has been sexually, physically, psychologically or emotionally harmed or neglected
  • If you have directly observed harmful behaviour perpetrated on a child

Any information or concerns you may have in relation to a child’s safety and wellbeing needs to be reported to those who are in a position to investigate. It is never known how much information is on file for a particular child. Your piece of information could be what leads to an investigation being initiated. Bravehearts’ position is to err on the side of caution and report.

Many people identify barriers to reporting their child protection concerns and this results in many people withholding crucial information from the authorities. Some questions that often lead to doubt when reporting include:

  • Is this enough information to go on?
  • Will they do anything with the information anyway?
  • Will the parent become upset or angry?
  • Will this have negative consequences on our relationship?
  • Am I just overreacting?
  • Will there be repercussions from the family?
  • Who will find out that I have reported?
  • What if the child protection authority thinks my concerns are invalid?
  • What will other families think if they find out that I have reported to the child protection authorities?

Barriers highlight the need for consultation with others. Ask yourself:

  • Is not speaking to the authorities going to put the child at further risk?
  • Where do my doubts come from?
  • Am I acting in the best interests of the child?
  • Can I go to bed at night holding this information?

Information that should be reported includes:

  • Details – the child’s or young person’s name, age and address.
  • Indicators of harm – the reason for believing that the injury or behaviour is the result of sexual assault, abuse or neglect.
  • Safety assessment – assessment of immediate danger to the child or children. For example, information may be sought on the whereabouts of the alleged offender or offenders.
  • Description – description of the injury or behaviour observed.
  • Other services – your knowledge of other services involved with the family.
  • Family information – any other information about the family.
  • Social/Cultural characteristics – any specific cultural or other details that will help to care for the child – for example, Aboriginality, interpreter or disability needs.

A notification should still be made, even if you don’t have all the information listed above.

Child Safety Services have this guideline

Have as much information on the situation and what you saw ready to relay.

If the matter involves criminality it will referred to the police.

Any investigation is conducted anonymously. So don’t fear any repercussions to your own personal safety.

If, on the basis of the information, it meets the thresholds, Child Safety Services will make contact.

If you are still concerned that the behaviour you observed may not be enough to call child services but enough for you to worry about the welfare of the child, call anyway. It may simply be an issue of a parent, or parents needing a helping hand. Many may not realise that Child Services work with families, support parents and give them information and training to be the best parents they can be.

You caring for the wellbeing of a child could be the first time someone has cared for the parent. So make that call.

What eventually happened in both my situations? Both called, and both were able to sleep that night, a weight lifted off their chest that they had at least done something.

Braveheart’s  info & support line 1800 272 831

Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800

Parent Line – 1300 30 1300

Lifeline – 13 11 14

1800 Respect (Family Violence and Sexual Assault Line) – 1800 737 732

Police Link – 131 444

Department of Child Safety (South East Queensland) – 1300 679 849 or 1800 177 135 (out of hours)