Mandatory Reporting of child abuse or harm
General obligations on all people
The protection and safety of children should be of interest to everyone in society. The Criminal Code has introduced the offence of failing to report the abuse of a child to underscore the seriousness with which harm to children is regarded. Any person who has information that leads to a reasonable belief that a child is being or has been abused must report that information and their belief to a proper authority, such as Tasmania Police or Child Services.
People who must report abuse – everyone!
The Criminal Code requires that all adults must report to a proper authority (such as the police or a Crown law officer where they have a reasonable belief that criminal abuse of a child has occurred. Failure to report criminal abuse of a child is an offence.
However, there is a distinction between the obligations under the Criminal Code and under the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act. The Criminal Code concerns criminal abuse that may lead to the charging and conviction of a person for a crime. The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act concerns establishing a necessary standard for intervention for Child Protection to ensure the safety of a child. This is why ‘reasonable belief’ is used in the Criminal Code, it is a higher standard of proof and ‘reasonable suspicion’ is used in the CYFPA, as ‘reasonable suspicion’ is a lower standard of proof.
The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act (CYPFA) emphasises that everyone in the community has a responsibility for ensuring that children are safe and protected. In addition, the Act lists people who are legally required to report their suspicions that a child is being abused or neglected (s14):
- medical practitioners
- nurses and midwives
- dentists and other dental professionals
- police officers
- police officers
- probation officers
- school principals and teachers in any educational institution (including a kindergarten)
- persons who manage child care services or provide child care for a fee or reward
- a member of the clergy of any church or religious denomination
- a member of the Parliament of this State, and
- in general people employed, or who are volunteers in government agencies or organisations funded by the Crown that provide health, welfare, education, or care wholly or partly for children.
The Act provides a penalty of a fine up to 20 penalty units for mandatory reporters who do not report their suspicions of child abuse or neglect.
If a prescribed person believes or suspects that a child is being or is likely to be abused or neglected, or is in real danger from the person whom they are living with, the person must contact the Department of Health. This can be done through calling the Strong Families Safe Kids Advice and Referral Line (1800 000 123) with this information as soon as practicable. This also applies to unborn children (s14(2), CYPFA). The public and prescribed persons may notify their concerns about unborn children who may be at risk of abuse or neglect once born (s13(1A) and s14(2)).
Contact details for services and reporting are available on the Strong families Safe Kids website.
A person with concerns about a child’s safety is called a ‘notifier’. When calling the Strong Families, Safe Kids Advice and Referral Line, a notifier will speak to a staff person who will record their concerns (s14(5)). Child Protection may then gather more information so that a recommendation can be made about what needs to be done (s18). The case may be referred to a more appropriate service for response, referred to police for joint investigation or classified and prioritised for a risk and/or needs assessment by Child Protection.
Rights as a ‘Notifier’
Under both the CYPFA section 16, and the Right to Information Act 2009 (Tas) section 38 the identity of a notifier does not have to be released nor does any information contained in a notification that may lead to the identification of a notifier. In court, the identity and any evidence identifying a notifier is confidential and generally withheld from court proceedings (s16(3), CYPFA). If, however, the evidence of the notifier is critical to proceedings and needs to be provided for the proper administration of justice, the court may grant leave to hear the evidence (s16(5)(a)). The notifier may also consent to their evidence or their identity being revealed in proceedings (s16(5)(b)).