Key messages

  • Vulnerable children exposed to child abuse and neglect need protection and support so they have the best chance in life.
  • Health services and health professionals have a responsibility to protect and promote the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children.
  • Legislation requires health services staff to report suspected child abuse.
  • Health services should ensure that organisational systems are in place to support vulnerable children in line with the departmental quality framework Health Care that Counts.
  • The Department of Health & Human Services has a range of educational tools and resources to help health professionals understand their responsibility to vulnerable children including an e-learning portal – Children at risk.
  • The department has several specialist health programs and priority access health services targeted to children who have experienced child abuse and neglect.

Healthcare that counts: A framework for improving care for vulnerable children in Victorian health services (2017)

All Victorian health services play a vital role in the early identification and effective response to vulnerable children at risk of child abuse and neglect. The Healthcare that counts framework supports all health services including hospitals, community health services, alcohol and drug services, mental health and dental services to identify and respond to vulnerability by embedding organisational governance, systems and structures focussed on vulnerable children and families.

The framework aligns with and supports the implementation of mandatory Child Safe Standards and supports the Victorian government's reform direction to deliver effective and integrated services to vulnerable children and families at risk of or experiencing child abuse, neglect, family violence and other forms of social disadvantage. This framework replaces the previous 2006 framework for acute health services and has been broadened to include all parts of the health sector to reflect the shared responsibility across the service system for protecting and promoting the health, safety and wellbeing of children.

Health services should review the five Action Areas for organisation improvement outlined in the framework as part of a continual quality and safety improvement process. Health services should undertake an annual self-assessment to measure their progress against the framework by reviewing the indicators of best practice, rating progress and identifying gaps in practice. A simple self-assessment tool to guide this process is available from this website. Useful resources and examples of best practice are available at the Children at Risk Learning Portal under the resources tab.

Children at Risk Learning Portal

This e-learning portal supports health professionals in their early identification of and effective response to children at risk of child abuse and neglect. The online training is widely used across the health and welfare sectors to support the professional development of all health professionals.

The online training is free and helps all health professionals to:

  • identify vulnerable children
  • respond to suspected abuse or neglect
  • understand legislated responsibilities and the child protection and family services system.

The portal also hosts a range of other resources and tools to help health professionals and health organisations strengthen their practice and improve their knowledge of vulnerable children and their families.

Resources and information for health professionals

Legislative responsibilities for health staff

Mandatory reporting of suspected child physical or sexual abuse

Doctors, nurses, teachers and police must report suspected child physical or sexual abuse to the child protection service. This mandated obligation is set out in s184 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.

Professionals are mandated to report child abuse:

  • when they form a belief on reasonable grounds that a child needs protection from physical injury or sexual abuse
  • where they form this belief while practising a mandated profession
  • each time they become aware of any further reasonable grounds for this belief.

'Forming a belief' is the process of asking whether you are more or less likely to believe the child faces significant harm based on the information available. It does not mean you have to prove the abuse has occurred or is likely to occur.

The Children at Risk Learning Portal provides resources for mandated reporters.

Failure To Disclose Sexual Offence On A Child Under 16 Years

A new criminal offence imposing a legal duty on all adults to provide information to the police regarding child sexual abuse became law in Victoria in October 2014. This criminal offence is found in the Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Act 2014 ss 327 -330 and will include all adults working within Victorian health settings.

The Act requires that any adult who forms a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16 has an obligation to report that information to police. Failure to disclose the information to police is a criminal offence.

Visit the Department of Justice website for more information and a downloadable factsheet.

Reporting multiple deaths

A death must be reviewed by the Victorian Coroner when it is a second or subsequent death of a child under the age of 18 within the one family.

Children who are stillborn or children who lived their entire lives in hospital are not considered reviewable deaths, unless otherwise determined by a coroner. Medical practitioners must tell the Coroner when they identify a reviewable death.

For more information, please go to the Coroners Court of Victoria website.

Specialist health programs for children at risk

Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service (VFPMS)

VFPMS is a statewide, coordinated specialised paediatric medical service that provides 24-hour forensic clinical examinations and assessments for children under the age of 18 when child abuse is suspected. VFPMS provides assessments for suspected physical abuse, sexual abuse and severe neglect.
Its services include:

  • evaluation of injury
  • specialist expertise for sexual abuse examinations
  • holistic health and developmental assessments for children with complex needs
  • integrated health care with coordinated referral and follow-up
  • comprehensive reports and participation in legal proceedings
  • statewide advice and consultation 24/7
  • education, training and research.

VFPMS only works with children who are referred from Child Protection, Victoria Police or other health professionals. VFPMS provides a comprehensive forensic assessment report and expert evidence in any court proceedings relating to the child. Its service is free and can be accessed at Royal Children’s Hospital or Monash Medical Centre, or via regional hospitals.

Call 1300 66 11 42.

Children in Out of Home Care

Pathway to good health

Children residing in the statutory out of home care system have experienced a level of child abuse and neglect that has meant that they are no longer to live safely with their families. These children as well as experiencing significant trauma in their lives also have health outcomes that are much poorer than the general child population.

To ensure that these highly vulnerable children receive the best possible health care to address health deficits, a model of coordinated care and health planning has been developed and funded by the Department known as the Pathway To Good Health. This model has had a phased implementation across Victoria and is currently available within the North and West metropolitan areas of Melbourne and the Gippsland region. The service focusses on all children who enter out of home care for the first time and all young people residing in residential care.

Under the program, these children have access to a coordinated pathway that includes:

  • an intitial health check by a selected general practitioner
  • a priority referral to a specialised clinic led by a paediatrican that provides a multi disciplinary assessment that includes mental health and speech pathology
  • a completed health care management plan with assessments and recommendations for treatment that can be incorporated into ongoing health planning and the child’s statutory case planning process.

A child can only be referred to the Pathway To Good Health by the child protection or out of home care agency working with the child. To see more about the Pathway To Good Health please view a short 5 minute video available at the Children at Risk Learning Portal.

Priority access to public dental services

Dental health is a vital part of overall child health and for children in out of home care their dental health is prioritised under our public dental system. All children and young people in out of home care are eligible for priority access to public dental services. This means that children can access the next available dental appointment for routine dental care at no cost.

Chief Psychiatrist guidelines - priority access for out of home care

The Chief Psychiatrist guidelines provides priority access for both children within the out-of-home care system and those responsible for caring for the children with access to either primary, secondary or service level consultations via the centralised triage process for mental health.