If you’ve received a complaint relating to child abuse, you need to know that:
- all allegations of child abuse should be referred to your club’s administrator, Child Safe Officer, complaints handler or a Member Protection Information Officer (if available through your club or state organisation).
- an allegation of serious or criminal abuse requires urgent action – contact your child protection authority or the police immediately
- less serious/urgent allegations should be actioned within 24 hours.
- although incidents may seem minor, they may represent ‘the tip of the iceberg’ and must be reported
- appropriate record keeping is very important in these matters. Requirements vary across Australia, make sure you are familiar with the requirements in your state/territory (most member protection policies have a template for recording an allegation)
- a club’s responsibilities do not end with reporting a suspicion of harm.
Different procedures are required when there is a suspicion of harm against a child – in how a complaint is received, to meet mandatory reporting requirements of some states and to ensure that any investigation by the police or child protection authority is not compromised.
The following steps will help you respond to an allegation of child abuse.
Step 1: Clarify basic details of the allegation (h3)
Listen and be supportive.
- Reassure the child that what has occurred is not their fault
- Be honest and explain that other people may need to be told in order to stop what is happening
- Avoid suggestive or leading questions – ask the child “What happened?” and “Then what happened?”
- If another person makes the complaint ask the person to:
- Explain their reasons for suspecting abuse (observation, injury or other)
- Provide the names and contact details of all people involved, including witnesses.
Step 2: Report allegations of a serious or criminal nature
- Report any incident of a serious or a criminal nature to the police or child protection authority immediately.
- If the child’s parent/s are suspected of committing the abuse, report the allegation to the relevant government agency.
Step 3: Protect the child and make sure the alleged offender is not victimized
- Take action to ensure the child’s/children’s safety (e.g., move the alleged offender to a non-child related position, supervise the alleged offender or remove/suspend them from their duties while the matter is being investigated).
- Make sure the individual accused of the offence is not victimised. If they’re stood down make it clear that this does not mean the person is guilty and that a proper investigation will be undertaken before decisions are made.
Step 4: Follow the child protection authority or police requirements
Further clarify but do not investigate the allegation unless requested to do so by the authorities. Provide information and assist in investigations as appropriate.
- The police or child protection agency may undertake an investigation. They may also request that the state sporting organisation undertake their own investigation (this should be done by an independent person with appropriate investigative expertise).
- The club should provide information and assist with the investigation as appropriate.
Individuals/clubs should not try to investigate the incident themselves
Step 5: Manage the situation
You must manage the situation while an investigation is being conducted (internal or external)
Support should be provided to the victim and their family. This may include seeking professional counselling support if appropriate;
- If an investigation is being conducted it is recommended that you do not talk to the alleged victim, their family or the alleged perpetrator about the complaint. If you are asked for information, your response should be confined to the complaint process and timeline;
- Take action to ensure the ongoing safety of members, particularly children, until the authorities and /or the state sport or recreation organisation have completed the investigation and any court or tribunal hearings. This may involve providing extra supervision or removal of a person from their position pending the outcome of the investigation. If the person is in a paid position, seek advice from your state sporting organisation or a lawyer;
- Consider carefully what other members and their families are told about the situation. If there are enquiries, they should be handled by one person such as the club president. Discussion should focus on the process rather than the people.
- If an alleged perpetrator has been removed from their position it is important that those impacted are provided appropriate information to minimise gossip and concern. This may also be important if there is a risk that other children may have been harmed. (For example an email/letter that states that a coach in the club has been suspended pending an investigation into an alleged breach of the member protection policy. If they have been charged by the police you may be able to provide information regarding the charge and the contact details of the police officer, dealing with the case, who can be contacted if they have further information. (check with the police regarding this)
- In all cases they should be asked to not speak about or post any information on social media.) Do not name the alleged perpetrator unless the police have agreed to the name being released.
(Guidelines to managing an allegation of child abuse in South Australia, including templates for letters is available at http://ors.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/153564/child_abuse_allegations_guidelines_July16.pdf).
Step 6: Implement disciplinary action as required
- Implement any disciplinary action recommended by the police, child protection authority or state sporting organisation. The action should be immediate.
- Check with the relevant state government authority to see if you need to forward a report (e.g. the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian requires notification of relevant employment proceedings as does the SA Department for Communities and Social Inclusion).