Under section 182 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, a person registered under the Education Training and Reform Act 2006, or who has been granted permission to teach under that Act, is designated as a mandatory reporter.
Consequently, teachers must notify the Department of Human Services if they have formed the belief on reasonable grounds that:
- a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm as a result of physical injury and the child's parents have not protected, or are unlikely to protect, the child from harm of that type;
- a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm as a result of sexual abuse and the child's parents have not protected, or are unlikely to protect, the child from harm of that type.
It should be noted that:
- a failure to notify the Department of Human Services (the Department) is an offence under the Children, Youth and Families Act
- the teacher must notify the Department as soon as practicable
- if the teacher notifies the Department in good faith, it is not unprofessional conduct by the teacher
- the teacher cannot be identified in court proceedings unless the court agrees or the teacher agrees. The court will only identify the teacher where it is necessary to protect the child or in the interests of justice. The Department cannot identify the teacher to anyone (except the police) unless ordered to by the court
- the Department has to investigate the notification as soon as possible and, after the investigation is finished, can only report to the child, parent or police
- in the past, the courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal have protected persons who have notified the Department of child abuse by suppressing their identity even where the abuse was shown, on investigation, not to have occurred.
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There must be reasonable grounds for forming the belief that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer harm - physical or sexual abuse.
This means that the teacher does not have to be absolutely certain to notify the Department of physical or sexual abuse of a child, but genuinely believe, on the basis of the evidence, that the child might have been abused.
A reasonable belief can be formed on different types of evidence. That evidence could be a dramatic change in the behaviour of a student, a drop in grades, withdrawing from social contact, bruises, etc.
It is important for teachers to receive some training on the symptoms of abuse of children.
Report or not to report - two cases
1. In 1991 and 1992, a principal and a deputy principal failed to report their reasonable suspicion that a student was being sexually abused. Ten years later the student successfully sued the teachers in negligence. The student was awarded $494,000 in damages.
2. In 2001, two parents tried to sue two doctors for reporting that their children had been sexually abused. Both cases were investigated and the children were found not to have been sexually abused. The High Court found that the parents could not sue the doctors for negligence. The doctors had a statutory duty, which they fulfilled.
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More advice on mandatory reporting
The documents and resources below were developed in consultation with the Catholic Education Office and Independent Schools Victoria and are relevant to all Victorian school staff.
Protecting the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, a joint protocol of the Department of Human Services Child Protection, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, licensed children’s services and Victorian Schools, is now available online:
• Protecting the safety and wellbeing of children and young people mandatory reporting protocol (PDF - 1.5 MB)
• Step-by-step guide to making a report to Child Protection or Child FIRST (PDF - 270 KB).
The DEECD Child Protection Website contains further information related to mandatory reporting including PowerPoint presentations.
DEECD has recently developed guidelines for use when responding to allegations of student sexual assault in Victorian Government Schools: Responding to Allegations of Student Sexual Assault - Procedures for Victorian Government Schools (PDF - 352 KB).
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