Most children in care receive good quality care from dedicated carers who have made a commitment to make a positive difference in their lives. From time to time, concerns or allegations are raised about a carer or another member of their household, who may have abused or neglected a child or young person in their care – these reports are referred to as care concerns.
A care concern is any concern about a child’s safety, stability or development within their placement and is made by way of a notification to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL).
A care concern can be made when there is reasonable suspicion that:
- a child or young person has been, or is at risk of, being abused or neglected
- the care provided to the child or young person has fallen below an acceptable level that a reasonable person would expect for a child who has been placed in care
- there has been a breach in the standards of care in South Australia.
Care concerns relate to the care provided by a Department for Child Protection (DCP) employee or volunteer, a non-government organisation employee or volunteer, a foster, kinship or specific child only carer.
Safety and wellbeing of children and young people are at the forefront of what we do. Every care concern must be taken seriously, and thoroughly explored to ensure the safety of the child.
The Child Abuse Report Line is the central point of all notifications of child abuse and will identify if a notification is a care concern. All care concerns are sent to the DCP Care Concern Management Unit for an assessment based on the available information. Those concerns requiring an urgent response, especially outside of business hours, will be forwarded by CARL staff to appropriate areas such as SA Police, Child Protection Services and the Crisis Response Unit for an immediate response.
It can be unsettling and stressful for carers when a care concern is made. It is important that processes put in place to ensure the safety of the child, also ensure that carers are treated in a fair and just manner, and are informed and supported throughout the process.
Someone from the department or your support agency will advise you if a care concern has been made about you. Depending on the nature of the care concern, you may be contacted by the child’s case worker or by the DCP Investigations Team.
While this is a difficult situation to be in, it is the carer’s responsibility to be available for interview if required, cooperate with the process, be open and honest when asked for information and support the child or young person, where they can, during and after the care concern process.
Once the Care Concern Management Unit has received the care concern via CARL, they will consider a range of responses to manage each concern. The process involved will be different depending on the response.
- No action
- Minor care concern
- Moderate care concern
- Serious care concern.
Care concerns are assessed taking into account the nature of the allegations, the history of the carer, previous concerns, the child protection history of the child or young person and intended outcomes of the investigation, or management strategies. How the department responds, depends on many factors as the circumstances of every carer and child or young person are different.
Care concerns may be determined as minor or moderate, or serious. For minor and moderate matters, a joint response by the case management team and care agency is utilised. For serious matters, a formal fact finding investigation is undertaken by experienced investigators in the DCP Investigations Team currently based in the Department’s Human Resources directorate. This unit is a multi-disciplinary team comprising staff with expertise in child protection and law enforcement. Sometimes, investigations may be undertaken by an external investigator.
Depending on the circumstances of the care concern, the child or children in your care may be moved to another placement while the investigation is undertaken.
DCP will refer the care concern to SA Police if the concern relates to a possible criminal offence. Police will make a decision about whether they will investigate allegations or not. If the police decide to investigate they will advise the carer of the allegation when they interview them.
Carers may seek to obtain legal advice or have a legal representative present during a police interview.
The department aims to manage all care concern matters in a timely manner. Timeframes will vary depending on a range of factors such as:
- the complexity and number of concerns the matter relates to
- the response pathway required to manage the concerns
- the extent of enquiries to investigate the concerns such as the number of people to be spoken to or interviewed
- whether any information needs to be sought from other sources
- the availability of witnesses to participate in care concern processes
- any restrictions put on DCP progressing the matter whilst police are involved.
You will be provided with an opportunity to provide a response to the concerns if a decision is made to proceed with a care concern process.
You may contact the DCP Investigations Team on 8226 1933 or at DCPInvestigations@sa.gov.au if the care concern has been determined as serious.
You are encouraged to first make contact with your support agency if you need support.
The outcome and rationale of the care concern process will be provided in writing to relevant parties, including the person/s subject of the concerns. The outcome of a moderate or serious care concern may be that the allegation/s are unfounded, there is no evidence to support the allegations and the allegations are unlikely to have occurred. These allegations are unsubstantiated.
Alternatively, the outcome may confirm that the allegation/s were likely to have occurred, there is evidence consistent with the allegations made, and the allegations are substantiated.
The outcome will also consider whether the care provided to the child or young person has fallen below what is considered to be an acceptable level of care, that is, whether there has been a deficit in care or not.
Yes. All documentation regarding care concerns are kept on file. The benefit of this for all carers is that there is a clear record kept of any concerns raised and how the matter was assessed and managed. There is a record of the response and outcome if the matter is again raised in the future.
Information about the care concern, including the nature and the outcomes of the care concern, is made available to the Department of Human Services (DHS) when it assesses WWCC applications. The impact on a carer’s WWCC will be dependent upon whether the care concern was determined as being serious or not, and whether the matter was substantiated or not as well as whatever assessment criteria DHS utilise in assessing the WWCC.
The Care Concern Management Unit can be contacted on 8226 8441 or at DCPCareConcernManagementUnit@sa.gov.au.