Last updated 19 July 2016

The Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld) (Child Protection Act) attempts to reflect international declarations and conventions along with national and international child protection practice directions and standards in providing for the protection of children.

The Child Protection Act establishes the following child protection system:

  • reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect—anyone can contact the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services Child Safety (Child Safety) and report concerns about a child who has been, is being or is at risk of being harmed
  • investigations and assessments of reported child abuse or neglect—Child Safety must investigate and assess the reported concerns if there is a reasonable suspicion that the child is in need of protection
  • ongoing intervention—Child Safety will provide ongoing help under the Child Protection Act once it has been assessed that a child is in need of protection.

Harm to a child can be described as any detrimental effect of a significant nature on their physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing, caused by physical, psychological or emotional abuse or neglect, or sexual abuse or exploitation. Harm can be caused by a single act, omission or circumstance, or a series or combination of acts omissions or circumstances (s 9 Child Protection Act).

The central concept of the Child Protection Act is whether a child is in need of protection (s 10). This is established when a child:

  • has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm or is at an unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm in the future
  • does not have a parent able and willing to protect them from harm.

The guiding principle for administering the Child Protection Act is that the safety, wellbeing and best interests of a child are paramount (s 5A). In practice, this means that where Child Safety is making a decision about a child, the most important consideration is what is best for the child, not what is best for the parents or other people in the child’s life.

This guiding principle is supported by a series of 14 general principles (s 5B Child Protection Act), which include:

  • a child has the right to be protected from harm or risk of harm (s 5B(a))
  • a child’s family has the primary responsibility for the child’s upbringing, protection and development (s 5B(b))
  • supporting the child’s family is the preferred way of ensuring a child’s safety and wellbeing (s 5B(c))
  • if a child does not have a parent who is able and willing to protect them, the state is responsible (s 5B(d))
  • in protecting a child, the state should only take action that is warranted in the circumstances (s 5B(e))
  • if a child is removed from their family, support should be given to the child and their family to allow the child to return if it is in the child’s best interests (s 5B(f))
  • if a child cannot be returned to their family in the foreseeable future, the child should have long-term alternative care (s 5B(g))
  • if a child is removed from their family, as a first option, consideration should be given to placing them with kin (s 5B(h))
  • if a child is removed from their family, to the extent that it is possible, the child should be placed with their siblings (s 5B(i))
  • a child should only be placed in the care of a parent or other person who has the capacity (including with assistance or support) and is willing to care for them (s 5B(j))
  • a child should have stable living arrangements that provide a connection with their family and community to the extent that is in the child’s best interests, and provide for their developmental, educational, emotional, health, intellectual and physical needs to be met (s 5B(k))
  • a child should be able to maintain relationships with their parents and kin if appropriate (s 5B(l))
  • a child should be able to know, explore and maintain their identity and values, including their cultural, ethnic and religious identity and values (s 5B(m))
  • a delay in making a decision in relation to a child should be avoided, unless appropriate for the child (s 5B(n)).

The Child Protection Act also includes additional principles for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children:

  • the child should be allowed to develop and maintain a connection with their family, culture, traditions, language and community (s 5C(a) Child Protection Act)
  • the long-term effect of a decision on their identity and connection with their family and community should be taken into account (s 5C(b)).