Last updated 12 July 2022

If the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (Child Safety) receives information about alleged harm or risk of harm to a child, and reasonably suspects the child is in need of protection, they must immediately:

  • investigate the allegation and assess whether the alleged harm or risk of harm can be substantiated and, it if can, assess the child’s protective needs
  • take other action Child Safety considers appropriate (s 14(1) Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld) (Child Protection Act)).

If Child Safety reasonably believes that the alleged harm may include a criminal offence relating to the child, such as sexual abuse, they must inform police regardless of whether or not Child Safety suspects the child is in need of protection (s 14(2) Child Protection Act).

As part of the investigation, Child Safety will complete a safety assessment to determine whether a child can remain with their family during the investigation. If the safety assessment identifies immediate harm indicators, Child Safety will consider what actions could be taken as part of a safety plan that will keep the child safe with their family.

Informing a child’s parents and long-term guardians about allegation of harm and outcome of investigation

If Child Safety investigates an allegation of harm or risk of harm to a child, or assesses a child’s need of protection because of an allegation of harm or risk of harm to the child, they must:

  • give at least one of the child’s parents the details of the alleged of harm if the child does not have a long-term guardian
  • as soon as practicable, tell them about the outcome of the investigation and, if requested, provide information about the outcome of the investigation to the parent in writing (s 15(2) Child Protection Act).

If the child has a long-term guardian, Child Safety must make a reasonable attempt to take the above actions if satisfied it would be in the child’s best interests to do so having regard to:

  • the nature and extent of the child’s connection with their parents
  • the evidence in support of the allegation of harm or risk of harm
  • any other relevant matter (s 15(3)(a) Child Protection Act).

Further, if the child has a long-term guardian, Child Safety must give them the details of the alleged harm and, as soon as practicable, tell them about the outcome of the investigation, including in writing if requested (s 15(3)(b) Child Protection Act).

However, if Child Safety reasonably believes telling the child’s parents or long-term guardians may jeopardise the investigation of a criminal offence for the alleged harm, or may expose the child to harm, they are only required to advise at least one of the parents or long-term guardians to the extent considered reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances (s 15(4) Child Protection Act).

Intervention during an investigation with parental agreement

Consent of parents regarding investigations and assessments

During an investigation of an allegation of harm to a child, Child Safety must give proper consideration to obtaining the parents’ agreement to any actions necessary as part of the investigation to assess whether the child is a child in need of protection.

Safety plan for the child

Child Safety may make a safety plan, which is a written signed agreement that documents what has been agreed with the family to keep the child safe during the investigation.

The safety plan will include:

  • what the parents and other people involved must do to keep the child safe at home
  • who will be responsible for any agreed actions
  • how the plan will be monitored.

Out-of-home care for a child during an investigation

Assessment care agreement

If Child Safety determines that a child needs to be in out-of-home care during the investigation, an assessment care agreement can be entered into. An assessment care agreement (s 51Z(a) Child Protection Act) is available when:

  • Child Safety reasonably suspects the child is a child in need of protection
  • an investigation is necessary to assess the child’s protection need of protection
  • Child Safety is satisfied that it is necessary for the child to have interim protection while the investigation is carried out.

Child Safety may enter into an assessment care agreement if satisfied that:

  • it would be in the child’s best interests to be temporarily placed in the care of someone other than the child’s parents
  • it is not likely that, if the parents end the agreement, the child will be at immediate risk of harm (s 51ZE Child Protection Act).

An assessment care agreement is an agreement between the parents and Child Safety for the short-term out-of-home care of the child.

Child Safety may enter into an agreement with only one of the child’s parents, if it is impractical to obtain the consent of the other parent to the agreement before entering the agreement, or they have made a reasonable attempt to obtain the consent of the other parent. Child Safety may not enter into an agreement with only one of the child’s parents if another parent refuses to enter the agreement (s 51ZE Child Protection Act).

Child Safety must obtain and have regard to the child’s views before entering into the care agreement, unless the child is unable to form and express views, taking into account the child’s age and ability to understand, and the child may also be a party to the agreement (s 51ZE Child Protection Act).

An assessment care agreement should be in the approved form (in writing) and signed by the parties and must state:

  • the name of the person in whose care the child is to be placed
  • the period of the agreement
  • where the child will be living
  • contact arrangements between the child and parents while the agreement is in place
  • the types of decisions relating to the child for which the parents must be consulted (s 51ZF Child Protection Act).

An assessment care agreement must not be for more than 30 days and cannot be extended (s 51ZH Child Protection Act).

The parents or Child Safety may end an assessment care agreement on at least two days notice (s 51ZI Child Protection Act). If a parent ends the agreement, Child Safety will need to determine if investigation and assessment needs to continue. If Child Safety is satisfied that the child is a child in need of protection and a child protection order is appropriate and desirable for the child’s protection, the matter will be referred to the Director of Child Protection Litigation.

The care agreement will end automatically if a child protection order is made granting custody or guardianship of the child to Child Safety or to someone else (s 51ZI).

Intervention during an investigation without parental agreement

Child Safety’s contact with a child at immediate risk of harm

A Child Safety officer or police officer may use reasonable force to enter and search a place to have contact with a child if the officer:

  • is investigating an allegation of harm or risk of harm to a child
  • has been denied contact with the child or cannot reasonably gain entry to a place where the officer reasonably believes the child is
  • has a reasonable suspicion that the child may be at risk of immediate harm or is likely to leave or be taken from the place and suffer harm if the officer does not take immediate action.

The officer may remain in the place and have contact with the child for as long as the officer reasonably considers necessary for investigating the allegation (s 16 Child Protection Act).

Contact with a child at a school, education and/or care premises

During an investigation of an allegation of harm or risk of harm to a child, a Child Safety officer may have contact with the child at a school, kindergarten, daycare or at another place where education and care, or regulated education and care is provided, without the child’s parents or long-term guardians being told about it in advance, if they reasonably believe:

  • it is in the child’s best interest that they have contact with them before the child’s parents or long-term guardians are told about the investigation
  • the child’s parents or long-term guardians knowing in advance about the proposed contact with the child is likely to adversely affect or otherwise prevent the proper and effective conduct of the investigation (s 17 Child Protection Act).

As soon as practicable after the officer has had contact with the child, the officer must tell at least one of the child’s parents that the officer has had contact with the child and the reasons for the contact. If the child has long-term guardians, the officer must tell at least one of the long-term guardians that the officer has had contact with the child and the reasons for the contact.

However, the officer is only required to give reasons for the contact to the extent that they consider reasonable and appropriate in particular circumstances if they reasonably believe:

  • that someone may be charged with a criminal offence for harm to the child and giving reasons may jeopardise the investigation of the offence
  • giving reasons may expose the child to harm (s 17(5) Child Protection Act).

Child at immediate risk may be taken into Child Safety’s custody

A Child Safety officer or police officer can take a child into Child Safety’s custody for up to eight hours if they reasonably believe the child is:

  • at risk of harm
  • likely to suffer harm if the officer does not immediately take the child into custody (s 18(2) Child Protection Act).

If an officer takes a child into Child Safety’s custody, they must then, as soon as practicable, apply for either a temporary assessment order or a temporary custody order for the child (ss 18(5), 18(6) Child Protection Act).

Also, if reasonable in the circumstances, the officer may also arrange for a medical examination or treatment of the child (s 18(7) Child Protection Act).

Further, if a child does not have a long-term guardian, as soon as practicable, the officer must:

  • take reasonable steps to tell at least one of the child’s parents that the child has been taken into custody and the reasons for the action
  • tell at least one of the child’s parents when the custody will end
  • tell the child about them being taken into Child Safety’s custody (if considered appropriate) (ss 20, 195 Child Protection Act).

If the child has long-term guardians, as soon as practicable, the officer must:

  • take reasonable steps to tell at least one of the child’s guardians that the child has been taken into custody and the reasons for the action
  • tell at least one of the child’s guardians when the custody will end
  • tell the child about them being taken into Child Safety’s custody (if considered appropriate)
  • tell at least one of the child’s parents or make a reasonable attempt to tell them (s 20 (3) Child Protection Act).

Moving a child to a safe place

A child safety officer or police officer may, with help that is reasonable in the circumstances, move a child who is under 12 years of age to a safe place and make arrangements for the child’s care at that place if they reasonably believe:

  • the child is at risk of harm, but do not consider it necessary to take the child into Child Safety’s custody to ensure their protection
  • a parent or family member is not present at the place where the child is and, after reasonable enquiries, they cannot locate a parent or other member of the child’s family.

The officer must take reasonable steps to tell at least one of the child’s parents or a family member of the child’s whereabouts. This is a temporary arrangement for children who do not need to be taken into custody and will only continue until the child’s family can resume the care of the child (s 21 Child Protection Act).

The Child Protection Act provides that Child Safety also has the responsibility for ensuring that children and families receive the family support services that they need in order to decrease the likelihood of the children becoming in need of protection (s 159B(a) Child Protection Act).

Assessment orders

Child Safety can apply to the court for orders providing for the protection of children while an investigation is being carried out. There are two different types of assessment orders:

Temporary Assessment Order

An application for a TAO is made to a magistrate and can be decided without notifying the parents or hearing them on the application (s 26 Child Protection Act).

The application must be sworn and state the:

  • grounds upon which it is made
  • nature of the order sought
  • proposed arrangements for the child ‘s care if they are to be in Child Safety’s custody under the TAO (s 25 Child Protections Act).

An application may be made by telephone, facsimile or other means of communication in urgent circumstances (s 30 Child Protection Act).

Generally, a TAO will last for a maximum of three business days (s 29 Child Protection Act), but can be extended to the end of the next business day if the magistrate is satisfied that the officer intends to apply for a CAO or the Director of Child Protection Litigation intends to apply for a child protection order within the extended term. A TAO cannot be extended more than once (s 34 Child Protection Act).

A TAO can only be made if the magistrate is satisfied that:

  • an investigation is necessary to assess whether the child is in need of protection
  • the investigation cannot be properly carried out without the order
  • reasonable steps have been taken to obtain the consent of at least one of the parents or long-term guardians, or that it is not practicable to take steps to obtain the consent (s 27 Child Protection Act).

A TAO can provide for any one or more of the following:

  • authorisation of a Child Safety or police officer to have contact with the child
  • provision for Child Safety to have temporary custody of the child
  • authorisation of medical examinations or treatment of the child
  • direction of a parent of the child not to have contact with the child or to only have supervised contact with the child
  • authorisation of a Child Safety or police officer to enter and search any place the officer reasonably believes the child is to find the child, if the magistrate is satisfied that entry to a place to locate the child has been, or is likely to be, refused and entry is necessary for enforcement of the order (s 28 Child Protection Act).

Once a TAO is made, Child Safety must:

  • give a copy of the order to at least one parent or long-term guardian
  • explain the terms and effect of the order
  • tell them that if they want to appeal, that it should be started immediately because of the duration of the order, and how to appeal
  • tell the child about the order (s 32 Child Protection Act).

Court Assessment Order

An application for a CAO is made to the Childrens Court in circumstances similar to TAOs, but are available where the investigation cannot be completed within three business days (s 38 Child Protection Act).

The application must be sworn and filed in the court and state the:

After the application is filed, a copy must be personally served on each parent or long-term guardian, and the child must also be told about the application (s 41 Child Protection Act). The parents are respondents to the application. If personal service is not practicable, the application can be left at or sent by post to the last known residential address.

The application can be heard in the absence of the parents if they have been given reasonable notice of the hearing, or if the court is satisfied it was not practicable to give the parents notice of the hearing (s 43 Child Protection Act).

A CAO can only be made for a period of four weeks (s 47 Child Protection Act), however it can be extended for a further four-week period (s 49 Child Protection Act).

The court can make a CAO if satisfied that an investigation:

  • is necessary to assess whether the child is in need of protection
  • cannot be properly carried out without the order (s 44 Child Protection Act).

A CAO can provide for any one or more of the following:

  • authorisation of a Child Safety or police officer to have contact with the child
  • authorisation of medical examinations or treatment of the child
  • provision for Child Safety to have temporary custody of the child
  • provision about the child’s contact with their family during Child Safety’s custody of the child
  • direction a parent of the child not to have contact with the child or to only have supervised contact with the child
  • authorisation of a Child Safety or police officer to enter and search any place the officer reasonably believes the child is to find the child, if the magistrate is satisfied that entry to a place to locate the child has been, or is likely to be, refused and entry is necessary for enforcement of the order (s 45 Child Protection Act).

Once a CAO is made, Child Safety must:

  • give a copy of the order to the parents and any long-term guardians
  • provide a written notice that explains:
    • the terms and effect of the order
    • tells them that they may appeal against the decision to make the order within 28 days after the order is made
    • how to appeal (s 48 Child Protection Act).

The Protection of unborn children

If, before a child is born, Child Safety suspects the child may be in need of protection after birth, they may take action they consider appropriate. This can include investigating the circumstances and assessing whether the child will need protection after they are born or offering help and support to the pregnant woman (s 21A Child Protection Act).

Information exchange

Child Safety is able to request and exchange information with other agencies and service providers about a child’s protection or care needs to ensure the safety of the child, and a coordinated and responsive service delivery that meets the needs of the child and their family (ss 159A-H, 159M-R Child Protection Act). This includes the following agencies:

  • the Public Guardian
  • Corrective Services
  • community services
  • disability services
  • Education Queensland including all schools
  • housing services
  • Queensland Health
  • Queensland Police Service.

Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect assessment team system

When required, Child Safety can refer a child’s matter to the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) team system, which operates throughout Queensland. Each SCAN team includes representatives who have knowledge and experience in child protection from the following agencies:

  • Child Safety
  • Queensland Police Service
  • Queensland Health
  • Education Queensland
  • other prescribed entities or service providers contributing to the operation of the system by invitation (s 159K Child Protection Act).

The purpose of a SCAN team is to enable a coordinated response to the protection needs of children by:

  • sharing of information
  • planning and coordination of actions to assess and respond to the child’s protection needs
  • a holistic and culturally responsive assessment of the child’s protection needs (s 159A Child Protection Act).