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Child protection legal information

The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (Child Safety) is responsible for investigating reports of alleged harm or risk of alleged harm to any child under 18. If they think your child is in need of protection, they will work with you and your family to make sure they’re safe.

They may:

If Child Safety is investigating your child, get immediate legal advice.

If you think a child has been, is being or is at risk of being harmed, you can:

  • report it to the police
  • report your concerns to Child Safety
  • call 000 in an emergency.

If a child has been, or is at risk of being harmed, the Director of Child Protection Litigation can decide whether to make an application to the Childrens Court for a child protection order.  When your child protection matter is heard in court, you, your child's other parent and your child (if old enough) can come to court to speak to the magistrate or you can have a lawyer represent you. Other people such as a family member or another significant person in the child's life may also be able to speak to the court, or ask permission to be part of the proceedings. You should get legal advice.

Reporting child abuse

If you think a child has been, is being or is at risk of being harmed you can: report it to the police; report your concerns to Child Safety or call 000 in an emergency.

The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (Child Safety) is responsible for investigating reports of alleged harm or risk of alleged harm to any child under 18.

Harm to a child is considered to be 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. 

It doesn’t matter how the harm is caused, and it can be a single act, omission or circumstance or a series or combination of acts, omissions or circumstances. 

Who can make a report about child abuse or neglect concerns to Child Safety?

Anyone can contact (notify) Child Safety with concerns about a child who has been, is being or is at risk of being harmed.

During business hours you can contact the Regional Intake Service, or contact the Child Safety After Hours Service Centre on 1800 177 135—24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, child advocates with the Office of Public Guardian and family law court employees are mandatory notifiers.  If they have a reasonable suspicion that a child:

  • has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm, or is at an unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm caused by physical or sexual abuse; and
  • may not have a parent able and willing to protect them from the harm, then they must report their suspicions to Child Safety.

As a general rule, the identity of anyone who contacts (notifies) Child Safety with concerns about a child will remain confidential.

Child Safety’s role

Child Safety’s role is to protect children and young people from harm or who are at risk of harm, and whose parents cannot provide adequate protection for them.  Child Safety receives and investigates reports of alleged child abuse and neglect, and if a child is in need of protection, provides ongoing services to them and their family.

If Child Safety is aware of alleged harm to a child and reasonably suspects the child is in need of protection, they must investigate these allegations and assess whether the child has been, or is being, or is at risk of being harmed, and assess their protective needs. 

If Child Safety reasonably believes the alleged harm may include a criminal offence relating to the child has been committed, they must give details of the alleged harm to the police.  This is regardless of whether or not Child Safety suspects the child is in need of protection.

If before the birth of a child, Child Safety reasonably suspects that a child may be in need of protection after they’re born, Child Safety must take appropriate action.  This includes investigating the situation and assessing the likelihood that the child will need protection after they’re born, and offering help and support to the pregnant woman.

Being investigated by Child Safety

Important: If you’re being investigated by Child Safety you should contact a private lawyer, community legal centre or Legal Aid Queensland  for immediate legal advice.

If Child Safety is aware of alleged harm to a child and reasonably suspects the child is in need of protection, they must investigate these allegations and assess whether the child has been, or is being, or is at risk of being harmed, and assess their protective needs. 

During the investigation of the alleged harm, child safety officers may have contact with your child at a school, or place where education and care or regulated education and care is provided without your approval or knowledge if they reasonably believe:

  • it’s in your child’s best interest that they have contact with them before you or your child’s other parent or long-term guardian are told about the investigation; and 
  • you or your child’s other parent or long-term guardians knowing in advance about the proposed contact with your child is likely to adversely affect or otherwise prevent the effective conduct of the investigation.

During the investigation, your child can be taken into immediate custody for up to 8 hours without an order if there’s a reasonable belief that they are at risk of harm and are likely to suffer harm if the child safety officer or a police officer doesn’t take them into immediate custody.  The officer must, as soon as practicable then apply for either a temporary assessment order or a temporary custody order.  The officer may if reasonable, also arrange for a medical examination or treatment of your child.

Child safety officers may ask you to come into one of their offices to interview you about the alleged harm. You can have a support person or a lawyer with you when they talk to you. Even if you don’t speak with them, Child Safety must investigate the complaint.

Child safety officers can also talk to other people such as teachers, relatives, nurses and doctors if it helps them with their investigation.

You should apply for legal aid immediately if an application has been made for a court assessment order or a child protection order that would grant Child Safety or another person custody of your child.

Get urgent legal help as you do not want to waste any valuable time.

If you’re not eligible for legal aid, you should get help from a private lawyer.

What action can Child Safety take?

Child Safety will take any actions necessary as part of an investigation to assess whether your child needs protection.

Child Safety:

  • must give proper consideration to intervening with parents’ agreement (IPA), which can include entering into an assessment care agreement;
  • can take your child into immediate custody if they reasonably believe your child is at risk of harm and your child is likely to suffer harm if the officer doesn’t take them into immediate custody; and
  • can apply for assessment orders (e.g. Temporary Assessment and Court Assessment Orders) and to extend these orders.

Voluntary assessment care agreements

When investigating an allegation of harm to a child, Child Safety must give proper consideration to intervening with the parents’ agreement (IPA). 

Child Safety will consider an assessment care agreement if they are satisfied that you and your child’s other parent is willing and able to work with them to meet your child’s interim protection needs during the investigation.

Child Safety will also need to be satisfied that it would be in your child’s best interests to be temporarily placed in the care of someone other than you or your child’s other parent and it’s unlikely that, if you or your child’s other parent were to end the agreement, your child won’t be at immediate risk of harm.   

The agreement must state:

  • the name of the person in whose care your child is to be placed
  • the period of the agreement
  • where your child will be living
  • arrangements for contact between your child and you and their other parent
  • the types of decisions relating to your child’s care for which you must be consulted.

You should get legal advice before signing a voluntary assessment care agreement.

A voluntary assessment care agreement can be ended by giving 2 days’ notice to the other parties. If the agreement is ended and Child Safety still needs to investigate and assess the allegation of harm, or risk of harm to your child, they may apply for an assessment order (either Temporary Assessment or Court Assessment Order). Get legal advice.

Removing children from your care

If Child Safety thinks your child is at immediate risk of harm, child safety officers or the police may take them into Child Safety’s care (custody) for up to 8 hours. Get immediate legal advice.   Child Safety must as soon as is reasonably possible, apply for a temporary assessment order or temporary custody order.

Assessment orders

Temporary assessment orders and court assessment orders authorise actions necessary as part of an investigation to assess whether a child is a child in need of protection. The assessment order may allow Child Safety to:

  • have contact with your child
  • enter and search your home or another location to find your child
  • arrange for your child to be medically examined or treated
  • take your child into Child Safety’s custody
  • direct you not to have contact with your child during the investigation.

Get immediate legal advice.

At the end of the Assessment Orders if Child Safety decides your child is in need of ongoing protection, they may refer the matter to the Director of Child Protection Litigation, who will decide whether to apply for a child protection order.

What if child safety officers decide my child has been abused?

If at the end of an investigation Child Safety is satisfied that your child is in need of protection and needs ongoing help they will work with you and your family to make sure your child is safe.

Voluntary child protection care agreements

Child Safety must give proper consideration to intervening with the parents’ agreement (IPA). 

Child Safety will consider a child protection care agreement if satisfied that you and your child’s other parent is able and willing to work with Child Safety to meet your child’s protection and care needs and it is likely at the end of the proposed intervention, you and/or your child’s other parent will be able to meet your child’s protection and care needs.

Child Safety will also need to be satisfied that the agreement would be in your child’s best interests to be temporarily placed in the care of someone other than you and/or your child’s other parent and it is not likely that, if you or your child’s other parent was to end the agreement, your child will be at immediate risk of harm.   

The agreement must state the:

  • name of the person in whose care your child is to be placed
  • the period of the agreement
  • where your child will be living
  • arrangements for contact between your child and you and their other parent
  • the types of decisions relating to your child’s care for which you must be consulted.

You should get legal advice before signing a voluntary child protection care agreement.

A voluntary child protection care agreement can be ended by a party giving 2 days’ notice to the other parties. If the agreement is ended and Child Safety still believes that your child is in need of protection and needs ongoing help, Child Safety may apply for a child protection order (see below).

Child protection orders

If Child Safety believes your child has been, or is being or is at risk of being harmed and you’re not willing and able to protect them from harm, they may refer the matter to the Director of Child Protection Litigation, who will decide whether to apply to the Childrens Court for a child protection order.

The Director of Child Protection Litigation will apply for a child protection order. A lawyer from the Office of the Director of Child Protection Litigation will come to court for the application.

At any time the application for the child protection order is mentioned in the court, you, your child's other parent, and your child (if old enough) can come to court in person to speak to the magistrate, or you can have a lawyer represent you. If you have a lawyer representing you, you should also attend court with them.

Other significant people in the child’s life, such as family members, may also be able to speak to the court. A significant person in the child’s life may be able to ask the court for permission to participate in the court proceeding about the child. If you are a person who wants the court’s permission to participate in a child protection proceeding, you should get legal advice about applying to the court.

The court may appoint a separate representative for your child—this is a lawyer who represents your child's best interests. The separate representative must advise the court about what your child wants, and make recommendations to the court about what they think is in your child's best interests. This may be different from what your child wants.

A Public Guardian child advocate can also support a child to express their views and wishes to the court.

An older child may instruct their own lawyer to appear in court to represent them; this is called a direct representative.

Get immediate legal advice.

The court can make orders (or a combination of orders) that:

  • direct you (and, or the other parent) to do, or not do, something related to your child's care
  • order Child Safety to supervise your (and, or the other parent's) care of your child
  • order a relative or Child Safety to have daily care of your child (custody)
  • order a relative or another person (sometimes a foster carer) or Child Safety to have daily care of your child and make important decisions about your child's care. For example, where your child will go to school or what medical treatment they should receive (guardianship).

The court can also make or change a domestic violence protection order when hearing a child protection case.See domestic and family violence.

Child protection orders have time limits.

Out of home orders, custody or short-term guardianship orders can vary in length up to a maximum of 2 years. Long-term guardianship orders last until your child turns 18. The overall aim (except for long-term orders) is to return your child to your family if protection is no longer needed.

If the court makes an order placing your child outside your care, then another family member can apply to Child Safety to be assessed as their kinship carer. If no suitable family member is available, then your child will be placed in foster care.

Appealing a child protection order

You or your child can appeal against a child protection order within 28 days of the order being made. Get immediate legal advice.

Applying to the court to have my child returned to my care

You can apply to the court at any time after the protection order has been made to have your child returned to your care.  This will either be a revocation or variation of the order . This applies whether your child is under custody, a short-term guardianship order or a long-term guardianship order.

You should get legal advice.

Case plans and family group meetings

If Child Safety is satisfied that your child is in need of protection and ongoing help, then your child must have a case plan. This is a written plan for meeting your child’s protection and care needs.  It may include:

  • goals to be achieved by implementing the plan
  • arrangements about where or with who your child will live
  • services to be provided to meet your child’s protection and care needs and promote your child’s future wellbeing.  This can include any educational and or special needs your child has and any medical examinations or appointments that your child needs to attend
  • matters for which Child Safety will be responsible, including particular support or services
  • how often you, your family and other people connected with your child can have contact with them, and when this can happen
  • arrangements for maintaining your child’s ethnic and cultural identity
  • matters for which a parent or carer will be responsible
  • a proposed review date for the plan.

Case plans are made at a meeting between you, Child Safety, and anyone else involved in your child's care or welfare. This is called a family group meeting. If you’re invited to attend a family group meeting—get legal help.

Confidentiality

Information about child protection is usually confidential. In some situations information about your child may be given to a service provider or government agency.

Can children be left at home without supervision?

It's a criminal offence to leave a child under 12 unattended for an unreasonable time, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child. There's no fixed rule about what's reasonable in an individual case.  If you have care of a child, or an in charge of a child under 16 (includes a parent, foster parent, step parent, guardian or other adult in charge of the child) it's a criminal offence to:

  • cause harm to the child (any detrimental effect of a significant nature on their physical, psychological, or emotional wellbeing, whether temporary or permanent) by failing to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, accommodation or care when it's available for your own resources; or
  • fail to take all lawful steps to get those things for the child when not within your resources; or
  • leave a child without a means of support. 

The police may investigate an alleged offence, and Child Safety may also investigate if they are they are concerned the child has been harmed, or there is a risk of alleged harm. 

Making a complaint about Child Safety 

To make a complaint about Child Safety or a child safety officer, contact the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services’ complaints section on 1800 08 04 64.

If you disagree with a decision made by Child Safety about your child, contact QCAT and ask them to review the decision.

QCAT can only review specific decisions, for example decisions about where your child will live and how much contact you can have with them. Contact the tribunal for more information. Get legal advice.

If your child is in someone else's care and you think they may be in danger, contact the police. It’s a matter for the police whether they take action. In an emergency, call 000 Get legal advice.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice or help if:

  • you’re under 18 and need information about family law or child protection (as a child or a parent)
  • you’ve been invited to attend a family group meeting
  • Child Safety is investigating alleged harm relating to your child
  • Child Safety wants you to sign a care agreement
  • Child Safety wants to take your child into custody
  • Child Safety has applied for an assessment order
  • The Director of Child Protection Litigation is applying for a child protection order
  • you or your child want to appeal against a child protection order
  • your child is under a child protection order and you are trying to get them back
  • you think your child is at risk of abuse in Child Safety’s care but they won't help.

Get legal advice

We may give legal advice and help with child protection matters.

The following organisations may be able to help.

Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help with your matter.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) — may be able to give legal representation and advice on family law matters for Indigenous people.

Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Services (QIFVLS) provides legal and counselling services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples suffering from the direct and indirect effects of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

Office of the Public Guardian is an independent body, working to protect the rights and interests of children and young people in out-of-home care (foster care, kinship care), residential care, youth detention and other supported accommodation. They will give children in out-of-home care advice and help with mediating disputes and making complaints. Their child advocates can also support children in child protection court proceedings.

Create is a not-for-profit organisation helping to empower children and young people placed in or leaving out-of-home care including those who are:

  • unable to live with their birth parents
  • living in foster care
  • living with relatives
  • living in the community
  • living in a group home
  • living independently.

Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services  is responsible for receiving and investigating reports of alleged harm or risk of alleged harm to any child under 18. If at the end of an investigation they are satisfied the child is in need of protection and needs ongoing help, they will work with the child and family to make sure your child is safe.

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) can review decisions made by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.

Queensland Family and Child Commission has expert oversight of Queensland's child protection system and partners with other government and non-government agencies to ensure that best practice services are being delivered for the families and children of Queensland.

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