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Child protection legal information

The Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (‘Child Safety’) investigates reports of alleged harm or risk of alleged harm to any child under 18. If your child needs protection, they will work with you and your family to keep them safe.

Child Safety may:

Get immediate legal advice if you're being investigated by Child Safety.

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 before your matter goes to court. 

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.

From 5 July 2021, it will an offence for any adult not to report sexual offending against a child by another adult to police. This means all adults will have the responsibility to report sexual offences against children to police—unless they have a reasonable excuse not to.  See the Queensland Government website for more information.

Child Safety investigates 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:

Doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, child advocates with the Office of Public Guardian and family law court employees are mandatory notifiers to Child Safety if they have a reasonable suspicion 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
  • may not have a parent able and willing to protect them from the harm.

Generally, 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 who have suffered harm or are at risk of suffering harm, and whose parents are not willing or able to protect them from harm. Child Safety receives and investigates reports of alleged child abuse and neglect. If they assess a child needs protection, Child Safety will provide ongoing services to the child and their family.

If Child Safety is aware of alleged harm to a child and reasonably suspects the child needs protection, they must investigate these allegations and assess whether:

  • the child has been harmed
  • the child is being harmed; or
  • the child is at risk of being harmed.

Child Safety must also assess how the child’s protection and care needs can be met.

If Child Safety reasonably believes that a criminal offence has been committed relating to the alleged harm to the child, then they must give these details to the police, whether or not they suspect the child needs protection.

If, before a child is born, Child Safety reasonably suspects the child needs protection after the birth, they must take appropriate action. This includes investigating the situation and assessing the likelihood the child will need protection after birth, 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 Legal Aid Queensland for immediate legal advice.  You can also contact a private lawyer, community legal centre, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) or the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service (QIFVLS) for legal advice.

If Child Safety is aware of alleged harm to a child, and reasonably suspects the child needs protection, they must investigate these allegations and assess whether the child has been, is being, or is at risk of being harmed Child Safety must also assess how the child’s protection and care needs can be met.

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 is provided without your approval or knowledge if they reasonably believe:

  • it’s in your child’s best interest 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 guardian 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 is reasonably possible) 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 immediately apply for legal aid 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 help from a private lawyer if you’re not eligible for legal aid. If you are not eligible for legal aid, you can also contact a community legal centre, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS), or the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service (QIFVLS) for advice and/or representation.

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 properly consider an intervention with parental agreement (IPA), which can include entering into an assessment care agreement or child protection 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 child safety officer doesn’t take them into immediate custody.
  • Can apply for assessment orders (eg Temporary Assessment and Court Assessment Orders) and to extend these orders.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children 

Child Safety must consider special principles relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children 

When Child Safety is making an important decision about an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, the child and their family have a right to have their say. The child and family can have a person, who is not part of Child Safety, to help make sure their voice is heard. The person is called an independent person (PDF, 372KB)

It may not be possible for the child and family to have an independent person when urgent action is needed to protect a child or when there are serious safety concerns. 

Assessment care agreements

When investigating an allegation of harm to a child, Child Safety must properly consider intervening with the parents’ agreement. This is known as intervention with parental agreement (IPA).

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

They will also need to be satisfied that it’s 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 that there will be no safety concerns about you and your child’s other parent retaining guardianship and custody rights.

An assessment care agreement can be signed for up to 30 days and cannot be extended.  The agreement is signed by you, your child’s other parent and Child Safety.

During this time your child will be placed with an approved carer, licensed care service or another entity. 

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.

Get legal advice before signing an assessment care agreement.

If an assessment care agreement is entered into with only one parent, Child Safety must:

  • make reasonable attempts to give a copy of the agreement to the other parent and obtain the other parent’s consent, after the agreement has been entered into
  • record all attempts to contact and obtain consent from the other parent.

An 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.

Removal of children

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

Assessment orders

Temporary assessment orders and court assessment orders authorise actions needed as part of an investigation to assess whether a child needs 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 if you are served with (given) an application for an assessment order.

At the end of the assessment order, if Child Safety decides your child needs 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 harmed?

At the end of an investigation, if Child Safety is satisfied your child needs protection and ongoing help, they will work with you and your family to make sure your child is safe.

Child protection care agreements

Child Safety must consider intervention with parental agreement (IPA). 

Child Safety will consider an intervention with parental agreement (IPA) if they are satisfied that you and your child’s other parent are:

  • willing and able to work with them to meet your child’s protection and care needs; and
  • it is likely at the end of the proposed intervention, you or your child’s other parent will be able to meet your child’s protection and care needs.

During intervention with parental agreement, or while a child is subject to a directive or supervision order, a child may be placed in an out-of-home care placement with an approved carer using a child protection care agreement, if they require either:

  • a short-term out-of-home care placement with an approved carer, to ensure their protection and care needs are met
  • regular short-term placements (for example, one weekend per month), if identified as a need during the case planning process.

A child protection care agreement:

  • can be used for an initial period of up to 30 days
  • can be extended more than once if the child has a current case plan
  • can only be extended for a maximum of 30 days at a time, with the approval of the Child Safety Service Centre manager
  • can only be used to place a child for a maximum total of six months in any 12-month period
  • grants custody of a child to the chief executive while the agreement is in force
  • enables the parent to retain all rights and responsibilities associated with the guardianship of the child and be given an opportunity to be involved in decisions about the child's care
  • gives Child Safety the authority to make decisions about the child’s contact with others.

Child Safety must be satisfied the agreement 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.  They also must be satisfied that if you or your child’s other parent were to end the agreement, that it would be unlikely for your child to 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
  • the 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 child protection care agreement.

A 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 your child needs protection and ongoing help, they may make an assessment that a child protection order is necessary.

Child protection orders

If Child Safety believes your child has been, 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.

Get immediate legal advice if you are served with (given) an application for a child protection order.

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 makes 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.

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 and permanent care orders last until your child turns 18. The overall aim (except for long-term guardianship orders and permanent care orders) is to return your child to your family if protection is no longer needed.

There is a limit on the duration of short-term child protection orders (granting custody or guardianship to the chief executive) to a total period of 2 years from when the first order was made. For example, if a child has been subject to a short-term custody order for 2 years, no further short -term consecutive order can be made. The 2 year period doesn't include assessment orders or interim orders that were in place before the first child protection order application was finalised.

There is an exception – where the court is satisfied it is in the best interests of the child or young person and reunification with the child or young person’s parents is reasonably achievable in a longer timeframe, the court may choose to make another short-term order.

If there are consecutive short-term orders to be considered, the court time associated with the second short term order will be taken into account for the 2-year time period.

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 if an order is made and you want to appeal it.

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

You can apply to the court at any time after the child protection order has been made to have your child returned to your care.  This is called a revocation (cancelled) order. This applies whether your child is under custody, a short-term guardianship order or a long-term guardianship order.  Only the Director of Child Protection Litigation can apply to the court to revoke a permanent care order.

You should get legal advice.

Case plans, family group meetings and case plan review meetings

Your child must have a case plan if Child Safety is satisfied that they need protection and ongoing help.

This is a written plan for meeting your child’s protection and care needs.  All case plans must include concurrent planning. This means that within the case planning process, all children and young people will need a primary permanency goal as well as an alternative.  The alternative permanency goal is a plan for what will happen if the primary permanency goal is not achieved. In most cases, the primary permanency goal will be reunification of a child with a parent. If reunification with a parent is not possible, Child Safety will work towards achieving the alternative permanency goal. For example, the alternative permanency goal might be that your child live with a foster carer.

Case plans may also 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 may have, and any medical examinations or appointments your child needs to attend
  • matters for which Child Safety will be responsible, including 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. The first meeting is called a family group meeting and following meetings are called case plan review meetings.

Get legal advice if you’re invited to attend a family group meeting or case plan review meeting.

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.  For further information see the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs website

Leaving children at home without supervision

It's a criminal offence to leave a child under 12 unattended for an unreasonable time, without providing reasonable 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 you're 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 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 Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs complaints section

If you disagree with particular decisions made by Child Safety about your child, contact the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (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 or case plan review 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.

LawRight – Representation service – Child safety review service may be able to provide one-off legal representation at compulsory conferences in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) for parents and carers who are reviewing a decision of Child Safety.

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 Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs 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 certain decisions made by Child Safety.

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.

Related links and information

Last updated 7 September 2021

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