Q&As

Working with Police when a Child Discloses Abuse and the Vital Role of Schools with Nadine Udorovic

Tuesday May 8, 2018

Nadine Udorovic has over the past 15 years worked exclusively in the area of family law and developed a  broad range of experience in both complex children's and property matters both domestic and international involving international child abduction and matters relating to international child relocation issues. 

Nadine Udorovic

Nadine also has extensive experience in the preparation of Binding Financial Agreements for both married, de facto and same sex parties and Binding and Limited Child Support Agreements, and Intervention Order proceedings. Nadine also has experience in surrogacy matters both domestic and commercial surrogacy and inter country adoption and local adoption matters. Nadine is also a qualified Collaborative Law Practitioner and actively runs collaborations and round table conferences/mediations.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Nadine recently to discuss key challenges and opportunities facing the sector today.

Read the Q&A below and hear more from Nadine at the School Law Conference: Legal Risks and Practical Solutions seminar.

What are some immediate first steps a school should take if a child discloses that they were abused or you suspect abuse?

Under the Children, Youth and Families Act (“the Act”), mandated professionals are legally compelled to make a report to Child Protection if they form a belief on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection from physical injury or sexual abuse. Teachers, including early childhood teachers and principal, are among some of the mandatory reporters  listed under s. 182 of the Act. A 'belief on reasonable grounds' is formed if a reasonable person in the same position would have formed the belief on the same grounds. A mandated reporter must make a report as soon as practicable to the Department of Health and Human Services after forming the belief on reasonable grounds that a child is at risk of physical or sexual abuse. If a child presents with a physical injury, or alleges sexual abuse, the Department will then notify Victoria Police, who are likely to attend the school with Child Protection Practitioners.

What’s something that a school should have in a child protection policy that some school’s leave out?

Some schools overlook the fact that it can be in the child’s best interest to have a teacher they know, for example a welfare co-ordinator or the child’s homeroom teacher present as a support for the child when they are speaking to Police or Child protection Practitioners. It is important to remember that this will be as a support role only, as involvement of an untrained staff member in the questioning of a child may result in the disclosures of that child being unable to be presented to the Children’s Court.

Do you have any tips for educators working with a lawyer for a student when abuse has occurred? 

"It can often be difficult to balance the child’s need to have a voice in the Court proceedings with their need for education, but if the child’s lawyer and the school staff can plan ahead for these situations, it is not impossible to achieve."

If a child is legally represented in the Children’s Court, they do not necessarily have to attend the Court, particularly if they would prefer to attend school instead. In these situations the child’s lawyer can take instruction from the child via telephone, and may need to make repeated attempts to contact the child during the day, if any unforeseen information is raised on which the lawyer does not hold instruction. In these cases it can be useful for staff to be mindful that the child may need to easily contacted, or able to be located at short notice by the child’s lawyer. It can often be difficult to balance the child’s need to have a voice in the Court proceedings with their need for education, but if the child’s lawyer and the school staff can plan ahead for these situations, it is not impossible to achieve.

What should educators keep in mind when dealing with the police to make the process smoother? 

If a staff member is present for an interview with a child, it is necessary to consider that the manner in which police or Child Protection Practitioners question children is designed to gather information from a child, but also not to prompt or encourage specific responses. Educators often feel powerless in these situations, especially when a child has previous made a disclosure to that individual, but is not relaying this to the authorities. As difficult as it may be, it is important not to interject or encourage the child to disclose or provide information, as any disclosure elicited by leading questions may not be accepted by the Court.

It is also important to keep in mind that when interviewing a child, the focus for Victoria Police will primarily be on gathering evidence in order to prosecute a potential crime, rather than expressly on the welfare of a child. As such, it is often up to the school to be alert to any changes in a child’s behaviour which may indicate distress once this interview has concluded, and therefore up to the staff to help the with any difficulties they may be experiencing.

Is there anything that some educators tend to misunderstand about the Family Court process in matters involving abuse? 

Schools are typically provided with Family Court Orders relating to parenting matters, outlining when a child may spend time with each parent … It is important to note that any involvement by the Department of health and Human Services has the power to override the provisions of these Orders.

Schools are typically provided with Family Court Orders relating to parenting matters, outlining when a child may spend time with each parent. This is to avoid any conflict that may arise from a parent attending the school and removing a child when it is not their “time” to do so. It is important to note that any involvement by the Department of health and Human Services has the power to override the provisions of these Orders. This can often be problematic as the Orders may not be provided to the school in a timely manner, essentially leaving educators unable to make an informed assessment of whether it is safe or appropriate for a child to be leaving with a particular parent.

If Court proceedings are underway in either the Family Court or the Children’s Court, it is always recommended that copies of the most recent Orders are obtained by the school.

What are family group conferences and do schools play a role in them?

Family Group Conferences are formal meetings attended by family members and professionals who have a role in a child’s life, and are usually chaired by the child’s allocated case manager from the Department of Health and Human Services. They aim to involve all parties in the decision making for a child, however it should be noted that while they may be useful to determine the case direction for a young person involved with the Department, they are not necessarily binding.

While Family Group Conference can be extremely effective as they seek to give all relevant parties a voice, they are yet to find their way into mainstream use in Victoria and some other states. What many educators will be familiar with instead is a Care Team Meeting. These meeting typically involve only the professionals linked in to support a child or family, however in some cases may include members of the child’s family. It is rare that a child will attend these meetings. Schools play an important role in Care Team Meetings, as they arguably spend the most time supporting a child, and can provide accurate assessments of a child’s day to day presentation and engagement. Schools can also ensure that in any case plan developed for a child, that child’s education needs are always considered.

You can hear more from Nadine at the School Law Conference: Legal Risks and Practical Solutions seminar, being held on Wednesday 20 June at the InterContinental Melbourne, The Rialto, Melbourne.

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