Maintaining the integrity of student disclosures of abuse a cross professional perspective
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Maintaining the integrity of student disclosures of abuse: A cross-professional perspective. Kelly Allen Laura Dodds Emma Novosel. AN EDUCATION PERSPECTIVE. Schools are sometimes the most protective factor in a young person’s life.

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Maintaining the integrity of student disclosures of abuse a cross professional perspective l.jpg

Maintaining the integrity of student disclosures of abuse: A cross-professional perspective

Kelly Allen

Laura Dodds

Emma Novosel

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AN EDUCATION PERSPECTIVE cross-professional perspective

  • Schools are sometimes the most protective factor in a young person’s life.

  • Disclosures of abuse occur frequently within school settings to a variety of individuals.

  • Principals of State schools who form a reasonable suspicion that a student has been harmed or is at risk of harm must make a report to the Department of Child Safety or the Queensland Police.

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Role of schools in child protection cross-professional perspective

Schools aim to…

  • create a supportive culture where students feel safe to disclose abuse

  • maintain the integrity of abuse disclosures and associated reporting

  • promote post-disclosure well-being of students and build protective behaviours.

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Role of schools in child protection cross-professional perspective

  • As such, schools are vital partners in child protection and work collaboratively with child protective services on a daily basis.

  • Schools can also assist in achieving positive outcomes for child victims of abuse by ensuring that the in situ disclosure process is handled in a manner that supports the post-disclosure forensic process, especially in cases of sexual abuse disclosures which are most likely to proceed to court.

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Responding to disclosures of abuse cross-professional perspective

  • Responding to student abuse disclosures can be daunting.

  • SMS-PR-012 Student Protection provides school personnel with clear guidance in relation to reporting harm and risk of harm.

  • How to respond appropriately in situ to abuse disclosures appears less clear for some staff.

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Memory and suggestibility cross-professional perspective

  • Verbal and non-verbal responses made during a disclosure can affect the:

    a) integrity with which the disclosure is viewed if the matter proceeds to court

    b) student’s own memory of an event/experience

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Memory and suggestibility cross-professional perspective

  • It is relatively easy to unwittingly distort episodic memory.

  • People’s memories are vulnerable to post-event information.

  • Post-event information can be unknowingly integrated into memory, changing the memory, modifying what you believe you saw, heard or experienced.

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Memory and suggestibility cross-professional perspective

  • Questioning or re-phrasing may be suggestive or leading.

    eg. Loftus and Palmer (1974); Leitchman and Ceci (1995)

  • The mere suggestion of an event occurring can cause someone to project it into memory.

    eg. Loftus (1991-94)

  • Non-verbal cues can influence disclosures – young people can change their recounts in response to perceived approval/disapproval from the person to whom they are disclosing.

    eg. Orne (1981); Ceci, Toglia and Ross (1987)

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Disclosures of child sexual abuse cross-professional perspective

  • highly likely to proceed to court

  • require immediate referral to DChS and QPS

  • optimal justice outcomes achieved by having the bulk of the disclosure obtained through appropriate interview techniques

  • need to be handled without investigation or probing by school staff and recorded verbatim

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Disclosures of child sexual abuse cross-professional perspective

  • Clarification of statements made by the student should only occur if such is necessary to determine whether or not the matter is a child protection concern and should be done in a manner that is not suggestive, eg.

    What do you mean?


    Do you mean….?

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Considerations cross-professional perspective

  • Any person to whom a disclosure is made and any associated written record may be subpoenaed to appear in court.

  • The conduct of the person during the disclosure may be subject to cross-examination in court.

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Conclusions cross-professional perspective

  • Any person to whom a disclosure of abuse is made can impact on the integrity of that disclosure.

  • School staff are not trained investigators - enabling uninterrupted and uninfluenced free narrative is optimal.

  • Referring immediately to DChS and QPS in cases of child sexual abuse disclosures is vital.

  • Maintaining the integrity of an abuse disclosure provides the best chance of offenders being prosecuted and allowing child victims to regain a sense of control.

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A CHILD PROTECTION PERSPECTIVE cross-professional perspective

  • Effective and appropriate engagement with children is essential in promoting a child’s protective and care needs.

  • The Child Protection Act1999 states that if a child is able to form and express views about his or her care, these views mustbe given consideration.

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Maintaining Integrity cross-professional perspective

  • Understanding children’s communication styles and skills is an integral attribute to maintaining the integrity of child abuse disclosures.

  • Knowledge of child development and social cues in communication - suggestibility.

  • Intermediary disclosures of possible abuse.

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Notifying harm cross-professional perspective

  • As a professional, as an adult, it is our key obligation to accurately record and document disclosures by children.

  • Recording key information, including observations of a child’s behaviours and any other projections observed, ensures that child protection professionals are provided with accurate information from the outset.

  • The information provided, or lack thereof, has a significant impact on the timeframe for investigation. This directly impacts a child’s safety and well being.

  • Every step in the process for notifying suspected harm or abuse must be timely.

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Throughout the Investigation cross-professional perspective

  • S9 – HarmAny detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical,psychological or emotional well-being. Harm can be caused by physical,psychological or emotional abuse, neglect or sexual abuse or exploitation, andit is immaterial how the harm is caused.

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  • s10 – cross-professional perspectiveRisk of HarmHarm that is identified as likely to happen to a child in the future, where thereare insufficient protective factors to ensure the child's safety withoutdepartmental intervention. The harm must be likely or probable, not justpossible. There must be a reasonable belief that the parent/s behaviour,actions or verbal statements or threats will result in harm to the child.

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  • s10(b) cross-professional perspectiveA parent must be both able and willing to protect the child from harm. A parentwho is able, but not willing to protect a child, or willing, but not able to protect achild, does not meet this criteria.

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A POLICING PERSPECTIVE cross-professional perspective

Priorities for investigators when dealing with child victims or witnesses

  • Age appropriate

  • Child friendly

  • Reduce further trauma to child

  • Child protection v prosecution

  • Admissibility

  • Reliability of witnesses

  • Accuracy/integrity of information obtained

  • Identify sources of information

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Key issues at time of initial disclosure cross-professional perspective

  • Be very careful not to contaminate evidence prior to other authorities are involved (QPS, DChS)

  • Listen and support

  • Record very detailed notes about disclosure including time, date, place, content, circumstance

  • Notify the appropriate authorities as soon as possible after the disclosure

  • Gather all relevant information for investigators

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Section 93A Evidence Act cross-professional perspective

Legislative provision that provides in circumstances where direct oral evidence would be admissible, any statement contained in a document shall be admissible if:

* Child/person with impairment of the mind

* Personal knowledge of the matters

* Available to give evidence

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Section 3 Evidence Act cross-professional perspective


Video tape

Audio tape

Diary entry



Any record of information considered relevant

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Preliminary Complaints cross-professional perspective

  • Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978 – Section 4a provides:

    Preliminary complaint means any complaint other than the complainants first formal witness statement to a police officer given in or anticipation of a criminal trial

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Example of preliminary complaint cross-professional perspective

Child discloses to friend about alleged offence (complaint 1)

Child discloses to teacher and guidance officer

(complaint 2 & 3)

Child attends police station and makes complaint to police officer at front counter (complaint 4)

Child subsequently attends and provides formal statement (complaint 5)

After criminal proceeding has commenced child provides a further statement (complaint 6)

Each of complaints 1-4 is a preliminary complaint. Complaints 5 and 6 are not preliminary complaints

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Preliminary complaint cross-professional perspective

  • A person who receives a disclosure at any time will be a classified as a preliminary complainant and will be considered a witness and may have to give evidence in court

  • They will be required to give a statement

  • The statement provided by a preliminary complainant will assist in establishing the consistency and credibility of the child’s complaint rather than the validity of the complaint

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Preliminary complaint cross-professional perspective

  • Preliminary complainants need to be aware that it may be some time before a formal statement is taken from them therefore notes detailing the time, date, content and circumstances of the disclosure become very important

  • Preliminary complainants should make these notes at the first opportunity

  • Any relevant background information about the child should be made available to the investigators

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Persons present for 93A interviews cross-professional perspective

  • Best practise is to have as few people present during the interview as possible

  • An appropriate support person can be present during the interview but only if the child requests it

  • A support person in an interview will become a witness in any subsequent matter

  • If a support person is interfering in an interview they will be removed from the interview

  • After a child has been interviewed, questions about the allegations and the content of the interview must be avoided

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The 93A process cross-professional perspective

  • Ideally only qualified police or authorised officers should perform 93A interviews

  • The process includes rapport building, examination of the topic of concern and protective strategies

  • During this process a trained interviewer should employ open ended questioning techniques, encouraging the child to do 80% of the talking

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The 93A process continued cross-professional perspective

  • Prior to commencing an interview, an investigator will seek information relating to the child as well as detailed information about the disclosure and circumstances in which it arose

  • During the interview investigators will obtain as much detail from the child as possible in order to both particularise offences and satisfy elements of identified offences to the correct evidentiary standard

    i.e Tell me everything about ….Start at the beginning

    Tell me more about the part where ….

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Full disclosure provisions cross-professional perspective

  • Section 590AH of the Criminal Code provides that full disclosure of anything that the prosecution intends to rely on during the proceeding is mandatory

  • Notes or recordings made by a preliminary complainant are included in this full disclosure process

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Summary cross-professional perspective

  • Be child focused and age appropriate

  • Immediately involve DChS and Police

  • Accurately and immediately record details of disclosure

  • Prepare yourself and make yourself available to provide a statement. Be aware that any notes you make or any documentation may be required as evidence