The World Health Organization and International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (2006) advocate that all nations protect and provide children with environments that nurture their physical and emotional growth and development. In Australia all jurisdictions have legislation that ensures the safety and protection of children. Currently there are differences between states and territories regarding how authorities deal with breeches of the act/s and how the legislation is enacted (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) & Allen Consulting Group). The World Health Organization and International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (2006) report suggests that every child has a right to a safe and nurturing childhood and reminds us that one way of ensuring that children are protected is by mandating targeted professional groups who have a role in the care and protection of children. This study which was undertaken in rural Victoria aimed to understand and highlight the decision-making processes of four relevant mandated professional groups, namely, medical practitioners, nurses, police and teachers.
Abuse can be defined as physical, emotional and sexual maltreatments. Physical abuse is where a child is intentionally, outwardly harmed or maimed; whereas emotional abuse refers to non violent behaviours that make the child feel unloved, unsupported and reduce their confidence by ridiculing and other non physical forms of rejection. Sexual abuse is any conduct that has a sexual connotation including but not limited to sexual penetration, sexual advances or sexual innuendo to a child whose maturity prevents them fully comprehending these behaviours (World Health Organization & International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, 2006). In addition neglect can be added to this list as failure to provide for the development or wellbeing of a child (World Health Organization & International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, 2006).
Protecting children from abuse and neglect is an important social and health issue. It impacts directly on those groups of professionals mandated by legislation to report any cases where they suspect, on reasonable grounds, that a child is at risk of significant harm due to physical or sexual abuse. All Australian states and territories have now introduced legislative regulations for compulsory reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect (AIFS, 2010). In Victoria, those groups with mandatory reporting obligations include nurses, medical practitioners, teachers, and police. In addition, while suspected cases of child neglect or emotional abuse are not required to be reported, any professional or member of the community forming a belief that a child is at risk from these forms of abuse can notify authorities voluntarily (Blaskett & Taylor, 2003). The guidelines currently offered to assist professionals to report, however, are vague and open to individual interpretation. There are also indications that continuing education about child abuse is patchy, varies by profession and workplace, and has not kept pace with legislative changes. While the processes for managing a notification of suspected child abuse and neglect are similar in all jurisdictions (AIHW, 2006) confusion about what procedures follow a notification is widespread among mandated professionals. Little is known about how mandated professionals verify their own obligations to report and negotiate the systems in place to manage notifications. There is also a dearth of information concerning the decisionmaking processes that lead to notification by professionals mandated to report.
The Australian statutory child protection system is overburdened with notifications of alleged child abuse and neglect almost tripling nationally between 1999 and 2000 (107,134 reports received) and 2006-07 (309,517 reports received; Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) & Allen Consulting Group, 2008, p. …