Assessment

Participation in Triage Assessment, SARA and Alternate Assessment by a PSP provider is good practice and occurs:

  • by invitation from the department or at request of the PSP provider
  • when it is agreed it will be beneficial to a child, their parents, siblings or family/kin
  • when the child, parents, siblings and family/kin agree to the provider’s participation.

Triage Assessment

What is Triage Assessment?

The department has statutory responsibility for responding to child protection reports (section 30). It triages child protection reports made to the Child Protection Helpline (the Helpline) to prioritise and decide which families receive assessment and support.

In general, the Department prioritises child protection reports:

  • screened in as presenting a ROSH or
  • screened in as requiring further assessment (non-ROSH).

For each report, the Department considers the reported concerns, the Helpline’s assessment, availability of local resources, and operational capacity of the Department to respond.

Each report is reviewed regularly for a period of 28 days, to allocate, transfer, refer or close. Review usually occurs by:

  • peer review, to encourage collaborative, shared decision making
  • weekly allocation meeting (WAM), to prioritise reports against the CSC's capacity.

Children with the highest priority are allocated to a departmental caseworker for a Safety and Risk Assessment (SARA) or an Alternate Assessment.

If a child is not able to be allocated during the 28 day period, the Department may:

  • refer the child, their parents and family/kin to other services, request services from other agencies or provide other assistance (section 17sections 20-22 or section 113)
  • hold an interagency case discussion (ICD) to facilitate collaboration and sharing of expertise among services involved with the child, their parents and family/kin.

Aboriginal cultural considerations in Triage Assessment

Practitioners make enquiries to identify a child’s cultural background, history and heritage. See identification and de-identification of Aboriginal children and young people.  

A support plan for an Aboriginal child is developed through:

  • Aboriginal family-led decision making
  • planning to empower the child, their parents and family/kin to set their own goals, priorities and action plans.

Also see Aboriginal family-led decision making and Aboriginal family-led decision making factsheet. (PDF, 554.9 KB)

Collaborating in Triage Assessment

The Department and a PSP provider currently or previously exercising primary case responsibility have complementary roles in conducting Triage Assessment.

The Department conducts Triage Assessment. When a PSP provider exercises primary case responsibility, the Department:

  • informs the PSP provider of a new report
  • consults with the provider and any other PSP provider known to be previously or currently involved with the child and their family
  • invites the provider to participate in Triage Assessment (led by the Department) by:
    • attending a departmental WAM or
    • participating in an interagency case discussion (ICD) with the Department.

The PSP provider assists the Department’s Triage Assessment by:

  • continuing to exercise primary case responsibility while Triage Assessment occurs
  • timely sharing of all information relevant to Triage Assessment
  • responding to the department’s requests for information exchange.

Assessing safety and risk

The Department has statutory responsibility for responding to child protection reports (section 30). Departmental practitioners assess reports using Structured Decision Making (SDM©) or Alternate Assessment frameworks, alongside professional judgement. Also see PCMP Resources – List: Frameworks, Standards, Guidelines & Assessment Tools.

What is SARA?

Safety and Risk Assessment (SARA) is an SDM© assessment framework used in relation to a child protection report concerning care and supervision of a child by a person exercising parental responsibility (for the child). This includes birth parents, guardians, adoptive parents or relative/kin carers with parental responsibility.

An initial safety assessment helps the Department to assess a child’s immediate safety in the home where they live, with safety decisions of safe, safe with plan or unsafe. Departmental practitioners visit a child, their parents, siblings and family/kin to carry out a SARA. A safety assessment is recorded in ChildStory within two days* of the visit.

When a child is assessed as unsafe in their home, the Department has a statutory responsibility to remove the child and arrange an OOHC placement.

A risk assessment helps the Department to assess the risk a child will experience abuse or neglect in future, in the home where they live. Possible risk outcomes are low, medium, high or very high. A risk assessment is recorded in ChildStory within 30 days after the safety assessment.

When a child is assessed as unsafe or safe with plan and/or at high or very high risk, they are considered to be in need of care and protection and in many cases protective action will be taken by the department. If so, a case plan is developed.

Protective action is taken through engaging the child, their parents, family/kin and community in decision making, supported by case planning and review.

A review of the initial safety assessment is carried out if new information is received that would change the initial safety decision.

Risk re-assessment helps the department to re-assess the risk to a child following case planning and review of work towards achieving the child’s case plan goal. A risk re-assessment is completed:

  • 90 days following the development of a case plan when the risk was (initially) assessed as high or very high and
  • every 90 days after (or more frequently, as required).

The Department may cease involvement with the child and their family when:

  • the risk re-assessment has an outcome of low or moderate and
  • a closing safety assessment with outcome of safe shows no unresolved dangers.

(* Unless otherwise stated in this document, all references to a ‘day’ is a reference to a calendar day, not a business day.)

Use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

The Department is required to offer ADR when responding to a child protection report screened in as risk of significant harm, before seeking a care order, unless there are exceptional circumstances (section 37).

The purpose of ADR is to resolve problems early and reduce the likelihood a care application will need to be made; and to divert the child away from the OOHC system. The Department’s preferred model of ADR when responding to a child protection report (if available) is:

  • perinatal or Pregnancy Family Conferencing (PFC) for unborn children (Sydney Local Health District only) and
  • Family group conferencing (FGC) in all other cases.

Aboriginal cultural considerations in SARA

Before carrying out SARA for an Aboriginal child, the department engages and consults with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO) or other locally governed Aboriginal community group. *
Also see Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (glossary).

When carrying out SARA, the Department take steps to:

  • verify the Aboriginal child’s indigenous status and cultural identity has been accurately recorded
  • identify the child’s family/kin networks (which may include Family Finding as a practice approach)
  • visit the child, their parents and family/kin, with an Aboriginal caseworker (if possible)
  • use Aboriginal family-led decision making
  • engage and support participation of Aboriginal family/kin and communities, to make a culturally valid assessment
  • recognise Aboriginal family structures, environments and child rearing practices.

Also see SARA and Aboriginal family-led decision making factsheet. (PDF, 554.9 KB)

An Aboriginal child, assessed as safe or safe with plan (no protective action taken by the Department), is referred to Aboriginal family strengthening services, with an Aboriginal PSP provider (if possible). Also see Triage.

For an Aboriginal child with a case plan goal of preservation, the Department:

  • makes proactive efforts to support their parents and family/kin to address risks to the child 
  • refers the family to Aboriginal family strengthening services, to enable the child to remain safely at home and in their community.

For an Aboriginal child with a case plan goal of restoration, the Department makes proactive efforts towards restoration and family reunification.

(* Some local districts refer to local Aboriginal Consultation Advisory Panels (ACAP) - see DCJ Aboriginal Consultation Guide.)

Collaborating in SARA

The Department and a service provider, previously or currently exercising primary case responsibility for a child, have complementary roles in carrying out SARA. Current or previous case responsibility includes circumstances when a service provider:

  • previously exercised primary case responsibility and successfully achieved preservation, restoration, guardianship or adoption
  • is currently exercising primary case responsibility for a child with a goal of:
    • preservation, whilst the child remains in the home (not in OOHC) or
    • restoration, after the child has returned home (has exited OOHC).

When a PSP provider previously exercised or currently exercises primary case responsibility for a child subject to SARA, the Department:

  • informs the PSP provider of the new report
  • plans a joint response with the PSP provider, for example inviting them to participate in a pre-assessment consultation (PAC) or post assessment consultation (AC)
  • consults with the PSP provider and JCPRP when there are concerns of serious child abuse which may constitute a criminal offence
  • includes the PSP provider in ADR, subject to consent
  • includes the PSP provider in group supervision (if convened).

When a PSP provider currently exercises primary case responsibility for a child subject to SARA, the Department:

  • liaises with the provider, when seeking direct contact with a child, their carers, parents, siblings and family/kin in order to carry out the assessment
  • informs the provider when contact is planned, or if not possible, immediately after it has occurred
  • funds ADR using FGC (only for children with a case plan goal of preservation)
  • provides relevant information to the provider about the outcome of the assessment within 10 business days after the conclusion of the assessment.

Whilst the SARA is ongoing, the service provider:

  • may participate in the assessment (but not act as a secondary caseworker) by:
    • helping child, their parents or family/kin understand the assessment and concerns raised in the child protection report
    • providing support and advocacy during an interview by the department or subsequent case planning or
    • coaching and supporting parents and family/kin to increase safety and reduce risk
  • accepts guidance from the JCPRP (if applicable)
  • cannot participate in the exercise of statutory powers of assumption or removal (section 43 and 44)
  • shares all information relevant to SARA and responds to departmental requests for information exchange.

Alternate Assessment, Carer Review and Reportable Conduct

Alternate Assessment

Alternate Assessment is the assessment framework the Department use to assess a child protection report* about the care and supervision of a child in OOHC.**

DCJ practitioners use Alternate Assessment to assess the child’s immediate safety, including if there is a need for protective action. 

Alternate Assessment considers a range of factors including:

  • the child’s vulnerability to harm
  • the carer’s response to the allegations and capacity to provide care, and
  • the support available to the carer and protective factors contributing to the child's safety.

To complete the Alternate Assessment, the Department: 

  • speaks with the child, their carers and all other members of their household, including other children 
  • gathers information from other relevant people important to the child or who may have observed the alleged harm or risks.

The Alternate Assessment is finalised within 30 days of the first assessment visit with the child and carer.

At the finalisation of the Alternate Assessment***, the Department makes a separate Judgement and Outcomes decision. This includes:

  • a determination as to whether the child protection concerns are substantiated (section 23) 
  • whether the child is assessed as being in need of care and protection (section 34)
  • the identification of any person determined to have caused harm to the child (PCH). 

(* All child protection reports concerning a child in OOHC that meet the ROSH threshold, receive a statutory response by the Department, and Alternate Assessment. Some non-ROSH reports may also receive an Alternate Assessment, especially if there are multiple non-ROSH reports to assess cumulative harm.  ** The Alternate Assessment is used when a report is received about a child in statutory OOHC under the parental responsibility of the Minister or care responsibility of the Secretary. *** The Judgement and Outcomes report is not part of the Alternate Assessment.)

Collaborating in Alternate Assessment

Alternate Assessment is a collaborative process between the Department and the PSP provider. The Department and the PSP provider have complementary roles which support the accurate, timely and holistic assessment of the child’s experience of safety in care. 

When preparing for and completing an Alternate Assessment, the Department:  

  • informs the PSP provider of a new report, and shares any relevant information that helps the provider to support the safety and wellbeing of the child 
  • consults with the PSP provider when planning a response, including inviting the PSP provider to participate in a Pre-Assessment Consultation (PAC)
  • consults with the PSP provider and JCPRP when there are concerns of serious child abuse which may constitute a criminal offence
  • collaborates with the PSP provider throughout the duration of Alternate Assessment to ensure the child’s immediate safety and all relevant information is considered 
  • liaises with the PSP provider when seeking direct contact with a child, their carers, parents, or family/kin in order to complete the Alternate Assessment
  • informs the PSP provider when making contact is planned, or if not possible, immediately after it has occurred
  • gives clear and specific information to the child, parents and carers about the concerns reported to the Department and how they relate to the safety of the child
  • determines the final outcome of the Alternate Assessment, being the child is safe, safe with plan or unsafe in their current placement.

When safety planning for a child during the Alternate Assessment, the Department:  

  • develops the safety plan in partnership with the child, their network, carer and PSP provider
  • ensures Director Community Services and PSP provider delegate approval is sought, if a safety plan is required to respond to harm caused by the carer
  • provides a copy of the safety plan to the child, carer, any other person identified in the plan as well as to the PSP provider
  • urgently consults with the PSP provider to arrange a psychological consult if a danger is identified about a child’s behaviour
  • reviews the safety plan within the first 72 hours in partnership with the PSP provider
  • finalises the safety plan at the completion of an Alternate Assessment.

After the Alternate Assessment is completed, the Department also: 

  • informs the PSP provider, child, carers, and parents of the outcome of the Alternate Assessment 
  • provides a copy of the Alternate Assessment to the PSP provider within 10 business days of it being finalised
  • plans with the PSP provider how the child can be moved from their current carer in a way that is sensitive to the child’s needs if the outcome of the Assessment is unsafe
  • arranges an exchange of assessment information with the PSP provider within two weeks of the finalised assessment 
  • informs the PSP provider and any persons causing harm (PCH), of the PCH identification.

When DCJ is carrying out an Alternate Assessment, the PSP provider:

  • continues to exercise primary case responsibility, unless the Department and the PSP provider agree otherwise
  • may participate in the assessment (but not act as a secondary caseworker) by: 
    • helping the child, their carers, parents or family/kin understand the assessment and concerns raised in the child protection report 
    • attending and providing support and advocacy during an interview by the department or subsequent case planning
  • accepts guidance from the JCPRP, if JCPRP are conducting an investigation of serious child abuse
  • shares all information relevant to the Alternate Assessment with the DCJ unit conducting the investigation
  • participates in a Pre-Assessment Consultation and Assessment Consultation. (PDF, 13.4 KB)

When safety planning for a child during the Alternate Assessment, the PSP provider:

  • works in collaboration with the Department to ensure the child’s immediate safety 
  • provides delegate approval for a safety plan that is responding to harm caused by the carer
  • collaborates with the Department about how the safety plan will continue to be monitored between the 72 hours review and the completion of the Alternate Assessment
  • assists in arranging a psychological consultation if a danger is identified about a child’s behaviour
  • does not change a child’s primary placement prior to the outcome of the Alternate Assessment without discussing with the Department first, unless there are serious, and immediate, safety concerns: 
    • in the rare situations where a PSP provider assesses that they need to move a child’s primary placement before the outcome of an Alternate Assessment, they advise the DCJ allocated worker, or, if the report has not been allocated, the nominated unit  
    • if a PSP provider is moving a primary placement before the outcome of an Alternate Assessment they should speak to the child and carer about the concerns and determine that moving the placement is the only response that will ensure safety for the child.

A PSP provider cannot participate in the exercise of statutory powers of assumption or removal under sections 43 and 44.

After the outcome of the Alternate Assessment is delivered, the PSP provider:

  • discusses the outcome of the Alternate Assessment with the Department including any concerns or disagreements with the outcome reached
  • works in collaboration with the Department to support the child’s ongoing safety, reduce any risks and build on identified strengths
  • arranges a suitable placement for a child assessed as unsafe in their current placement
  • participates in an exchange of assessment information as arranged by the Department within two weeks of the finalised assessment.

Carer review

The PSP provider conducts the carer review, within 30 day of an Alternate Assessment being finalised, if there are:

  • reportable allegations or 
  • if the assessment substantiates harm or risk of harm to a child as a result of the carer’s behaviour or capacity to provide a safe and nurturing environment.

The PSP provider conducts a carer review to:

  • discuss any difficulties or issues the carers are experiencing that impact on their ability to provide safety and care for the child 
  • ensure compliance with the Carer Code of Conduct (PDF, 387.7 KB)
  • check the circumstances of the carer’s household to ensure nothing has changed to affect their authorisation
  • determine what support, training or other strategies the carer may need to continue caring for the child
  • determine whether the carer is suitable to continue to care for the child.

PSP providers share any relevant findings from the carer review with the Department.

Collaborating in reportable conduct investigations

The Department and a PSP provider have additional complementary roles when a new child protection report contains allegations of reportable conduct by an employee or carers authorised by the PSP provider.

While the Department conducts an Alternate Assessment, the PSP provider is responsible for conducting a reportable conduct investigation. This includes:

  • investigating reportable or alleged criminal conduct of their employees and carers
  • responding to critical events.

In most cases, an Alternate Assessment and reportable conduct investigation occur concurrently. During this time:

  • the safety of the child is always prioritised
  • the Department (in relation to Alternate Assessment) and the PSP provider (in relation to the reportable conduct investigation) plan together using the Pre-Assessment Consultation (PAC) (PDF, 13.4 KB) meeting.  
  • the Department and the PSP provider each accept guidance from the JCPRP if they are assessing concerns of serious child abuse which may constitute a criminal offence
  • where appropriate, the Department and the PSP provider coordinate joint interviews of the child, other children and carers to inform the Alternate Assessment and reportable conduct investigation respectively
  • the Department and the PSP provider exchange information relating to:
    • the safety of the child and other children in the placement 
    • communication with the child’s parents, siblings and family/kin
    • the conduct and progress of the Department’s Alternate Assessment and the PSP provider’s reportable conduct investigation.

The PSP provider is responsible for the reportable conduct investigation and the submission of the reportable conduct unit investigation to the Office of the Children’s Guardian.  

Collaborating in Safety in Care meetings

The Department arranges an exchange of information with the PSP provider within two weeks of the finalised assessment.  

The preferred method to facilitate the exchange of information is through a Safety in Care meeting. The meeting may be facilitated in person, through group supervision, by phone, or through the exchange of email information. The information shared includes: 

  • information and knowledge about the assessment, child, or carer as it relates to the child’s experience  
  • safety and risk issues for the child, including outcomes of the assessment 
  • responsibilities and actions as a result of the assessment, including safety interventions or case plan recommendations 
  • the strengths of the child and their connections and networks and how to build on these
  • the plan for the Department to complete the review Alternate Assessment, where the outcome of the original Alternate Assessment was unsafe, safe with plan and/or the risk to the child was assessed as high or very high
  • how the support needs of carers will be addressed and how any strengths will be built on. 

The Department monitors and assesses the child’s safety and risk. The PSP provider is responsible for responding effectively to create and sustain safety and reduce risk.

The following people may be invited to contribute to the information shared, or attend the Safety in Care meeting:

  • the PSP provider caseworker and manager
  • the DCJ caseworker and manager who completed the Alternate Assessment
  • the Permanency Coordinator (if relevant)
  • any other support person who was involved in the assessment process and will continue to support the child or carer.

The PSP provider uses the information gathered to date, along with the conversations from the Safety in Care meeting to address the ongoing wellbeing of the child. The PSP provider coordinates the following actions following an Alternate Assessment, Carer Review and Safety in Care meeting:

  • OOHC case plan review
  • behaviour support plan (where relevant)
  • cultural support plan (where relevant).

Also see information exchange. 

The outcomes of the exchange of information, whether through a Safety in Care meeting or in other ways is recorded by the Department to reflect:

  • the assessment outcome
  • actions as a result of the assessment
  • responsibilities for completing those actions 
  • plans for monitoring.   
Last updated:

22 Mar 2023

Was this content useful?
We will use your rating to help improve the site.
This field is required
Please don't include personal or financial information here
This field is required
Please don't include personal or financial information here

We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future. 

Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.

You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.

Top Return to top of page Top