Indicators of harm, neglect, abuse or risk of harm

All workers within the community and disability fields are aware that their client group often contains marginalised and disadvantaged adults and children. The duty of care and ethical guidelines that govern most community and disability service positions highlight a responsibility to be vigilant in ensuring this disempowered client group is not abused or treated unfairly by others – whether family, friends, co-workers, or the system.

Workers need to know what their responsibility is in any identified case of harm or risk of harm. They should clarify their reporting requirements within their agencies.

Hence, when a client presents with an issue, you respond to the presenting issue but must always be sensitive to any indicators that abuse or neglect may be occurring in the client’s life. This relates not only to physical harm, but also to emotional, psychological, sexual and financial harm. Of course, a client can also threaten harm to other people; you need to be vigilant in examining your responsibility to assess the risk and take necessary action, in these cases as well.

Some major indicators of risk include:

  • physical symptoms such as injuries or loss of weight
  • existing self-harming
  • impaired cognitive functioning caused by brain injury, such as loss of memory and inability to concentrate
  • no parent or carer available to care for a child
  • injury requiring hospital attention and investigation
  • disclosure of abuse
  • significant history of substantiated abuse
  • serious past offences by a significant other
  • family violence
  • parental illness (including mental health issues)
  • continued alcohol and other drug abuse by parents/carers.

Your agency

In the case of a person contacting your agency about a child or young person at risk, make sure that you spend a moment explaining to the person what your role is and if you have any statutory obligations (for example, your agency has a funding agreement with the Department of Child Safety). If the concern expressed relates to child protection issues, then it is most appropriate that you refer the caller to the Department of Child Safety, which is responsible for investigating those allegations.

If the caller refuses that option but persists in reporting a risk situation for children to your agency, then it would be important for you to gather relevant information so that your agency could make the appropriate notification to the Department of Child Safety.

Guidelines for gathering this information and making reports will be discussed later in this resource.


Read the information on Risk Management on Community Door.

Last modified: Tuesday, 11 December 2018, 2:13 PM