National comparison of cross-agency practice in investigating and responding to severe child abuse

Child abuse Child sexual abuse Child protection Multidisciplinary collaboration Australia
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The response to severe child abuse (namely abuse requiring police investigation) requires many different workers across agencies and disciplinary backgrounds to work together effectively. This paper reports on the arrangements in place in each state/territory to support a cross-agency response based on characteristics associated with effective cross-agency responses identified in the research literature. This paper was prepared to provide practitioners and policy makers with a national view on cross-agency policies to encourage cross-jurisdictional learning and sharing of approaches. The authors also hope that this paper will lead to a national discussion around effective policies and practices in cross-agency responses. Each state/territory was compared on the characteristics of their response to severe child abuse, arrangements for joint planning, interviewing and investigation, the degree of integration of therapeutic and supportive services, and governance arrangements.

Key messages

Multi-disciplinary teams acknowledge the multi-dimensional impacts of abuse and the needs of children and families affected by abuse by bringing together workers from different disciplines and agencies (e.g., police and child protection) to discuss, plan and carry out responses to cases of child abuse.

There is evidence to support the idea that multi-disciplinary teams can result in improvements, particularly in criminal justice outcomes and increased referral to and/or uptake of therapeutic and support services.

Most Australian jurisdictions have detailed arrangements in place for joint investigations by specialist child abuse police and child protection workers.

It appears that multi-disciplinary teams with demonstrated effectiveness in responding to severe child abuse allegations share many of the same characteristics (e.g., evidence-based child interviewing protocols, information-sharing mechanisms, joint planning and independent child advocacy). The national comparison conducted for this paper suggests that Australian jurisdictions have many of these characteristics.

A few jurisdictions have examples of co-located fully integrated cross-agency teams. In these jurisdictions, police, child protection and built-in support services work alongside the investigation, with co-located therapeutic services.

Some of the more populous jurisdictions have statewide plans in place to foster effective cross-agency practice; while the smaller states tend to rely on centralised responses based out of the capital cities.

Australian jurisdictions have a variety of approaches to developing effective cross-agency responses. There is a need for ongoing research and evaluation of these rapidly changing arrangements considering the complex and interconnected outcomes associated with protecting children from future harm, the prosecution of offenders and the amelioration of harm to children post-disclosure.

Publication Details


CFCA Paper no.47