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Australian Law on Protection Counsellors for Reporting Child Abuse?

Discussion in 'Australian Law School Homework Questions' started by Gordon Leckie, 14 October 2015.

  1. Gordon Leckie

    Gordon Leckie Active Member

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    I am a counsellor student at Caboolture TAFE and a question has been posed to me that I am struggling to answer. The scenario is this "A 15 year old client comes to me and advises that she is being sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend and has been subjected to this abuse since she was 8 years old. The child stipulates that she does not want me to advise anyone else including the authorities what she has told me."

    As the girl's counsellor, I am bound to protect her privacy and respect her wishes; counsellors are not mandatory advisors under the Queensland child protection act; my question is, is there any Australian Law that protects counsellors in Queensland should they feel that there is reasonable cause to report the abuse in the interest of protecting the child?
     
  2. JS79

    JS79 Well-Known Member

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    Hi,
    I have found a link that may be able to help you:

    Child sexual abuse | Community support | Queensland Government

    Even though you may not have a mandatory duty to report, it would be a good idea to telephone the authorities in the above link and don't give details regarding your name or the child's and just get some advice on what to do with beng her counsellor.

    At the end of the day, you need to cover yourself.
     
  3. Tim W

    Tim W Lawyer

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    Ponder this... (which is not the only take on the question by any means...)
    1. The law prevails over any ethical positions you have about privacy, respecting wishes, etc.
      So the privacy and confidentiality thing only applies so long as it does not put (or keep) her at risk.

    2. The law also prevails over any agency-specific procedures, rules, protocols, doctrine etc etc.

    3. Do you (as a counsellor) have an actual reporting obligation?
      I don't see that you have a statutory duty, but it is absurd to suggest
      that at common law, you do not have the duty that any ordinary person would have,
      to report suspected acts of this type.

    4. According to the "general" criminal law in Queensland, do you as an everyday citizen have any general obligations to report any offence you suspect may have been committed?

    5. If you say nothing, could you be committing an offence yourself, such as
      aiding and abetting (by whatever modern name that class of offences is known in Queensland),
      or even concealing a serious offence (which this is)?

    6. Remember - it's about what your reasonably suspect might be going on.
      Suspicion is rather less than belief, and it doesn't take many facts and circumstances
      to give rise to reasonable suspicion.
      At this early stage, it's not about guilt/innocence or proof or evidence or any of that stuff.
      A complaint by a survivor (I try not to say "victim") would almost always give rise to a reasonable suspicion, on which you could (even should) act.

    7. There may not be any express law in Queensland that protects you (counsellors),
      but any way you weld it, you cannot be personally liable for reporting a suspected offence.
      And I do not see how you could be in any sense open to civil action either.
     
  4. Gordon Leckie

    Gordon Leckie Active Member

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    Thank you for your thoughts and valuable advise js79 and Tim W, I do want to reassure everyone this is a hypothetical question and is in relation to my hitting a brick wall so to speak in my research in this area. I agree that at an ethical and moral level there really is no question that under such circumstances as a counsellor I would look to escalate this this information either internally within the organisation or to the most appropriate authority for further investigation.

    I guess what this question has identified to me is that there is a gap in Queensland legislation that does not provide a broad enough scope in identifying mandatory reporting a and general reporting rules. I would like to see that this is identified and corrected by the current government.
     
  5. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member

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    Umm, why should counsellors be forced into mandatory reporting?

    Counsellors have a special role to play in improving the mental well-being of their patients. My (limited) understanding is that much work has already gone into providing exemptions for counsellors based on solid evidence that to do otherwise puts sexually-abused children at greater risk of harm.

    Are you an expert in child mental health?
     
  6. Gordon Leckie

    Gordon Leckie Active Member

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    Thankyou for your thoughts Rod, I am not sure that there is any legislation that exempts counsellors from reporting a crime. I understand the argument you put forward that counsellors do have a unique and special role in the life of their clients. This argument further strengthens the need I think for stronger legislative intervention either making counsellors responsible for reporting or exempting them under special circumstances.

    At this time I can find nothing that does either.

    To say in Australia that all counsellors are exempt from reporting is not correct. Indeed in Western Australia Doctors; nurses and midwives; teachers; and police officers; Court personnel; "Family counsellors"; family dispute resolution practitioners, arbitrators or legal practitioners representing the child's interests are included as mandatory reporters. Victoria also has a much more substantive list as does Tasmania.

    I spoke to my Brother in Victoria who has worked in this field for over 30 years and he told me that mandatory reporting, as he understands it, has had little impact on client counsellor relationships. As for me, I cannot claim to any more than I am and that is a student at TAFE learning a new skill "Counselling". However I have worked in Child Support for approx. 15 years, working with parents in regard to the care of their children, and my academic background includes BA in Public Relations and Communications, I also did some study an Sociology and anthropology as a minor while at university and I have a post graduate certificate in public administration.

    I do not work at this time unless you count being a full time carer work, I hope that I will be still young enough to do something positive with the study I am doing now in-between the 24/7 care demands that I happily fulfil now. I have an interest in this field because I see a major gap in Australian society not only in how we go about caring for our young but also how we treat all the weaker members of our society. I think it is time we put substance into action and not just words....

    I apologise if I seem to be getting on my high horse, I just think it is important to care!
     
  7. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member

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    I agree with your sentiments and child welfare is very important.

    My concerns here are threefold:
    1. we do not turn counsellors into criminals just because they rightly hold a view that a child's welfare is better protect by not-reporting. In my view any law that threatens to allow this result is bad law. Counsellors have a special duty of care that is entirely different to police, teachers, arbitrators etc and must not be lumped into the same category.
    2. we should not introduce laws that conflict with a counsellor's moral and ethical responsibilities.
    3. we do not cause people to stop becoming counsellors because of a conflict between their professional responsibilities of putting the child's welfare first and foremost, and the law. Kids need all the help they can get because of sick people in society and any law that threatens to reduce the number of counsellors is a backward step.
    Laws introducing mandatory reporting for councellors should be determined by those with the specialist knowledge in this field. Allowing politicians and laypeople to draft laws without the support of the counselling groups is a recipe for disaster. A tried and true saying 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' is most apt here. We should not allow well-intentioned lay-people, including politicians take the front running on laws like this. Just look at what has happened with the so called 'war on drugs'. Law enforcement is arguably creating more misery than it fixes.
     
  8. Gordon Leckie

    Gordon Leckie Active Member

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    nevertheless we still need law to either protect or enforce, this no where place we are in at the moment is achieving nothing.
     
  9. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member

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    ?? If there is no law saying counsellors need to report, then the situation is clear - no offence created by not reporting.
     
  10. Gordon Leckie

    Gordon Leckie Active Member

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    that's what people used to say and do when I was a child.... I am still suffering form that abuse with no help and my father still a hero to the world. It is to simplistic to say no report no crime, especially when the health of a child is at stake
     

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