Department of Human Services

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9.1 Intake

Key outcomes

  • current child risk and safety issues identified
  • historical child protection concerns identified
  • family strengths and support identified
  • eligibility determined
  • provide client or service referral information
  • identify agencies involved with client

Referrals to Safer Family Services (SFS) are accepted from a variety of sources and, where systems enable, are triaged by the local line manager. The main purpose of the triage process within the SFS context is for the local line manager to assess all information accessible and consider whether the program will be able to provide support given the following elements:

  • child and family’s level of risk / complexity
  • urgency of response required and capacity to respond
  • are existing supports and services in place
  • historical and current concerns of child abuse and neglect (including family violence) and including outcomes from service interventions.

Each of these must be considered separately in order to make safe and appropriate decisions. SFS does not have waiting lists for children and families at risk. If a child and family are not allocated a service due to eligibility or capacity to respond, then an alternative response will be nominated to the referrer within five working days of request being received.

Client engagement

Respect, compassion, a non-judgmental approach and persistence underpins engagement. Work with the client in discussing their needs; recognise and acknowledge the strengths they bring to the engagement process.

Wise use of authority is required, including being as clear as possible about non-negotiables. Ensure transparency early in the process (first meeting) regarding information sharing, confidentiality and obtaining consents wherever possible and practical to do so.

Consider the historical practices, intergenerational trauma, experiences of racism and discrimination that may cause an Aboriginal client to possibly resist involvement for fear of statutory intervention. Consult with Aboriginal workers to ensure discussions are conducted in a culturally safe and responsive way.

Assertive engagement and trauma informed practices will be used to engage children, families and communities.

Client self-referral provides a strong platform to commence building rapport with the client. Meaningful engagement is supported by authentically listening to client-identified concerns and motivation for presenting to the service. This first interaction places an onus on the worker to be alert to the presence of risk and ensures that clients receive the best possible available service for their circumstance.

Identification of presenting needs

Gain an understanding of how and why the client is currently presenting. Identify the strengths (protective factors) that the client is demonstrating. It is critical that you gain a sense of the client’s perception of the concerns and presenting issues and how it impacts them.

Determine client expectations of service intervention. Consider additional supports or information (from Department for Child Protection) that may be required to identify presenting needs.

Risk assessment

Determine any immediate or potential risks to the safety of the child and other family members. Discuss with the client areas of potential risk including child protection, domestic or family violence concerns.

Build an evidence base through discussion with the child and family and your own observations (if possible). Determine the level of risk associated with each factor identified, inclusive of family’s insight into concerns and protective capacity.

In circumstances of family violence, is the perpetrator of violence within the home and willing to engage with services? What is the history of service engagement with the family and what have the outcomes been?

Determine any broader risks to you as a worker or the organisation.

Workers taking accurate and timely case notes (activities undertaken and client responses) provides a record of worker and agency engagement, and additionally lessens clients experiencing ‘service fatigue’ by repeating their story numerous times.

Eligibility assessment

Each program will gather information regarding risks identified by others working with children and their families, including on education sites and in Children’s Centres. Working through concerns assists to identify ‘risks’ or noted concerns, existing or previous service engagement (and outcomes), informal supports and strengths/resilience the child and family have demonstrated, all of which assists in the triage process for line managers.

Child safety assessment

Explore the following factors with the referrer:

  • safety issues or child protection issues (abuse/neglect)
  • school or day care arrangements (strength of education site connection)
  • other agency involvement with the child/family/community
  • connection to kinship, nation, community, other extended family
  • immediate health issues (nutrition, clothing, medical)
  • legal issues, such as court matters, intervention orders (domestic violence) or custody issues (Family Court orders)
  • other relevant risk factors, for example mental health, substance use or social isolation.

Determine whether a notification should be made and/or immediate safety response is required and prioritise this action.

Ascertain the parent or kinship carer’s parenting capacity and safety for all family members (consider family violence concerns), particularly with respect to the current crisis and determine support needs.

If possible, has the referrer observed attachment or interaction between parent/carer and child, or directly spoken to the child about the referral and gauged their understanding of what the child’s perspective or wishes might be?

External referral from Safer Family Services

Where possible, ensure a referral is made to a more suitable service, with consent from both child and parent/carer (where possible and appropriate).

Using principles of a connected system, provide adequate information with the referral so the person doesn’t have to re-tell their story. Provide the client with as much information as possible about the referral, for example who they will be seeing, and agree together how they can get there.

Identify other services/agencies involved

Gather information regarding other services involved with the client and their level and purpose for involvement.

Cultural considerations for Aboriginal clients

Where required, an Aboriginal worker should be consulted as soon as possible in the intake/triage process, when children and families identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Recognise the possibility of service resistance, lack of trust, fear or indifference Aboriginal children and families may present within the context of past experiences of oppression, and systemic racism either witnessed or experienced.

Assertive engagement and compelled clients

Engagement with services can raise a myriad of issues for children and their families. Recognise the imbalance of power, fear, shame or anxiety that may go with parents speaking out or acknowledging safety concerns (for their children, themselves or other family members).

Recognise that risks such as child protection and family violence are often embedded in intergenerational trauma, therefore, children and their families could be cautious of engaging due to previous poor or harmful service responses.

For Aboriginal children and their families, it is likely that any previous service experience did not listen to, consider or respect culture in responses. Additionally, it is highly probable they may have experienced systemic racism.

Compelled clients understand their limited options, namely, they must work with the pre-statutory service or be referred to the statutory authority. Like service resistant clients, compelled clients may have experienced a poor service outcome in either the pre or statutory space, including police and other crisis response services, for example, family or domestic violence services.

Relationship is the key – trust and engagement, encouraging clients to participate in decisions, articulating goals and alternative services available to them, empowering clients and advocating (when required) to remove systemic barriers and considering the client’s possible previous exposure to oppressive practices.

Build on existing strengths and natural support systems and work collaboratively to build sustainable change that supports safety within the home for children and family members.

For Aboriginal children and their families, respect that the kinship system works to keep children safe and connected to culture and nation. Consider allocation of case to an Aboriginal worker as primary practitioner, or consider co- working with an Aboriginal peer to enhance cultural safety for child and family with home visits etc.

Practice point: intake

Each element must be considered within the triage process; the presence or absence of any one element should not exclude further assessment when making the decision to allocate a service response. Line managers will consult each other (if required) on who is best placed to respond – this is influenced by a range of factors including (but not limited to) service capacity and practitioner cultural or service expertise.

Page last updated : 25 Nov 2021

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