Key concepts of child protection

The child protection system and Child Safety

Child Safety Services, the Childrens Court or any other part of the government can only intervene in a child’s life if the Child Protection Act 1999 (QLD) or another law gives it the power to do so.

Child Safety Services’ powers

The law gives Child Safety Services the power to:

  • investigate concerns about children
  • intervene in a child’s life with the parents’ consent under a care agreement
  • arrange for support services to help a family to prevent a family from entering the child protection system
  • apply to the court for a ‘temporary assessment order’ or a ‘court assessment order’ to give them power to investigate concerns about a child and have custody of a child without the parent’s consent
  • place children in out-of-home care
  • approve foster and kinship carers to provide out-of-home care to children
  • license care services to provide out-of-home care to children

The purpose of an investigation by Child Safety Services is to determine whether there is ‘a child in need of protection’.

Court orders

The Childrens Court can only make a child protection order if it is satisfied that the child is ‘a child in need of protection’.

Who is a child in need of protection?

A ‘child in need of protection’ is a child who:

  • has suffered (past) significant harm
  • is suffering (present) significant harm
  • or is at unacceptable risk of suffering (future) significant harm


  • does not have a parent able and willing to protect the child from the harm.

The court must be satisfied that both of these requirements are met before a child protection order can be made.

What is significant harm?

Harm is a detrimental effect on a child:

Physically, such as bruises, broken bones or other injuries

Emotionally, such as depression, poor self-esteem or anxiety

Psychologically, such as the child’s mind not developing properly, difficulties learning or forming ‘attachments’ to the person caring for them.

It doesn’t matter who caused the harm or whether it was a single incident or many instances over time.

Harm can be caused by abuse, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or neglect.

Neglect is when a child’s basic necessities of life are not met, such as food, housing, clothing, hygiene and supervision.

Sometimes one type of abuse can cause different types of harm.

For example, neglect could cause the child to be anxious (emotional harm), to be sick (physical harm) and to not be able to learn properly (psychological harm).

For harm to be ‘significant’, the effect on the child must be substantial or serious, more than just temporary and the effects of the harm must be able to be demonstrated.

It is important when working with Child Safety, to identify what kind of harm they are concerned about, so that you can address that issue specifically within a ‘safety plan’ and/or ‘case plan’.

Is there a parent ‘able’ and ‘willing’ to protect from the harm?

If a child has been harmed, is being harmed or is at significant risk of harm, then the question is whether there is a parent that is ‘able’ and ‘willing’ to protect from the harm.

A parent may be willing to protect their child, but not have capacity to do so (that is, they are ‘not able’). This includes situations where the parents’ inability is due to ill health or because they are a victim of domestic violence.

Alternatively, a parent may have the capacity and be able to protect their child, but may choose not to do so (that is, they are ‘not willing’). This includes situations where a parent chooses an ongoing relationship with a person who is harming their child. In many serious cases where a child has suffered, is suffering, or is at an unacceptable risk of suffering significant harm, the severity of the harm or risk of harm itself could be an indication that there may not be a parent able and willing to protect the child.

If a parent is ‘willing’ but not ‘able’ then a plan may be developed in collaboration with Child Safety Services to build the parent’s ability to protect the child from harm.

It may be that a parent needs to demonstrate that they are ‘able’ to protect for a period of time before Child Safety Services will cease involvement.

If one parent is ‘willing’ and ‘able’ then the child protection system may no longer need to be involved.  In these cases, if there are family disputes about whose care the child should be in, parenting arrangements can be determined under the family law system (through the Family Court of Australia).


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The principles that guide decisions about children

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