The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia. Child at risk of harm


Although this topic has an FTB focus, to ensure consistency across different program areas, the policy that is reflected in this topic is also applicable to social security payments. The focus of this topic is also on payment eligibility as a result of having an 'FTB child' or a 'dependent child'. However the rate of some social security payments is also affected by having a 'dependent child' and therefore the principles in this topic may also be relevant for determining whether the child should be taken into account in determining the rate of a social security payment.


Sometimes children, especially in the older age groups, may live with adults who are providing care for a child on an informal basis. This topic explains the principles for dealing with cases when the 'caring' arrangements may not be in the best interests of the child.


  • exposure to alcohol, drugs or substance abuse
  • involvement in criminal, sexual or unhealthy activities
  • lack of guidance or oversight in issues such as schooling or moral matters
  • alienation of family and friends, and/or
  • disregard for well-being and daily needs, for example, food, health, hygiene and safety etc.

When assessing levels of care (1.1.C.90) there are numerous considerations that must be taken into account regarding legal responsibility, care, welfare and development of the child.

Referral to a social worker

The case should be referred to a social worker if:

  • the child is not a family member of the person claiming FTB or a social security payment that is dependent on the provision of care for a child, and
  • the person has not supplied documentation to support that the child is legally in their care, or
  • the person has previously lost care of children.

Continuation of payment

If the case is being referred to a social worker, FTB, or any other payment the losing carer is receiving for the child, should not be cancelled before the social worker has made a recommendation.

Exception: If the child has been away from the previous carer for more than 4 weeks, FTB should be cancelled unless the disputed care provisions apply.

Example 1: Greg is a 15 year old youth living on the streets. He applies for YA at the independent rate. When the social worker explains to Greg that he would need to be referred to a State welfare agency under the Commonwealth/State Youth Protocols, Greg withdraws the claim. Two weeks later Greg attends another office with a man about 50 years of age. The adult claims FTB for Greg, stating that he is his guardian and is now supporting him. The adult is not registered as a foster carer with the state welfare department. The case should be referred to the social worker for a recommendation.

Example 2: Mike is a 14 year old who does not wish to live at home because he believes his parents are too strict about him drinking alcohol and not attending school. His parents are not providing financial support in the hope he will eventually return home. He has repeatedly run away and moves in with a man in the neighbourhood who provides for his basic needs and is more accepting of his life style. He applies for FTB for assistance with providing his material needs. Allowing Mike to drink alcohol and not attend school does not constitute proper care. The case should be referred to the social worker for a recommendation.

Act reference: FAAct section 22 When an individual is an FTB child of another individual, section 23 Effect of FTB child ceasing to be in individual's care without consent

Policy reference: FA Guide Disputed care arrangements

Role of the social worker

In all cases in which the child may be at risk, the social worker will:

  • contact the losing carer to advise that a claim has been lodged in respect of their child
  • obtain any necessary information about the reason for the change and its likely duration
  • seek approval for disclosure of information in the public interest where indicated
  • make a recommendation to the Centrelink officer about payment of FTB, and
  • make a recommendation to the Centrelink officer about other affected payments.

The following table explains special social worker requirements for some children:

If a case involves a … then the social worker should consult with …
child of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander group an ISO on any relevant cultural issues.
refugee child a MSO to identify any relevant cultural factors.

Disclosure of information in the public interest

A disclosure of information takes the form of a referral to the relevant state welfare agency. In this case, the Centrelink officer must decide whether to grant the claim or hold it pending any state action. The following table outlines how the claim should be treated.

If the … then the claim …
officer is satisfied that the child is an FTB child of the individual can be granted. If a claim has also been made for a social security payment, the officer should liaise with Centrelink to ensure a consistent outcome.
officer is satisfied that the child is a dependent child of the individual can be granted. If a claim has also been made for FTB, the officer should liaise with Centrelink to ensure a consistent outcome.
claim is held pending any state action should be reviewed after 28 days.

Due weight must be given to the social work recommendation in each case.

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