New laws to improve reporting of child abuse


New laws coming into effect on 1 September 2019 will make a number of changes to laws about reporting child abuse.

Factsheets

New failure to report offence: all adults must report child sexual abuse

From 1 September 2019 adults who reasonably believe that a sexual offence has been committed against a child, must make a report to police. Failure to make a report is an offence.

The laws create a new criminal offence for failing to report child sexual abuse to the police. The Failure to Report offence applies to all adults and you must tell police if you reasonably believe a sexual offence has been committed against a child. To report abuse call ACT Policing on 131 444.

Mandatory Reporters: Ministers of religion now mandated reporters

From 1 September 2019 ministers of religion, religious leaders and members of the clergy of a church or religious denomination will be Mandated Reporters.

The changes add ministers of religion as Mandated Reporters under the Children and Young People Act 2008. This means ministers of religion will now be required to report sexual and physical abuse to Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS).

Changes to the Reportable Conduct Scheme

From 1 September 2019 certain information disclosed in a religious confession must be reported by religious bodies to the ACT Ombudsman under the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

Information disclosed in a religious confession will need to be reported if it relates to sexual abuse against a child, or non-accidental physical injury to a child. The new laws also make some minor technical changes to the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

More information

Questions and answers

What if I have multiple reporting obligations?

The new failure to report offence applies to all adults. However, some adults will also be Mandated Reporters or have additional obligations under the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

If you are a Mandated Reporter, and you have made a mandatory report about child sexual abuse to CYPS, you do not have to report the same information to police under the Failure to Report offence. CYPS will pass relevant information onto the police.

However, you should be aware that if the information is not subject to a mandatory report, or is obtained outside the course of your employment, you will need to make a report to the police under the new legislation.

If your organisation has obligations under the Reportable Conduct Scheme, it has to comply with those obligations independently of Failure to Report and Mandatory Reporting. It doesn’t matter if you have made a report to police or to CYPS, your organisation must still meet any obligations it has under the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

Why are these changes being made?

These laws were introduced following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission made a number of recommendations about reporting laws. These changes implement some of those recommendations.

The changes are all intended to improve the way adults proactively report child abuse to authorities. It’s important that adults report child abuse because:

  • It’s difficult for victims to disclose or report the abuse at the time, or even soon after it has occurred. If persons other than the victim do not report, the abuse—and the perpetrator—may go undetected for years
  • Children are likely to have less ability to report the abuse or take steps to protect themselves, leaving them particularly in need of the active assistance and protection of adults
  • Those who commit child abuse offences may have multiple victims and may offend against particular victims over lengthy periods of time. A failure to report may leave the particular child exposed to repeated abuse, and may expose other children to abuse
  • Failing to report abuse can have a negative impact on the victim for the duration of their life.

New failure to report offence

Who has to make a report?

Anyone over 18 years old who reasonably believes a sexual offence has been committed against a child.

What do I have to report?

You must report information you have about sexual offences committed against anyone who was under 18 at the time the offence was committed.

What is a sexual offence?

There are a range of sexual offences in the ACT. Some of the most common ones include:

  • having sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16
  • grooming a person under 16
  • being an adult who has ‘special care’ for a person who is under 18 (e.g. as a teacher, employer, foster parent, etc) and having sexual intercourse with that person
  • certain family members having sexual intercourse with other family members
  • committing an act of indecency on or in the presence of a child or young person
  • using children for the production of child pornography
  • maintaining a sexual relationship with a person under 16, or a person under 18 where there is a ‘special care’ relationship.
What if I suspect an offence might be committed in the future?

Under the Failure to Report offence, it is only an offence if you fail to report abuse you reasonably believe has already happened, not something that you think may happen in the future.

However, some people may have obligations under other laws or reporting schemes to make reports of a risk of future abuse to the police. For example, if you work in an organisation you should consider whether you have obligations under the Failure to Protect offence,[1] Mandatory Reporting[2] or the Reportable Conduct Scheme.[3]

[1] See section 66A of the Crimes Act 1900, which applies to persons in authority in educational and other institutions.

[2] See sections 356 and 357 of the Children and Young People Act 2008, which apply to persons who work with children and young people and their families.

[3] To find out if you have obligations under the reportable conduct scheme and what those obligations are, visit the following link: https://www.communityservices.act.gov.au/ocyfs/keeping-children-and-young-people-safe

What if the abuse happened a long time ago? 

If you obtain information after 1 September 2019, and the information leads you to reasonably believe a sexual offence has been committed against a child or young person, you must make a report.

If you received the information before 1 September 2019, you do not have to make a report to the police under the new failure to report offence.

However, you may need to report it under other reporting obligations, such as the Reportable Conduct Scheme or mandatory reporting laws. Even if you have no legal obligation to report the information, you can still choose to report it to the police.

What should I do if I have to make a report?

Unless there is an immediate risk of harm, call ACT Policing on 131 444 to make a report.  If there is an immediate risk of harm, call 000.

Are there any exceptions?

You do not have to make a report if:

  • you obtained the information after the victim became an adult and you believe he or she does not want a police officer to be told
  • you believe a police officer already has the information
  • you believe that giving the information to a police officer would endanger somebody’s safety (other than the safety of the alleged perpetrator)
  • you are a mandated reporter and you have already reported the information to Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS)
  • you are aware that a legal privilege applies (noting that no privilege applies for religious confessions)
  • you know that the information is generally available in the public domain
  • you have another reasonable excuse.
What if I’m already a mandated reporter?

If you are a Mandated Reporter, and you have made a mandatory report about child sexual abuse to CYPS, you do not have to report the same information to police under the Failure to Report offence. CYPS will pass relevant information onto the police.

However, you should be aware that if the information is not subject to a mandatory report, or is obtained outside the course of your employment, you will need to make a report to the police under the new legislation.

To find out if you are a Mandated Reporter and what your obligations are as a Mandated Reporter, visit the following link:

What if my organisation has obligations under the Reportable Conduct Scheme? 

If your organisation has made a report to the ACT Ombudsman under the Reportable Conduct Scheme about a possible sexual offence, you should also make a separate report to the police.

To find out if your organisation has obligations under the Reportable Conduct Scheme and what those obligations are, visit the following link:

Why are these laws needed?

These laws were introduced following the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission recommended that states and territories adopt a failure to report offence.

The Royal Commission said it’s important that adults proactively report child sexual abuse for the following reasons:

  • It’s difficult for victims to disclose or report the abuse at the time, or even soon after it has occurred. If people other than the victim do not report, the abuse—and the perpetrator—may go undetected for years
  • Children are likely to have less ability to report the abuse or take steps to protect themselves, leaving them particularly in need of the active assistance and protection of adults
  • Those who commit child sexual abuse offences may have multiple victims and may offend against particular victims over lengthy periods of time. A failure to report may leave the particular child exposed to repeated abuse, and may expose other children to abuse
  • Failing to report abuse can have a negative impact on the victim for the duration of their life.

Changes to mandatory reporting

What is a mandated reporter?

Mandated Reporters are groups of professionals who, because of their work, have unique access to children and expertise to identify abuse more readily than the general community. These groups are mandated under law to report their concerns regarding physical or sexual abuse when they come across it in their day-to-day business.

When do I have to make a report?

You must make a report if, through the course of your work, you believe on reasonable grounds that a child or young person:

  • Is being or has been sexually abused, or
  • Is experiencing or has experienced non-accidental physical injury (physical abuse).

The information supporting your belief must be obtained by you in the course of your work.

There are certain situations where Mandated Reporters are not required to make a report. These are when you believe:

  • the same abuse has already been reported for the same reasons
  • the abuse was by another child
  • the allegation relates to injuries caused by a child or young person, where the parents are willing and able to protect the child from further injury.
Who do I make a report to?

Reports are made to Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS).

How do I make a report?

To make a report, use the online portal at:

You can also make a report using the contact details below:

What if the information was disclosed during a religious confession?

The same mandatory reporting obligations apply irrespective of whether the information was disclosed in a religious confession.

Do I also have to make a report to police under the new failure to report offence?

If you are a Mandated Reporter, and you have made a mandatory report about child sexual abuse to CYPS, you do not have to report the same information to police under the Failure to Report offence. CYPS will pass relevant information onto the police.

However, you should be aware that if the information is not subject to a mandatory report, or is obtained outside the course of your employment, you will need to make a report to the police under the new legislation.

Do I have to make a report to the ACT Ombudsman under the Reportable Conduct Scheme?

Making a mandatory report does not displace any obligations your organisation already has under the Reportable Conduct Scheme. If your organisation is required to report under that scheme, it should still make a report.

To find out more about the Reportable Conduct Scheme and whether you have any obligations under the scheme please visit:

Where can I find out more about my obligations as a mandated reporter?

If you are a Mandated Reporter you should spend some time familiarising yourself with your obligations under the law. If you would like to learn more about your obligations you can read the ‘Keeping Children and Young People Safe Guide’ available at the following link:

Why were these changes made?

These changes were made following the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission made a number of recommendations regarding reporting laws. One of the recommendations was to add ministers of religion as mandated reporters under state and territory mandatory reporting schemes.

This expansion recognises that ministers of religion typically deal with children in the course of their work, and are therefore in a position to protect children from abuse.

New laws affecting religious bodies

Recent changes to the Reportable Conduct Scheme will come into effect on 1 September 2019. These changes have impacts for religious bodies.

Nominating the head of the religious body

A religious body must nominate an individual as the head of the body. If the religious body does not nominate an individual, the Ombudsman may nominate an individual.

Your organisation may have already nominated a head of the entity and informed the ACT Ombudsman. If so, you do not need to do anything further.

Clarifying the definition of employee

The definition of ‘employee’ for the purposes of the Reportable Conduct Scheme has been amended. The amended definition clarifies that a person is not an employee of a religious body merely because the person participates in worship.

This change is a technical one that reaffirms existing practice and provides clarity in the legal definition of employee.

Reporting information disclosed in a religious confession

Certain information disclosed in a religious confession will be subject to the Reportable Conduct Scheme’s reporting obligations.

Information disclosed in a religious confession will need to be reported to the ACT Ombudsman under this Scheme if it relates to a sexual abuse against a child, or non-accidental physical injury to a child. This is narrower in scope than the information that must generally be reported under the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

Where can I find more information on the Reportable Conduct Scheme?

You can find out more about the Reportable Conduct Scheme and your obligations under the scheme on the ACT Ombudsman’s website at:

Why were these changes made?

These changes were made following the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission made a number of recommendations regarding the reporting of child sexual abuse.

In 2018, the ACT Government commissioned The Hon. Justice Julie Dodds-Streeton to prepare an analysis report on how to best implement the recommendations regarding the reporting of child sexual abuse which have implications for the confessional seal.

The changes relating to the confessional seal were recommended by Justice Dodds-Streeton to maintain consistency and harmony between the failure to report offence, the mandatory reporting scheme, and the reportable conduct scheme. The changes regarding the head of the religious body and definition of employee were recommended for the purposes of improving clarity within the scheme.

The recent reforms to reporting laws made following the Royal Commission’s report and Justice Dodds-Streeton’s analysis report are important for ensuring that we take proactive steps to protect children’s safety and wellbeing.