An amendment to the Education (general provisions) Act 2006 was enacted on July 9th 2012 which affected all psychologists in Queensland who are employed as school psychologists at any public or independent school (both primary and secondary).

The Act previously mandated the reporting of sexual abuse only when the alleged perpetrator was a member of the school staff (e.g., a teacher).Now the Act refers to reporting any person (e.g., parent, third party or student) who may have, or, is reasonably suspected to have, sexually abused a student under the age of 18 years.

The amendment to the Act means that once a:

  • School psychologist, is aware of, or, has reasonable belief that, a student under the age of 18 years old, has been sexually abused by another person, and this information is uncovered in the context of the psychologist’s professional capacity at the school, the psychologist is mandated to report the sexual abuse.

This Act does not apply to psychologists employed or working in any other capacity other than as a school psychologist and only applies when the information is gleaned while in the role of school psychologist.

The change to the mandatory reporting requirements for psychologists is in relation to the reporting of sexual abuse only.  This means that there are no other mandatory (i.e., legal) reporting requirements for school psychologists employed in Queensland for other forms of abuse or maltreatment of children that do not have a sexual element. There are, however, mandatory reporting requirements in Queensland (e.g., for employees of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services [DCCSDS], see Table 1).

The psychologist must immediately inform the principal or governing person (e.g., director) of the school in writing. The principal must then forward a copy of the report to police. It is a criminal offence to fail to report this information.

All psychologists: Mandatory reporting obligations of all forms of child abuse and maltreatment

Members are reminded that legislation is not the only form of obligation regarding reporting duties of child abuse (sexual or otherwise) and maltreatment.  Other than legislated obligations, there are 2 sources of reporting duty that apply to all States and Territories:

1) Professional/industry policy
2) Common law

Professional/industry policy may apply to professional Codes of Ethics, Ethical Guidelines and importantly for psychologists in schools, the policy stipulated by the individual school. While psychologists are not legally bound by these policies, they need to be aware of their obligations within their profession (e.g., APS and PsyBA Code of Ethics) and within their schools, as potentially each school may have their own policy. Despite not being legally bound, psychologists could face professional disciplinary consequences if they are found to be in breach of their professional or school policies. This is also an important consideration in common law.

The common law or law of negligence refers to a duty of care. If a psychologist is in full awareness of maltreatment of a child, decides not to report it, and beyond the date of being aware of the maltreatment, the child is significantly harmed, it is possible that the psychologist could be sued for negligence.

Psychologists must therefore be fully informed regarding their legislative, professional and common law reporting requirements and if they are unclear they are encouraged to seek peer consultation and/or legal advice. 

The accompanying table presents the mandatory reporting requirements of all forms of child abuse and maltreatment which is current at July 2012.

This information has been provided to members by the APS for general use only and does not constitute or replace legal advice. Members are strongly advised to seek specific information from their employers and professional legal expertise if they are unclear regarding their obligations to report child abuse or maltreatment.