Getting to know: our Assessment and Referral Officers


Assessment and Referral Officers Courtney Mostert and Sonia Regan

Have you ever wanted to know what happens when a child or young person in care (or an adult from their lives) calls the Guardian for Children and Young People’s office with concerns about the child or young person’s rights and best interests? We sat down with our Assessment and Referral Officers Courtney Mostert and Sonia Regan to find out.

What is an Assessment and Referral Officer?

An Assessment and Referral Officer (ARO) is responsible for assessing all initial enquiries, including gathering information and determining if there is a role for the Guardian for Children and Young People’s (GCYP) Advocates.

What happens when a child or young person calls the GCYP?

When a child or young person first calls the GCYP they will be directed to us. We will gather information including their name and place of residence, their contact information, and the key issues they are concerned about.

We will attempt to determine if the young person is safe and if the Department for Child Protection (DCP) knows where they are. If the child or young person has a current Missing Person Report (MPR), the ARO has a duty of care to let DCP know of their contact with the child or young person. The ARO is also required to report any reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL).

Once the information has been gathered from the young person, the ARO, in consultation with the Principal Advocate and the Advocacy Team, will determine whether there is a role for GCYP.

Can an adult call on behalf of a child or young person?

An adult (e.g. carers, teachers, birth parents) who may be concerned about the rights and best interests of children and young people in care can call us. We will explain the role of the GCYP and highlight the office’s focus on the voice and rights of children and young people in care.  We may encourage the adult to support the child or young person to contact GCYP directly, if they are able to.

We will seek information about the child or young person and the adult’s relationship to the young person to determine if the query is ‘in mandate’ and how best to help the individual young person.

What happens if the query/request falls outside the mandate?

GCYP’s role is restricted to advocating for and promoting the rights and best interests of the children and young people who are under the custody or guardianship of the Chief Executive of DCP.

An enquiry is ‘out of mandate’ if it relates to a child or young person who is not under custody or guardianship of the Chief Executive or who is not detained at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (as mandated under the role of our office’s Training Centre Visitor).

The ARO will redirect these enquiries to an alternative service or process that can better respond to the issue.

How do you assess what role the GCYP will take on behalf of the child or young person?

GCYP’s role will look different depending on the presenting issues and the child or young person’s circumstances.

GCYP has a ‘threshold’ for intervention, which helps determine our response to requests for advocacy. The ARO will assess the request against the following threshold:

  • The issue has – or would have – a significant impact on the young person if it is not addressed. This includes where the matter poses an immediate safety risk or the nature of the issue will result in cumulative harm over time.
  • The young person is – or would be – seriously disadvantaged by a decision or a lack of service.
  • The issue has not been – or is unlikely to be – resolvable through other means in a timely way.

Additional consideration is also given to young people from priority groups, including children and young people who:

  • are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
  • are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • have a disability, or
  • have suffered, or are alleged to have suffered, sexual abuse.

What are some examples of how you can help?

  • Talking with the young person about how they can use their own voice to raise the issue with their allocated DCP worker, their worker’s supervisor, or an existing complaints process
  • Helping the young person to identify someone in their own network who can support them to advocate for themselves
  • Talking with the adult enquirer about how they can advocate for the child or young person as a natural advocate and/or member of the care team, or other steps they need to take before GCYP will intervene
  • Making enquiries with DCP, on the young person’s behalf (and with their consent) to try to resolve the issue, before formal advocacy is necessary
  • Obtaining information from DCP to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the presenting issue/s and submitting a formal, written advocacy position to DCP on the young person’s behalf.

Upon initial contact, the ARO may refer the matter to an Advocate immediately, if it looks like the presenting issues will require ongoing advocacy support.

If the young person identifies as Aboriginal, the ARO will offer for them to speak directly with one of GCYP’s Advocates for Aboriginal children.

Do you address systemic issues that affect a larger cohort of children and young people in care?

We welcome contact from children and young people, and adults in the child protection space, in relation to the broader, recurring issues that affect the rights and best interests of children and young people in care.

One of the GCYP’s functions is to inquire and provide advice to the Minister in relation to systemic reform necessary to improve the quality of care provided for children and young people under guardianship.

Systems issues often take time, and persistence, to improve and resolve. GCYP may not be able to directly or immediately pursue a systems issue you raise with us; however, hearing about your concerns will provide us with unique insight into the circumstances and processes that affect children in care, generally, and will help us to prioritise issues for systemic advocacy in the future.

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