Guide for aged care staff – compulsory reporting

Page last updated: 07 December 2018

As an aged care worker, you may be the first person to suspect or become aware that a resident has allegedly been assaulted, or that a resident is absent without explanation (also known as a missing resident).

To help protect residents, the law (the Aged Care Act 1997) has compulsory reporting provisions. This means that you or another person in the service you work in have the responsibility for making compulsory reports to local police and the Australian Department of Health (the department).

The law also requires service providers to report missing residents in certain circumstances.

This legal requirement ensures that those affected receive timely help and support; and that operational and organisational strategies are put in place to prevent the situation from occurring again. Such strategies help maintain a safe and secure environment for residents.

In this guide

Reportable assaults

A reportable assault is:

  • unreasonable use of force on a resident, ranging from deliberate and violent physical attacks on residents to the use of unwarranted physical force, or
  • unlawful sexual contact, meaning any sexual contact with a resident without consent.

You or another person in the service you work in with the responsibility for making compulsory reports must make a report based on a suspicion or allegation. This means you must make a report if you suspect that a reportable assault may have occurred or if you have witnessed or been informed of an alleged or suspected assault.

Unreasonable use of force

Unreasonable use of force as defined in the Act is intended to capture assaults ranging from deliberate and violent physical attacks on residents to the use of unwarranted physical force on a resident. The definition captures hitting, punching or kicking a resident regardless of whether this is in fact causes visible harm such as bruising.

It is recognised that in the aged care environment, there may be circumstances where a staff member could be genuinely trying to assist a resident, and despite their best intentions the resident is injured because the person bruises easily or has fragile skin. Injury alone therefore may not provide evidence of either the use of unreasonable force or the seriousness of an assault. However in these circumstances if an allegation is made a reportable assault should be lodged within the required timeframe.

You or another person in the service you work in with the responsibility for making compulsory must make a report based on a suspicion or allegation. This means you must make a report if you suspect that a reportable assault may have occurred or if you have witnessed or been informed of a reportable assault.

Unlawful sexual contact

Unlawful sexual contact refers to non-consensual sexual activity involving residents in aged care facilities. Reporting requirements under the law are designed to protect vulnerable residents, not to restrict their sexual freedoms.

Residents have the right to select and maintain personal, intimate and sexual relationships with others without fear, criticism or restriction. This includes residents with a mental or cognitive impairment. Service providers must balance their responsibilities in providing a safe environment for vulnerable residents with ensuring their right to maintain these relationships is not compromised.

Deciding whether a resident has the capacity to consent to sexual activity is a decision that may be based on an assessment by a health professional, which should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Mental or cognitive impairment may only affect a resident’s ability to consent to sexual activity at certain times, however this may not be all the time.

When faced with making this decision about a sexual incident, it can be useful for you to consider the following questions:

  • Does the resident have the capacity to consent to this particular activity, at this time?
  • Does the resident have the capacity to refuse participation in the activity?
  • Does the resident have the capacity to agree to participate in the activity?
  • Does the resident show signs of distress?

To assist you in making this decision, it may help to discuss your thoughts on an allegation or suspicion of unlawful sexual contact with a senior staff member in your service.

Circumstances where the requirement for service providers to report alleged or suspected assaults to the Department does not apply

These relate to incidents:

  • that have already been reported to police or the department (for example, where multiple staff members report an assault to the service provider), and
  • where the alleged assault was by a resident with a previously diagnosed cognitive or mental impairment.

Where the incident involves a resident with a previously diagnosed cognitive or mental impairment, the requirement to report does not apply when the following conditions are met:

  • the resident alleged or suspected of committing an assault had a documented clinical assessment of mental or cognitive impairment prior to the alleged assault taking place, and
  • the service provider develops, documents and implements strategies to manage the behaviour of the resident within 24 hours of suspecting or receiving an allegation of an assault.

You are required to notify your employer and document all incidents so that the appropriate response can be undertaken to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of residents, and to meet record keeping responsibilities under the Act.

Who do I tell about an allegation or suspicion of a reportable assault?

When you first have a suspicion of a reportable assault or become aware of an allegation of a reportable assault, you should report it immediately to the most senior member of staff on duty. Within 24 hours, your service must report the incident to local police and the department either by completing and emailing a reportable assault form to compulsoryreports@health.gov.au or by phoning the Compulsory Reporting line on 1800 081 549. Note: it is the department preference that a written form is submitted.

If you do not feel comfortable reporting an assault to your employer, you can make a report directly to local police or the department without fear of reprisal from your employer. The law can provide certain protections for service staff who report, in good faith, suspicions or allegations of assault. More information on these protections is provided on the Guide for reporting reportable assaults webpage.

Unexplained absences (missing residents)

A resident is considered missing when they are absent and the service is unaware of any reasons for the absence.

Approved providers should report the missing resident to the police within a reasonable timeframe so an appropriate response and action can be taken to locate the resident.

If a resident is absent from the service, the absence is unexplained and the absence has been reported to the police, approved providers are required to tell the department about the missing resident within 24 hours of reporting the absence to the police. 

If an approved provider fails to meet compulsory reporting requirements the department may take compliance action.

Note: There is no requirement for providers to report to the department if the care recipient was returned to the service before their absence was reported to police.

However, providers must report to the department if the police are aware of the care recipient’s absence or where the care recipient has been returned to the service by the police

Compulsory reporting forms

Reportable assault form

Unexplained absence form

How can I learn more about compulsory reporting?

Talk to your employer in the first instance. Service providers have a responsibility to ensure their staff are provided with education and are trained in how to recognise a situation that may require a report to the department, the police or both, and how to respond and make reports within your own aged care service.

If a service provider fails to make a compulsory report, or if they have not adequately met their responsibilities in relation to compulsory reporting, the department may investigate the matter and can take compliance action.

Contacts

Email: compulsoryreports@health.gov.au

Compulsory reporting line: 1800 081 549

More information