Bolstering mandatory reporters' decision making to child protection situations

Stream: Child safety and protection
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.10 pm


When mandatory reporters (people whose work brings them into contact with children) encounter child maltreatment, they must assess the risk level to identify the appropriate response. In New South Wales, the primary response is to report to Family and Community Services (FACS). However FACS only deal with cases of the highest risk. This over-reliance on the Helpline is problematic as valuable FACS resources are spent processing reports that result in no benefits for vulnerable lower-risk families, and there is concern that these families are not being engaged timely with early intervention services. As such, the goal of my research is to bolster mandatory reporters’ response decision making.

In Project 1 we conducted a randomised control trial (N = 7,018) to investigate whether providing alternative report feedback, which made the alternative responses more salient, produced greater accuracy of subsequent reporting to FACS. We found that the new feedback letter had a detectable positive effect on reporting accuracy. Moreover, the trial itself was linked to an increase in overall reporting accuracy (a savings of >1000 caseworker hours annually), potentially due to a “spill-over” where mandatory reporters not part of the trial were influenced nonetheless. In Project 2, we are developing a training program using a category learning paradigm with ecologically valid child abuse/neglect scenarios to assist mandatory reporters to determine the best response. The goal of this training is to establish shared language and reference points between stakeholders, and to maximize learning efficiency, response categorization accuracy, generalization to new situations, and retention.


Annalese Bolton (Presenter), UNSW Sydney/NeuRA
After completing a Bachelor of Psychology (including Honours year in Cognitive Psychology) and a Masters of Psychology (Forensic), I worked full-time as a Forensic Psychologist practitioner in the Child Protection field (NSW Government and Private practice) as well as working as a part-time/casual Research Assistant at Neuroscience Research Australia (topic: improving judgment and decision making) for 7 years before returning to do a PhD (under a Government Research Training Program scholarship) in cognitive psychology at UNSW to examine whether we could use insights from cognitive (and educational) psychology to improve response decision making to child protection situations.

Ben Newell, UNSW Sydney
After completing a Psychology undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham UK, I completed a PhD in cognitive psychology at the University of New South Wales (under a Commonwealth scholarship) and then spent 3 years in postdoctoral positions at University College London, and Uppsala University in Sweden. I returned to UNSW in 2004 as a Lecturer and am now Professor and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Psychology.I have broad research interests in Cognitive Psychology, and specialize in work on judgment and decision making and category learning.

Simon Gandevia, NeuRA
Simon Gandevia (MD PhD DSc FAA FRACP) trained at the University of New South Wales and the Prince Henry Hospital. He has broad research interests and his work often sits at the interface between medicine and basic human neurophysiology. He is one of the four Founding Scientists of NeuRA, a founder of the 3T Clinical Research Imaging Centre, and is a Clinical Neurophysiologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital. He has served on many editorial boards, including the Journal of Physiology and is currently a Senior Editor. He is currently Associate Editor for the Journal of Applied Physiology (since 2005).