Department of Health

All Victorian health services and health professionals have a responsibility to protect the safety and wellbeing of children experiencing adversity that makes them vulnerable to poor outcomes. Health services play a vital role in identifying, responding to and supporting children who are vulnerable, including those experiencing or at risk of abuse and neglect.

Who do we mean by vulnerable children?

Many families experience vulnerability at some stage. Sometimes the safety and wellbeing of families and children may be threatened by individual, parental, family or social circumstances. In some cases, these circumstances or vulnerabilities will be time-limited. For others, vulnerability can be significant and long-lasting and can affect children into adulthood.

What is clear is that vulnerability is multifaceted and may not be readily apparent on an initial presentation at a health service. Assessment of vulnerability therefore requires careful continuous gathering of information, including formal assessment, observation and discussion with the family and the child.

There are a range of factors that contribute to vulnerability within family relationships. Trauma, including parental or family trauma and the lack of opportunity to build safe attachments and relationships can have a significant impact on factors leading to family vulnerability. Many of the reports to child protection will involve family violence, parental mental health and parental substance misuse. Other factors contributing to poor outcomes for children include poverty, low-quality housing, the education levels of parents and the parents’ inability to engage in employment. When family violence is combined with other problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental health concerns, children are at even greater risk of developing emotional, behavioural, health, social and educational problems.

Health services must have a heightened awareness of the family circumstances of their adult clients and consider the impact of illness or parental risk factors on their client’s children

These pages are designed to support health professionals navigate their responsibilities to protect children and young people from harm, and to support the health and wellbeing of children and young people experiencing vulnerability.

Children at risk learning portal

The Children at risk learning portal contains resources and e-learning to support health professionals understand their responsibilities to children and young people experiencing vulnerability.

Learn about protecting vulnerable children

Reviewed 13 September 2023