4. Risk controls – parent/carer behaviours
A safe, supportive and inclusive school environment is essential for providing quality learning opportunities for all students, which parents/carers and schools have a shared responsibility in creating.
While the majority of parents/carers, community members and visitors to schools positively engage with their child’s education and the school community, in some cases, parents/carers engage in behaviour towards school staff that is disrespectful, unsafe or otherwise unacceptable.
Parent/carer behaviour towards school staff that is violent, aggressive or otherwise unsafe is also a recognised occupational health and safety (OHS) risk.
The following information outlines strategies schools can consider implementing to manage these risks.
4.1 Prevention strategies
Step 1: Establishing and promoting respectful and safe parent/carer behaviour
When a child is enrolled at a school it is important to establish positive relationships and clear expectations with parents/carers from the outset.
Ways that schools can do this include:
- sharing the department’s Respectful Behaviours within the School Community with their school community. This policy sets out clear standards of behaviours that help create and support a safe, respectful and inclusive learning environment for students, staff and adult members of the school community
- sharing resources that communicate this policy to the school community and promote positive, respectful relationships in our schools, which can be found in the Government Schools Communications Toolkit on the Resources tab. The communication resources include:
- poster for staff for display in staff rooms and other areas of the school
- poster for parents in English and other languages for display on school grounds, to include in new enrolment packs etc.
- social media template
- newsletter/email content to communicate to families in English and other languages
- email template to communicate to staff
- promoting respectful behaviours communicated in the policy by:
- including the above resources in pre-enrolment documentation packs
- referring to them in school newsletters
- displaying them on noticeboards
- publishing or linking to them from the school website
- establishing the school community’s collective expectation for respectful, safe and positive behaviours right from the commencement of its relationship with a parent/carer through:
- ensuring staff model the respectful behaviour reflected in the Respectful Behaviours within the School Community
- the Family engagement in learning (staff login required) resource, which outlines the benefits of respectful and meaningful parent-school relationships
- involving parents/carers in school activities, such as:
- organising parent orientation days and prep transition programs
- providing culturally safe and inclusive informal forums, such as morning teas at the school
- encouraging parents/carers from diverse backgrounds to join school council. Informal opportunities increase positive engagement between parents and schools, and are a good way of creating a welcoming and inclusive school environment, particularly with Aboriginal and culturally diverse families
- providing opportunities for parents to provide feedback, both positive and negative
- to assist a parent wishing to provide negative feedback, ensuring that the school’s complaint’s policy is publicly accessible, for example on the school’s website and in welcome packs to the school, and referring to the department’s Complaints – Parents Policy, emphasising the message that complaints can be an opportunity for improvement in the school’s practices and its relationships. A quick reference guide is available for parents and carers to understand how to raise a concern or complaint: Parent concerns and complaints
For a template school complaints policy refer to the School Policy Templates Portal: (staff login required).
Step 2: Prevention and de-escalation of unacceptable behaviours in the early stages
If you consider that a parent or carer’s behaviour falls short of your school’s expectations, the principal or delegate can consider contacting the parent/carer to:
- refer to the department’s Respectful Behaviours within the School Community (and any other relevant school-based policies) and the behavioural expectations it outlines, and provide the parent with options to raise concerns in ways that are consistent with those expectations – a template letter (staff login required) is available to remind the parent or carer to behave respectfully towards staff and note that measures may need to be put in place if such behaviours continue
- provide early opportunities to meet to discuss and resolve concerns and inviting them to use an advocate, support person or interpreter if it is useful. Consider if an independent conflict resolution or facilitator can assist you in preparing for and chairing meetings with parents – refer to Converge International (staff login required).
By working together to resolve a concern, early intervention is more likely to result in mutual agreements and better outcomes.
Considerations when interacting with parents and carers from diverse backgrounds
Schools must offer interpreting and translation services to parents and carers who have limited or no English language skills to communicate key information about their child’s education. Refer to the Interpreting and Translation Services Policy for more information.
Parents or carers that behave or communicate in an unacceptable manner may be impacted by a range of factors, such as an intellectual or cognitive disability, mental illness, trauma, lack of English ability, cultural differences, prior experience from their own schooling or their cultural background, or a range of other life pressures.
For example, some parents or carers may communicate in a direct manner that may be considered rude or mildly aggressive by certain school staff, when this is the common way to communicate in their culture.
While this does not excuse unacceptable behaviour, school staff should consider whether these factors have influenced the behaviour of a parent or carer when interacting or resolving conflict with them.
Where an issue of escalating unacceptable behaviour concerns a parent/carer who is Aboriginal or has an Aboriginal child at the school, the principal should contact the relevant Koorie Education Coordinator through the department’s area or regional office and seek their advice on how best to support the family. While the principal may seek the advice of the Koorie Education Coordinator, parent/carer consent must be obtained before they can play a more direct support role for the family.
Resolving conflicts and complaints
Use conflict resolution and complaint resources and processes at the school, regional or department level where appropriate to try to resolve the concerns.
Conflict management and resolution are most successful when used early and can help avoid the need for more stressful formal processes.
The Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution has a suite of conflict resolution and complaint management training (staff login required), including for specific scenarios such as:
- responding to complainants who appear to be in poor mental health
- working effectively with families of children with disabilities
- handling high conflict, vexatious and disrespectful complainants.
Refer to Conflict resolution in (staff login required) for a guide on managing conflict in schools, information on mediation and facilitated discussion services, and conflict training videos delivered by the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria and the Independent Office of School Dispute Resolution.
To facilitate conflict management and resolution, schools may refer to Managing conflict in the school setting – A guide for (staff login required) developed by the Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution.
If the parent/carer interaction relates to a complaint, refer to the department’s Complaints – Parents Policy for information.
If parent/carer behaviour has had a negative wellbeing impact during the conflict or complaints resolution process, consider referring the affected staff member to the wellbeing supports listed under Step 7 – Restoring wellbeing after an incident.
4.2 Managing escalating behaviours and complex matters
Step 3: Intervention
When a parent/carer has not met the expectations in the department’s Respectful Behaviours within the School Community , the principal or delegate should approach the person (if safe to do so), and help them establish a framework for interaction that will be consistent with the behaviour expected at the school.
If the behaviour continues, suggested next steps include:
- sending a letter or email to the parent/carer referring to the initial discussion, and informing them of the seriousness of the behaviour and the impact on staff, students and the greater school community and establishing a communication plan. A communications plan sample letter is available for principals or delegates to tailor at the appropriate level, to their own context – you may wish to contact Complex Matters Support (staff login required) or Legal Division if communications need to be tailored to your specific needs
- providing the person with the option of nominating an agent, advocate or support person to communicate with the school on their behalf
- for parents/carers, providing details of the department’s parent complaint which includes options for how the parent/carer may communicate with the region
- seeking advice from Legal Division on issuing a school community safety order to prohibit or limit harmful, threatening or abusive behaviour from a parent, carer or other adult to members of the school community – this can also limit a person from using or communicating on a communication platform or channel that is owned or controlled by, or established in relation to, a school.
Particularly complex matters involving ongoing written correspondence with parents/carers may qualify for support from the department’s Complex Matters Support (staff login required).
The Complex Matters Support Team can provide principals or delegates with advice and support on other possible measures to help manage the concerns, and steps available to reduce the health and wellbeing impact of unreasonable parent/carer behaviour.
For appropriate matters, if the department’s usual systems have been exhausted but a complaint remains unresolved, the Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution can be approached to facilitate a final attempt at consensual resolution.
Step 4: Conflict resolution
Where a school has already taken the suggested steps to address unacceptable behaviour and an acceptable outcome is not reached, schools may consider formal conflict resolution services through the independent conflict resolution provider, Converge (staff login required).
The nature of the mediation service will depend on the situation and the parties involved but may include:
- all parties meeting (virtual or face-to-face) in a formal setting with an independent facilitator
- facilitated discussion between principals/staff and parents in an informal setting
- the principal receiving counsel.
Step 5: Consider alternative forms of future communication
The school should consider safe options for any future communications with the parent. Depending on the nature of the behaviour, these options could include:
- meeting with a parent/carer who is supported by an advocate or support person
- providing the parent/carer with a regional contact for any future communications
- communicating only in writing
- establishing a communications plan between the school and the parent which sets out the excepted method of communication. Complex Matters Support Team or Legal Division can assist in tailoring this to your specific needs.
Step 6: Escalating behaviour that is violent, aggressive or otherwise unsafe
If the parent/carer fails to modify their behaviour or their behaviour escalates, principals or delegates should take further steps to provide for the safety of students and staff, as well as to protect their own safety, health and wellbeing.
- The OHS Advisory Service and regional OHS officers are available to support schools identify and manage the impact of WRV hazards.
- The Employee Wellbeing Response Team can provide additional support in identifying and managing hazards where there are complex, significant and ongoing risks to employee safety from violent or aggressive behaviour.
- Legal Division can provide advice on issuing a school community safety order to prohibit or limit harmful, threatening or abusive behaviour from a parent, carer or other adult to members of the school community.
If there is an immediate safety risk
If a parent/carer individual acts in any way that you believe is violent or makes threats of violence against a staff member or a student, you should immediately:
- contact Victoria Police on 000
- implement the school’s Emergency Management Plan
- contact the department’s Incident Support and Operations Centre (ISOC) on 1800 126 126 to report the incident
- follow the Four Critical Actions for Schools if you witness an incident, receive a disclosure or form a reasonable belief that a child has been or is at risk of being abused.
Once the immediate threat has been responded to in line with the above directions, you should take the following steps:
- seek support from your Senior Education and Improvement Leader (SEIL) and region
- if there is an ongoing threat, contact the department’s Legal Division on 03 9637 3146 for further advice, including information on Trespass Notices or other strategies
- if you witness an incident, receive a disclosure or form a reasonable belief that a child has been or is at risk of being abused, you must follow the Four Critical Actions for Schools
- Ensure details of the incident and the actions taken in response are well documented and reported on eduSafe Plus and to the department's ISOC on 1800 126 126.
4.3 Restoring wellbeing – regional and central supports
Step 7: Restoring wellbeing after an incident
Working to restore the wellbeing of school staff following an incident is critical, both to protect the long-term health and safety of staff, as well as to form constructive and sustainable relationships with parents/carers in the future.
Suggested steps include:
- de-briefing and planning for future interactions with the parents/carers involved
- as appropriate, seeking support from:
- your SEIL and region
- Employee Health, Safety and Wellbeing Services (for example, Early Intervention, EAP and Manager Assist)
- a Workplace Contact Officer, who can provide school staff with confidential and impartial guidance for resolving workplace issues such as discrimination, bullying and harassment
- where there is an impact on students, seeking support from Student Support Services (SSS).
The Work-Related Violence in Schools Post-Incident Checklist (staff login required) is a step-by-step checklist designed to support schools to manage the health, safety and wellbeing impacts of the incident on staff and students.
Reviewed 19 December 2022