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Calls for reinstatement of child protection powers for Children's Court

Calls for reinstatement of child protection powers for Children's Court

By Kerry O'Shea, Public Affairs Manager

Child Support Child Welfare Courts Family Court Guardianship 


Supporting children removed from their parents’ care to return home safely will become more difficult when changes to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 passed by the previous State Government take effect on 1 March 2016, according to legal and child welfare groups.

Concerned at these changes over 200 people are attending the Children’s Matters forum today at the Royal Children’s Hospital including foster and kinship carers, grandparents, as well as service providers, legal advocates, Aboriginal agencies, disability advocates and mental health services.

Promoted as a response to children’s need for a permanent stable care arrangement, the legislative changes dilute the role of the Children’s Court and invest more authority and control in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). DHHS already has a backlog of up to 3,000 cases where children and families have no allocated case worker due to an increase in demand, in part, generated by increased reporting of family violence where children have been exposed or are at risk of harm. Despite this, and the recent highlighting by Victoria’s Auditor General of major limitations in Victoria’s early intervention and family support system, under the changes families will have as little as 12 months to resolve issues of concern identified by child protection. Having to wait for access to support services and having no allocated case worker will not automatically extend the time available for families and their children to remain together.

The changes limit the power of the Children’s Court to order that a child be reunified with a parent. Children as young as two could be placed in state care on long term care orders until they turn 18 with no independent authority (currently the Children’s Court) able to place conditions on their care arrangements and review who is providing care for the child, contact arrangements with other siblings and family, how the child is progressing and if circumstances have changed to allow a return to their parents care.

The changes will have a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, noting that as at 30 June 2014 Aboriginal children in Victoria are twelves times more likely than other children to be placed in state care. Other children who will be similarly affected include those with a parent who has a disability, are victims of family violence or experience mental health difficulties.

The LIV, Berry Street, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), the Office of the Public Advocate, and MYFVic (Mental Health for the Young and their Families) are calling for full oversight and review powers of the Children’s Court to be reinstated and effective remedies to improve support for vulnerable children and their families. While the State Government has committed to reviewing the changes after six months details of the review are yet to be announced. The organisers of Children’s Matters have committed to further public meetings and to presenting evidence to the review.

LIV President elect Belinda Wilson:

The LIV is gravely concerned that the 2014 legislative reforms [to the Children Youth & Families Act] drastically reduce the powers of the Children's Court of Victoria, which is against the best interests of Victoria's most vulnerable children.

Muriel Bamblett, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency:

The changes will make it more likely that children in care are separated for their entire childhood from their parents, siblings and other family members. For Aboriginal children this means separating them from their Aboriginal culture and identity. The changes wind back the clock 30 years to a discredited welfare model that was guilty of some of the worst treatment of Aboriginal children and disregard of Aboriginal families

Colleen Pearce, Victoria’s Public Advocate, Office of the Public Advocate:

The Public Advocate considers that babies and children from families where parents have a disability are generally far better off in their own properly supported families than being placed in permanent care or adopted

Dr Allan Mawdsley OAM, of MYFVic (Mental Health for the Young and their Families): 

A good outcome is where the child lives safely in his or her own functional family; permanent care away from the family is a tragedy. The goal of the Department should be to seek a good outcome, not just a Court Order.

Berry Street Director of Public Policy Julian Pocock:

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted how critical it is that child welfare systems are subjected to independent judicial review. Many survivors have made the point to the Royal Commission that while in State care they were forgotten and vulnerable to exploitation in a system where the child welfare Department had unfettered powers over their care.  It is not in the best interests of any family or child in Victoria for us to be returning to a discredited child welfare model that invests too much control in the Department.

For further information regarding this media release please contact:
Kerry O'Shea, General Manager, Public Affairs & Legal Policy

T: 03 9607 9373

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