On the 19th of February 2020 the Greater Melbourne Family Law Pathways Network hosted a practical workshop in conjunction with Victoria Legal Aid to help students learn about child protection and the role of a Child Protection Lawyer. The training aimed to provide students with an understanding of the law regarding child protection and offer practical tips around navigating the child protection jurisdiction as a lawyer.
The speakers, Jenny and James, began by introducing the basics of child protection and discussed the role of the ‘Department’ (the Department of Health and Human Services’). A huge distinction between the child protection jurisdiction and family law/family violence jurisdictions is that a child protection matter is brought by the State, rather than by private parties. Due to the interaction between the child protection and family law/family violence jurisdictions, a Family Law order is halted when a child protection order is made.
Having developed an understanding of what constitutes the child protection jurisdiction, the discussion then progressed to the pre-court process that the Department goes through to investigate what is in the ‘best interests of the child’. The pre-court processes were set out alongside an explanation of the court procedure and the various types of agreements that can be voluntary undertaken by families to protect children. Jenny and James gave a brief outline of the complicated legislative framework that governs the child protection jurisdiction – the Children, Youth and Families Act (Vic) 2005. It was noted that each state and territory in Australia has its own different legislation and names of orders which can lead to confusion when families decide to move interstate.
Students were then taken though the child protection court process. Child protection cases are heard in the family division of the Children’s Court. Jenny and James explained the process that each case will go through, using flow charts and anecdotal examples. The use of anecdotal examples really illustrated under what circumstances the Department will initiate this process, starting with a Protection Application. The speakers explained under what grounds the Department is able to bring such an application, and provided more examples to demonstrate in what realistic circumstances the court will grant an order.
After the morning tea break, the training honed in on the particulars of a day in the life of a child protection lawyer, and the types of legal representation that exist within the family division of the Children’s Court. The content of the discussion moved to what can happen to children in the child protection system, starting with their very first day at court. The discussion highlighted the necessity of decision makers and the Court to consider the best interests of the child when considering whether to make a protection order, and what kind of order to make. The students were taught about the difference between pre-proof orders and post-proof orders. The work and research being done to improve the experience of children in the child protection system was acknowledged by both Jenny and James.
Thoughtful questions were asked throughout the seminar and at the conclusion of the seminar. The students engaged greatly with the content and the feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive.
To conclude the day, students were provided with lunch and embraced the opportunity to network with their fellow law students and the speakers and VFLPN hosts.
The VFLPN sincerely thanks Victoria Legal Aid for supporting and educating the next generation of lawyers and working with us to deliver training on the pervasively important topic of child protection.