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What happens to a child who is not at risk?

How a child can be protected from harm or further harm, including arranging support for the family and information about Parent Capacity Orders and Parent Responsibility Contracts

Protecting the child from harm or further harm

If the child or young person is found not in "immediate risk of serious harm" after an investigation and assessment has been made, then in most cases, Communities and Justice (DCJ) provides practical help, such as organising child care, emergency finance, counselling or information, and referral to health or other services.

If the situation is more serious, we will develop a plan with the family to protect the child or young person from harm or further harm. This could include counselling and referral to support services for the parents or carers, the child or young person, and any other children or young people in the family.

Children's Court

In some cases, DCJ might take the matter to the Children’s Court and apply for an order. The Court can make a range of orders that include, but are not limited to:

  • an assessment order — to authorise a physical, psychiatric or other medical examination of a child or young person, or to authorise an assessment of a person’s capacity to parent
  • an order accepting undertakings — the parent makes undertakings to the Court about how they will care for their child or young person in their care
  • an order for supervision — allows DCJ to regularly meet with the child or young person
  • an order for the provision of support services — a person or organisation is ordered to provide support for the child or young person as specified
  • an order allocating parental responsibility, or aspects of it — where parental responsibility is transferred in full or in part, to another person.

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If a child isn’t in immediate danger yet would not be safe living in the house, the caseworker could apply for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO).

The advantages of an AVO in this case is that the person alleged to have caused harm to the child or young person can be ordered to leave the house, rather than requiring the child or young person to leave.

Care application

If the caseworker doesn't think an AVO would be enough to protect the child or young person, they may consider making a Care Application to the Children’s Court for an order that the child or young person live somewhere else until it's safe again.

In this case, the Court needs to be satisfied that there is no other or better way to protect the child or young person. The Court makes the decision on the basis of information provided to it by Communities and Justice (DCJ), parents, caregivers and sometimes other professionals or people involved.

Under DCJ care

In a small number of matters, the Court can make an order that places the child or young person in DCJ’s care for a period of time.

If this happens, DCJ will arrange a placement for the child or young person, which might be within their extended family (for example, with their grandparents), with an authorised carer, or in alternative accommodation.

Kinship care

In finding a placement for a child or young person, DCJ considers the child or young person's wishes and needs arising from identity, language, cultural and religious ties.

For children or young people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, every effort is made to place the child or young person with extended family, or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family within kinship group, or another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family within the local community.

Parent capacity orders (PCO)

Parent capacity orders are used to help parents keep their children safe. The Children’s Court can issue a stand-alone parent capacity order. This order requires a parent to participate in a program, service, course, therapy or treatment to improve their parenting skills so they can provide a safe, nurturing home for their child.

Parent capacity orders aim to reduce the need for Communities and Justice (DCJ) to intervene, such as removal of a child from the family home or a decision not to return a child to their parent’s care.

The Children’s Court can make a parent capacity order on its own, or DCJ can make an application if the following have identified:

  • an issue with the parent’s or primary caregiver’s care for a child or young person
  • the potential risk of significant harm to the child or young person
  • it is reasonable and practical to make a parent or primary caregiver participate in a service, course or treatment program
  • there is an appropriate and available service, course or treatment program
  • it is unlikely the parent or primary caregiver would participate unless an order is made.

Addressing the child's safety and wellbeing

A parent capacity order gives a parent or primary caregiver an opportunity to address the issue of the child’s safety and wellbeing before the situation escalates. It aims to avoid a more intrusive intervention by DCJ, such as removal of a child from the family home or, in the case of an already removed child, a decision not to return a child to their parent’s care.

The court can make a parent capacity order on its own or DCJ can make an application. Unlike a parent responsibility contract, a parenting capacity order does not require the consent of the parent or primary caregiver. However, where possible, the court will aim to gain consent from the parent or primary caregiver.

The duration of a parent capacity order depends on the service, program or treatment required. It is specified in the order. The Children’s Court can vary the time frame or terminate the order early.

Parent responsibility contracts (PRC)

A parent responsibility contract (PRC) is not a court order. A PRC is a written agreement that is signed by the parent, or parents, involved and Communities and Justice (DCJ). It is registered at the Children’s Court.

PRCs are used when the case plan goal is to keep a family living together. Or in the case that a family is not living together, a PRC is used to support the family to live together safely.

Setting goals and reducing risk

A PRC aims to improve parenting. It encourages parents to set goals and agree to actions that reduce risks to their child. We are asking parents to accept greater responsibility for the care of their child. This may include drug testing or treatment for substance abuse.

The contract also includes details of how we support the parent to work toward positive changes in their life and how the contract will be monitored.

A parent responsibility contract can only be made if the parent agrees. A contract provides a structured process to help some parents attend services for the benefit of their child.

Legal consequences

Parent responsibility contracts are registered with the Children’s Court. Because a parent responsibility contract is an agreement with legal consequences, parents will be given a referral to Legal Aid so they can get free, independent advice.

Parent responsibility contracts have been strengthened by:

  • extending the maximum length of a contract to 12 months. This allows parents to attend parenting courses or treatments and demonstrate abstinence from substance abuse.
  • allowing contracts to be made with expectant parents to reduce the likelihood that the child will be at risk of significant harm after birth
  • requiring DCJ to set up contracts with parents before care proceedings start, when appropriate.

How is a PRC developed?

PRCs are to be developed between you and your DCJ caseworker in a respectful, collaborative manner. The PRC will include the following information:

  1. the purpose of the PRC
  2. the key current concerns that should be written in your own words
  3. the actions that will explain what you need to do in order for your child to either remain safely in your care or be safely restored to you.

If you are an expectant parent, the purpose of a PRC is to increase your parenting skills and reduce the likelihood of your child being at risk of significant harm once born.

Once you have spoken to an independent person to get legal advice, your caseworker will organise a case plan meeting with all the relevant parties to discuss, negotiate and develop a PRC that suits your family’s needs. Representatives from service providers, courses, treatment programs that could support you to achieve your goals will be included in the case planning meeting.

You should have a separate PRC for your partner if there are issues of violence. If you don’t agree with the PRC, talk to your caseworker about your concerns.

If you have spoken with your caseworker and still disagree with the PRC, you do not have to sign the contract, as PRCs are a voluntary agreement.

Why does DCJ want me to sign a PRC?

DCJ has recognised that a PRC is a positive option for you and your children because:

  • you recognise there are child protection concerns or risks regarding your child and want to work with DCj and other service providers to overcome these issues;
  • you agree that the child protection issues could be satisfactorily reduced or overcome within 12 months.

When should a PRC be used?

Where a safety assessment has been undertaken and the case plan is to keep your family living together safely.

Where a prenatal report has been made about an unborn child, caseworkers may consider whether a PRC is an appropriate casework tool to work with an expectant parent to minimise risks to the child after birth.

How long does a PRC last?

Once a PRC is registered with the Children’s Court it can be for a period up to 12 months. No more than one PRC can be made with the same primary caregiver within an 18-month period from the beginning of the PRC.

Twelve months gives parents time to make real change. Where DCJ has received a risk of significant harm report about an unborn child, a contract can be used to support expectant parents to address issues so the child is safe when they are born.

Do I have a say in what’s in a PRC and who can give me advice?

Before signing a PRC, you will be given time (up to 2 weeks) to get independent advice about the terms and goals of the PRC. You can get free legal advice from a local or state-wide legal service.

Once you have received legal advice you may give your consent to your legal representative to seek further clarification from DCJ. The information shared between DCJ and your legal adviser can only be for the purpose of clarifying issues in the PRC.

What happens if the agreements in a PRC are broken?

If you breach a term of the PRC or if you don’t do the tasks within the timeframes outlined in your PRC, further casework may be appropriate and an amended PRC may be part of that. If the agreement is broken a decision may be made to file a contract breach notice. The contract breach notice will be filed along with a care application and the PRC can be taken as evidence of prior alternative action.

If a parent or primary caregiver breaches a contract, a contract breach notice can be filed with the Children’s Court. The court can then make:

  • a supervision order
  • an order requiring the parent or primary caregiver to make undertakings to the court
  • an order reallocating parental responsibility to another person for the child or young person.

Under the legislative changes, there is no longer an automatic presumption that the child or young person is in need of care and protection if a contract breach notice is filed with the court. This means parents and primary caregivers who  work with DCJ to address child protection concerns will not be at a legal disadvantage if they enter into a parent responsibility contract.

Can a PRC be changed?

A PRC can only be changed by agreement between you and DCJ. These changes take effect only once registered with the Children’s Court. It is advised that you seek legal advice before signing a changed PRC.

What happens while a parent responsibility contract is in place?

While a PRC is in place, the caseworker and support services work with you to reduce parenting concerns identified and create change that keeps your child safe.

The PRC also details what DCJ will do to support you to address the concerns, and how the PRC will be monitored. It is vital that your caseworker is clear with you and your support services that their roles and responsibilities are to reduce risk and ensure that the focus is on your child’s experience and safety.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019