The types of cases that can be heard in Children's Court, and what the court can decide in relation to child protection cases, including imposing conditions for parents before a child can return home.
What is Children's Court?
The Children’s Court of NSW is a special court that deals with cases involving children and young people.
The court has jurisdiction to hear and determine cases related to:
- the care and protection of children and young people aged under 18 years
- criminal offending involving people who were aged under 18 at the time of the alleged offence
- traffic cases where the defendant is not old enough to hold a driver’s licence or permit
- applications for Apprehended Violence Orders where the defendant is aged under 18
- applications for Compulsory Schooling Orders where a child or young person has not been attending school
- breaches of parole and the eligibility of children and young people for release on parole.
The role of the Children’s Court is to ensure that the best interests of children and young people are paramount to any proceedings.
The court only deals with children and young people. If an adult - a parent, for example - is charged with a crime against a child, they go to a different court.
Not all cases involving children are dealt with in the Children’s Court. For example, in cases of separation and divorce, the Family Court of Australia can determine where a child will live. The Family Court also deals with contact and guardianship matters. Local or Magistrates courts are also empowered under the Family Law Act to deal with family violence cases.
A person appealing a decision made by the Children's Court is heard by the District Court of NSW. The Supreme Court of NSW deals with adoption matters.
What can the Children's Court decide
A Children's Court magistrate can decide whether your child should go home, or be cared for somewhere else. The law lists the reasons that a child might need care and protection and the magistrate has to decide if one or more of these apply to your child.
Your child can go home
The magistrate can send your child home with conditions, such as:
- you sign a commitment (called undertakings) to do or not do specific things
- you agree to supervision by DCJ or other relevant agency
- you agree to attend, or take your child to, a service named by the court.
The magistrate can also require a restoration plan be developed outlining what needs to change before your child can return home. This could include your child and or family accessing specific services and the outcomes expected. A Contact Order could also be made stating who can see your child and how often.
Your child can't go home yet
If your child can’t go home yet, the magistrate can make an emergency care and protection order or an interim care order specifying where your daughter or son will live and who will care for them.
The magistrate can decide that parental responsibility for your child should be changed. The law doesn’t talk about children being made wards any more but rather who has parental responsibility. Parental responsibility means being the carer and decision maker for a child.
The magistrate may change parental responsibility for your child to another member of your family or to someone outside your family. In some cases, parental responsibility could be given to the Minister for Communities and Justice (DCJ).
How long will it be before a decision is made
The magistrate needs a range of detailed information in order to decide what's in the best interest of the child. This can take some time and include assessments of parents and other family members.
The magistrate can also say that your child should have an assessment. This is when a doctor, psychologist or other specialist worker reports on whether a child has any special difficulties or needs. The law says that the court doesn’t need parents to agree to this. The magistrate can also ask you to talk to an independent worker about your ideas on being a parent but it's up to you if you agree to do this. After all this work is carried out, an assessment report is written for the court.
When the court has enough information, a "final order" will be made determining the future of the child or young person.
Until final orders are made, the court can make an interim care order to say where a child will live, who has parental responsibility for them and when a child can see their parents.