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Changes to child protection and what it means for you

Important changes to the child protection system came into effect on 4 February 2019. These changes strive to keep children safe at home, and if this isn’t possible, to work with urgency to find a safe, permanent home. Foster carers remain crucial to this process and we need good carers now more than ever. We’ve outlined the key changes and their effect below.

Shorter term court orders

Before

Long term court orders gave parental responsibility to the Minister for extended periods (often until the child or young person turned 18).

Now

Where the Children’s Court has approved a ‘permanency plan’ involving restoration, guardianship or adoption, the maximum period of an order giving parental responsibility to the Minister is 24 months (except in special circumstances).

What this means

Children and young people will be more likely to be restored to their parents or placed into safe, permanent homes within 24 months of a Court order.

Guardianship with parents’ consent

Before

If a family identified that they were unable to parent their child and wanted to assign guardianship to a trusted friend or family member, they were still required to go through a lengthy Court process.

Now

Families are able to decide who can best parent their children where they recognise they are unable to do so.  FACS still needs to have assessed that a child is in need of care and protection and they must consent to the guardianship order.

What this means

Children and families spend less time in court and there is a greater focus on the child or young person’s best interests.

Open adoption

Before

The Supreme Court already had the power to approve a child’s adoption by authorised carers, without the consent of parents in certain circumstances.

Now

This authorisation now extends to a child’s guardian. Adoption orders are only made without consent if the Court finds that the child has developed a stable relationship with their guardian or carer, the adoption will promote the child’s welfare, and adoption of the child by the guardian or carer is clearly in the best interests of the child. Adoption must be preferable to any other order the court could make for the care of the child. Adoption remains the last permanent placement preference for Aboriginal children.

What this means

Clarification of an existing law.

Longer term contact orders

Before

If a guardianship order was approved, the Children’s Court was only permitted to make contact orders for 12 months.

After

The Court can make contact orders for the life of a guardianship order if it is in a child’s best interests.

What this means

An ongoing connection between children and their parents where this is appropriate and in the best interests of the child or young person.

‘Within a reasonable period’ test

Before

The Children’s Court had to decide whether restoration of a child to the family was possible on the date of the hearing.  The Court could not take into account what the parents might do in the future to make restoration possible.

Now

The Children’s Court will now consider whether restoration is possible within 24 months of the hearing.

What this means

The Children’s Court will now consider whether restoration can be possible if the steps in a restoration plan are achieved successfully. This means parents who are working towards creating a safe home environment for their children and have made some progress in this will have the opportunity to have them return home.

Greater involvement of family in early decision-making

Before

FACS only had to consider the appropriateness of using alternative dispute resolution processes such as a family group conference before intervening.

Now

FACS must offer families alternative dispute resolution before seeking care orders (except in exceptional circumstances).  This gives families the chance to decide for themselves how to respond to their children’s safety.

What this means

Families will be empowered to create a family-led plan to keep their kids safe.

Children able to be restored to families sooner

Before

If the Children’s Court approved a permanency plan which aimed for restoration at a future date, FACS could not restore children to the family until within six months of that date.

Now

FACS can restore children to the care of their parents within twelve months of the date for restoration decided by the Court.

What this means

Increased flexibility to restore children to the care of their parents earlier, where it is safe to do so. This also enables parents to demonstrate sustained change under FACS’ monitoring and support.

Want to know more?

  • Check out these factsheets to learn more about the legislative changes.
  • Visit the FAQ page to find answers to some common queries.
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Last updated: 11 Apr 2019
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