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Child Protection Overhaul in the Northern Territory: New Case Management Solutions

On 17 November 2017 the final report of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was delivered to the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments.

One of the major issues identified in the report was the lack of integration of the various information management systems within Child Protection NT, particularly within the record keeping sphere. This had the effect of limiting interdepartmental information sharing and significantly reduced the prospects of early intervention in the lives of vulnerable children.

In response to the issues raised by the Commission, the Northern Territory government – on 13 January 2021 – committed to establishing a new $64 million integrated child management system. This will be known as the ‘Care’ system and will be replacing the current Community Care Information System (CCIS) by December 2021.

A key benefit of the Care system will be that it ensures that all relevant agencies will have access to the same information on a single common file. This in turn will allow for a more coordinated and proactive response to the needs of the Territory’s vulnerable families based on up to date information.

To facilitate the new system the Northern Territory government has engaged the services of UK based software company Liquidlogic, which has industry leading expertise in case management systems for social care, as well as local firm SRA.

The Victorian child protection system underwent a similar overhaul in 2016 after significant amendments were made to the Children’s Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) (‘the Act’). Yet in contrast to the changes made to the Northern Territory’s case management and information sharing systems, the changes to the Victorian system went to the heart of the legislation and the key objectives it aims to achieve.

For instance, from 1 March 2016 Family Preservation Orders (‘FPOs’) replaced the previous Supervision Orders. Under s 280 of the Act, a FPO places the child in the day to day care of one or both of the child’s parents and confers responsibility on the Department of Health and Human Services (now DFFH) for the supervision of the child.

Further, Family Reunification Orders (FROs) replaced Supervised Custody (SCO) orders. Pursuant to s 287 a FRO confers parental responsibility for the child on the Department but allows parents to retain parental responsibility about major long-term issues. Conditions imposed under FROs should reflect the reunification objective in the Act.

It should also be noted that under the amended Act, FROs have a limited time frame of 24 months within which reunification must occur. The Court cannot extend the period of 24 months.  If reunification has not occurred within this time frame the Court must make a decision, either placing the child in the care of the Department or with a permanent carer.

The changes to the types of orders the Department is able to make were in line with the best interest principles enshrined in s 10 of the Act, particularly s 10(3)(a). This subsection states that when determining what decisions to make or actions to take in the best interests of the child, consideration must be given to the need to give the widest possible protection to the parent and a child as the fundamental group unit of society and limit any intervention in that relationship to the extent necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child.

The recent overhaul to the Northern Territory’s child protection system may not be as fundamental or wide reaching a change as the 2016 amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic), given that the focus is on improving internal record and information management systems. However, it will be interesting to monitor how the creation of a more streamlined and comprehensive case management and information system will enhance the capabilities of Child Protection NT and allow for better protection of vulnerable families.

Nicholes Family Lawyers has specialist expertise in a wide range of child protection matters and can liaise with the Department or represent clients in the Children’s Court should this be required.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers

 

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