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International Kinship Care – A Child Rights Approach

On 1 May 2024, Nicholes Family Lawyers, in partnership with International Social Service Australia and Children’s Rights International, hosted a breakfast symposium at our Melbourne offices.

The event, titled “International Kinship Care – A Child Rights Approach”, brought together a panel of distinguished experts, including guest speakers The Honourable Justice Jennifer Coate AO, Liana Buchanan, Professor Claire Fenton-Glynn, Damon Martin and Professor John Tobin. The event was moderated by Nicholes Family Lawyers Managing Partner Sally Nicholes and closed by International Social Service Australia CEO Peter van Vliet.

The symposium was designed to commence a national discussion about how to strengthen current child protection systems, principles, policies and protocols to enable a well understood and structured framework for exploring, and potentially achieving, international family placements for children entering permanent care.

The Honourable Justice Jennifer Coate AO

The many achievements of The Honourable Justice Jennifer Coate AO in the legal profession include serving as a Magistrate of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, a Judge of the County Court of Victoria, the inaugural President of the Children’s Court of Victoria, the first female State Coroner of Victoria, a Judge of the Family Court of Australia and one of the commissioners in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In 2019, she was also appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Justice Coate emphasised the importance of collaboration between state and commonwealth bodies in child protection and international kinship care matters. She underscored the need for meticulous planning in international placements of children with family members, including the development of a Transition Plan. This plan should include pre-placement assistance for carers to prepare them for the child’s arrival, as well as post-placement support to ensure children have access to the resources they need to thrive in their new circumstances.

Liana Buchanan

Liana Buchanan has been Victoria’s Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People since 2016 and is also a part-time Commissioner of the Victorian Law Reform Commission. As Principal Commissioner, she is responsible for promoting children’s rights, regulating organisations which work with children to prevent child abuse, and monitoring services for children and young people, including those in the out-of-home care, child protection and youth justice systems.

During her address, Ms Buchanan underscored the fact that while children undeniably possess the right, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to have their perspectives acknowledged and considered, this entitlement is not expressly safeguarded in Victorian law, especially for children facing significant harm who need alternative care solutions. She highlighted that in Victoria, a majority of children under the age of 10 do not receive legal advocacy in care and protection cases. Consequently, to promote a more consistent examination and pursuit of international kinship care, it is imperative to prioritise the child’s viewpoint.

Professor Claire Fenton-Glynn

Professor Claire Fenton-Glynn is a Professor of Law at Monash University and is on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family. Before her role at Monash University, she was Professor of Child and Family Law at the University of Cambridge, where she also served as Director of Cambridge Family Law. Professor Fenton-Glynn’s passion lies in children’s rights, comparative law and international human rights law.

Professor Fenton-Glynn highlighted the obstacles that hinder international kinship placements from being widely recognised as a viable option for children when local family placement options are unavailable. She highlighted issues such as the absence of post-placement support, challenges with contingency planning, and the complexities of integrating international social work practices into domestic legal proceedings.

Damon Martin

Damon Martin is the deputy CEO at International Social Service Australia and a qualified social worker. He is dedicated to supporting and connecting vulnerable children, adults and families affected by cross-border issues.

Drawing on his 25 years of experience in child protection, Mr Martin noted that he has only observed a few cases of children in care being placed with family overseas. He highlighted that this raises questions about whether this is due to international placements being perceived as “too hard”; considered unknown territory; or if an unconscious bias leads social workers to believe it is safer for the child to remain in Australia. He emphasised the importance of children being raised, if practical and safe, by their blood relatives, immersed within their culture and language.

Professor John Tobin

Professor John Tobin holds the Francine V McNiff Chair in International Human Rights Law at the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Law School. He also serves as the Co-Director of Studies for the Human Rights Program in the Master of Laws and as the Co-Director of Research in Human rights within the Institute for International Law and the Humanities.

Professor Tobin highlighted the current legislation’s lack of explicit reference to international kinship care, while also noting the absence of any prohibition against it. He emphasised that the central question in determining the appropriateness of international kinship care is whether it serves the best interests of the child. This determination will hinge on specific circumstances, including the assessment of kin, the child’s views, and the legal implications involved.

Nicholes Family Lawyers was honoured to host such a thought-provoking event and would like to extend our gratitude to The Honourable Justice Jennifer Coate AO, Liana Buchanan, Professor Claire Fenton-Glynn, Damon Martin, Professor John Tobin and Peter van Vliet for generously sharing their time and expertise.


By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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