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Working Co-operatively with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing

The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (‘DFFH’) manages the Victorian Government Child Protection Service (‘Child Protection’), a unit which ensures that children are kept safe. The main functions of Child Protection are to:

  • Investigate matters where it is alleged that a child is at risk of significant harm
  • Refer children and families to services that assist in providing the ongoing safety and wellbeing of children
  • Make applications to the Children’s Court if the child’s safety cannot be ensured
  • Administer protection orders made by the Victorian Children’s Court

Our office works with people from all walks of life facing the prospect of Children’s Court proceedings, this includes parents, carers, grandparents, guardians, and others.

Facing an investigation from DFFH or a protection application can be stressful. We have prepared some responses to frequently asked questions to assist those who need some information. The following is not legal advice and if you are facing Children’s Court proceedings or want tailored advice in relation to your child protection matter, please contact our office at 03 9670 4122 or use our Settify Form (https://nicholeslaw.settify.com.au) to get started with arranging an initial consultation.

DFHH/Child Protection have requested a meeting. What is the best way to prepare?

Child Protection contacts individuals about their child when they have received a report from someone who is worried that the child is being harmed or neglected. Some professions and people are obliged at law to notify DFFH of any “reasonable belief” of a risk to a child if it is believed that the child’s parents have not protected or are unlikely to protect the child from that abuse. Examples of professional groups required to report abuse include nurses, doctors, teachers, and others.

DFFH have an obligation to treat reports seriously and make appropriate enquiries with the parents or carers of the child(ren). This may include a meeting with the child and/or their parents. A request for a meeting indicates that a question has been raised about the safety of the child and does not necessarily mean that intervention will occur.

Child Protection take detailed observations during their investigation. This includes noting down the conduct of those they meet with during their investigation. It is important to remain calm and cooperative throughout any investigation undertaken by Child Protection. If, as part of their enquiries, DFFH does not find any concerns which they consider require protective action, then intervention will not occur.

I have been given a protection application notice. What does this mean and what should I do?

Protection application proceedings are commenced when either an application is filed by DFFH in the Children’s Court, or when the child is placed into emergency care. If you have been given a notice of protection application, it means that DFFH has formed a view that a child in your care needs protection and that they intend to have your matter heard in the Children’s Court. A Magistrate will determine the outcome for your child following submissions by all parties (being DFFH, the parents, the child’s lawyer if applicable and any parties successfully joined to proceedings). The Court will need to consider the best interests of the child(ren), including the likelihood of harm if they remain in your care.

At the Protection application, the Court may place a child on an Interim Accommodation Order (‘IAO’) with a carer. The IAO is a Court Order with conditions as to how the child is to be taken care of and the contact conditions between the children and the parties. A child could be placed with a parent, a relative, a family friend or in out-of-home care.

It is important to actively participate in any Court hearings so that you can provide input about the children’s history and what arrangements are in their best interest. Failure to attend may lead to a decision about your child being made without your input. To best prepare for court and obtain the most beneficial outcome, you may wish to seek legal representation.

What are the potential orders that can be made in the Children’s Court?

The Children’s Court has the power to make a broad range of orders in relation to the protection of children. Some of the key orders that can be made are as follows:

  • Interim Accommodation Order
  • Family Preservation Order
  • Family Reunification Order
  • Care by Secretary Order
  • Long Term Care Order
  • Permanent Care Order

Protection orders will no longer have effect once the child turns 18.

You may be able to seek a variation or revocation of the current order. Please contact our office for advice tailored to your matter on seeking changes to the orders.

What is a case plan?

A case plan is a record of all decisions made by the Secretary of DFFH, regarding risk, health, and welfare issues relevant to a child. Case plans make statements about the plan for a child and lists goals that need to be reached to achieve the plan.

Case plans must contain a permanency objective which outlines if the goal is to reunite the child with their parents or to find an alternative long-term care arrangement for the child. While the preservation of the family (child remaining in the care of the parent) is the preferred permanency objective, the objective chosen will vary depending on the best interests of the child.

Case plans need to be prepared by the Secretary following an Order being made and must be regularly reviewed by DFFH.

You may be able to seek a formal review of the existing case plan. If you are dissatisfied with the review outcome you may be able to pursue an external review by VCAT. Contact our office for more information about whether this is available to you and whether it is the right option.

Joining proceedings

By default, the parties to the proceedings in Children’s Court are DFFH, the parents of the child(ren) and children over 10 will be represented by a Court appointed lawyer. Those outside this scope but want their voices heard during proceedings may be able to seek to join proceedings. This is known as a joinder application and the prospect of success will depend on several factors. Being joined as a party will give you the right to make submissions going forward. We recommend contacting our office for tailored advice if you are interested in joining Children’s Court proceedings.

Nicholes Family Lawyers have extensive experience and expertise in Child Protection matters. For more information about this process, or specific assistance with your own matter, please reach out to us.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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