Child Protection Week runs from Sunday 6 September 2015 to Saturday 12 September 2015. Fundamentally it is about raising awareness for the fact that all children have the right to feel safe and protected. It also promotes the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the child protection sector.
In Queensland, families and children are very fortunate to have access to a range of support to help ensure that children are safe. That support comes in many forms ranging from volunteers in community organisations, Government Departments, Queensland Police and medical practitioners.
This week is a good opportunity to reflect on the practical ways that the family law system prioritises the fundamental need for every child to be protected when a family relationship breaks down.
The Family Law Act makes clear that in parenting proceedings, protecting a child from harm is the primary consideration. Since June 2012, it has been compulsory to file a Notice of Risk of Harm and Family Violence in proceedings for parenting orders so that the Court and each other party involved is aware of the risks to the child and to ensure that any resolution, whether by agreement or Court order deals with those risk appropriately. Importantly, the notice does not just focus on circumstances where a child has themselves been the victim of the abuse or harm. It is far broader and includes circumstances where a child is at risk of harm or where the child has been exposed indirectly to the behaviour, such as seeing the abuse of another person, such as a parent or sibling.
Once issues of risk have been raised, the Court has a wide range of options and powers to help explore the issues and work out the best way to protect a child from harm. While every situation is different depending on the circumstances some of the ways the Court acts to ensure children are protected include:
1. Arranging for the children to be independently represented in Court by their own lawyer is appointed and paid for by Legal Aid Queensland. The Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) helps guide the Judge about what arrangements are in the children’s best interests and how best to protect the children from the identified risks;
2. Arranging for a Family Consultant to meet with the children and the parents and to report back to the Court as soon as possible. The Family Consultant’s report helps to ensure the Judge has the best information to be able to make a decision to protect the children from harm, especially in the short-term;
3. In more severe cases, the Court can and does ask the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (DOCS) to intervene to ensure that children are placed in the care of a parent, grandparent or another person who is best placed to ensure the children are safe and well cared for.
In circumstances where there are ongoing concerns about personal safety and domestic violence, children can also be expressly named as persons protected by an order under the Queensland Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act.
As family lawyers we take allegations of risk of harm to children seriously and can help guide you through the options to ensure an optimal outcome for your children.