James Gorman on getting the best out of the child protection system

James Gorman on getting the best out of the child protection system

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Children's law accredited specialist James Gorman
Children's law accredited specialist James Gorman

James Gorman says he can’t conceive a version of himself who isn’t a child protection lawyer.

It is not overstepping the mark to say it’s in his blood. His father, Joe Gorman, who still practises in the family firm Gorman and Hannan, was the first legal aid duty lawyer in the Children’s Court in the 1970s. 

James grew up with an understanding of the tragic tangles that children, parents, grandparents and carers brought to the family’s doorstep and though he wasn’t sure that the work was for him while studying law, he wasn’t long in the firm before he was convinced.

The breadth of James’s knowledge of child protection is almost as deep as the empathy he has for his clients.

He speaks of the environment in which his father worked in the seventies as the one now surfacing in Royal Commissions dealing with child abuse, talks of new legislation as having the potential to take Victoria back to a less progressive time, and has a view on how the future might look under that legislation with better collaborations and funding.

‘The significantly improved outcomes since the early days of the Children’s Court are the result of children and families being represented. That’s really important,’ he says.

High risks for vulnerable clients

James spoke of reforms he would like to see to ensure the system is responsive to the needs of vulnerable children, young people and families.

‘I have been assisting a 16-year-old mother whose infant child was out of her care for a year and in the second half of that year, the only outstanding concern was her inability to obtain a home,’ he said.

‘If a 16-year-old can’t get accommodation in Victoria, where does that leave those who might be considered less vulnerable?

‘Are we really comfortable as a society with the idea that a young mother should be separated from her baby solely because she can’t find a home?’

Suggestions for reform

James suggests:

  • funding representation (when a child is first removed on a protection application) for a parent wanting to maintain contact with a child, not just those seeking full-time care
  • making funding available for parents if a solicitor assesses that the prospects of overturning a non-reunification case plan in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal are sound.

To ‘empower and enfranchise’ children generally in the system James would support:

  • mandating the involvement of lawyers representing children in Department of Health and Human Services case planning meetings, and at certain junctures in the lives of orders
  • improving court atmospheres so that children feel comfortable about attending and participating in the process. 

James contributed to our child protection review and encouraged others to do the same.

‘The law is changing quickly in this area,’ he said. ‘It’s crucial that Victoria Legal Aid keeps up with the pace of change. Practitioners who work in the court are in a unique position to contribute so that we can get the best out of the system.’

Actions for change

On Wednesday 6 September 2017, we released 36 actions for change [link]  that commit us to improving child protection legal services across Victoria.

More information

See Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review, email childprotectionreview@vla.vic.gov.au or call Child Protection Review Project Manager Vincenzo Caltabiano – (03) 9269 0442.