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 said he would like to see Victoria Legal Aid establish ‘a new class of grants’ which would enable children in care to push for changes in the way their orders are administered, for example to establish or resume contact with their birth families.

He 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 cites the Cubby House model at the Broadmeadows Children’s Court as a good example of this.

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.’

Key themes of submissions received

Submissions to our consultation and options paper closed on Wednesday 21 December 2016. They contained a great deal of useful feedback and suggestions about how our services might be improved.

Read more about the key themes of the submissions we received

View the snapshot of feedback

For an indication of the range of feedback we received, view the Sway presentation.

More information

For more information, see Child protection legal aid services review, email childprotectionreview@vla.vic.gov.au or call Child Protection Review Project Officer Siobhan Mansfield – (03) 9269 0298.