Transforming our child protection services

Transforming our child protection services

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

One year on from the final report of our Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review we are making good progress on improving the way we help children and families navigate the child protection system.   

‘The review committed us to 36 actions to ensure our services better support children, particularly those at long-term risk of disadvantage. We are also focused on making our services high quality, timely and appropriate, and consistent across the state,’ Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law, Nicole Rich said.

‘Through our Young Persons Advisory Forum we are drawing on the insights of young people with lived experience of child protection and out of home care to help us design services that promote the best interests of children and young people.’

Actions underway  

In October, our pilot non-legal advocacy service, Independent Family Advocacy and Support, will begin operating in Greater Bendigo and the Darebin and Moreland areas of Melbourne. The service will provide early help to families who have not yet had to go to court, with a focus on Aboriginal families and parents with intellectual disabilities, supporting them as they navigate the child protection system. The aim of the service is to better help families understand and participate in what is happening, have their needs addressed and reduce the number of cases progressing to court.

‘October will also bring some important changes to child protection grant guidelines that will increase legal assistance available to children, young people, parents and carers,’ Nicole said.

Grants of assistance will be made available for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children placed in out of home care in interim disputes about parental or sibling contact, in recognition of the importance of cultural and family connections. The changes will also remove the post-conciliation conference fee and introduce a new guideline to fund responding to appeals.

The development of new, state-wide child protection duty lawyer guidelines is well underway, with implementation on track for early 2019. New guidance for lawyers representing children is also progressing well.

‘We are consulting closely with private practitioners, our staff practice and others on these important pieces of work,’ Nicole said.

The Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre and Women’s Legal Services Victoria are also receiving funding to provide child protection legal services on an ongoing basis, following a successful two-year pilot program.

Aboriginal families in regional Victoria will soon have greater access to culturally appropriate legal assistance, as we are close to finalising funding agreements with Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Djirra to expand their child protection work.

We are also working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services on a joint workforce development strategy to improve the knowledge and understanding of each other’s work, and of the important role of the court in child protection matters.

What’s next?

In the coming months we will begin work with practitioners and the Children’s Court to develop regional child protection networks and regular court user meetings. We also want to support legal practitioners to improve their services through child protection-specific professional development opportunities.

We will finalise our child protection community legal education strategy, and also start planning our pilot of increased best interests representation for children under 10 to commence in 2019.

There are high volumes of child protection notifications in Shepparton and the La Trobe Valley, so we are recruiting two new child protection lawyer roles in these regions to increase the proportion of work we undertake.

Changes to the implementation plan

While we continue working towards completing actions from the review, a small number have been delayed at this time due to financial constraints.

We have postponed plans for a Health Justice Partnership pilot to provide early advice and legal representation to pregnant women who are the subject of a child protection report about their unborn child.

We still intend to employ new staff to support the professional development of child protection lawyers, but this has been delayed until early 2019. Recruitment of two further in-house child protection lawyers has also been postponed.

We have also had to postpone funding for a third community legal centre to join Loddon Campaspe CLC and the Women’s Legal Service Victoria in providing child protection services.

‘Nonetheless, these actions remain key priorities for us as we continue to improve and transform the way we deliver child protection services,’ Nicole said.

More information

If you would like to know more information about any of these actions, please contact the Child Protection Transformation team on childprotectiontransformation@vla.vic.gov.au.

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