Changes to practice standards for lawyers working with children

Changes to practice standards for lawyers working with children

Friday, 24 May 2019

We are updating our practice standards for lawyers performing legally aided work with children.

Children are among the most vulnerable in our legal system, and deserve high-quality legal services tailored to their needs.

With the help of a reference group of lawyers experienced in working with children, as well as the Children’s Court, Department of Health and Human Services and Aboriginal agency representatives, we recently developed Representing children in child protection proceedings: a guide for direct instructions and best interests lawyers.

This guide offers practical guidance to children’s lawyers to carry out their role confidently and effectively, covering key issues such as children’s participation, lawyer-child relationship, information gathering and analysis, confidentiality, and children’s needs.

While directed to child protection lawyers the guide may be applied to legal work with children in other jurisdictions.

To help embed the elements of good legal practice outlined in the guide, changes will apply to our practice standards from 27 May 2019 for all lawyers working with children, except Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICLs) in federal family law matters who already follow existing best practice guidelines.

The changes include:

  • updating the working with children section so the standards apply to lawyers representing children on either a direct instructions or best interests basis, unless explicitly stated
  • better articulating practitioner responsibilities in relation to meeting with children
  • including an explicit focus on communicating with children in ways that are appropriate to their age and development
  • making clear that practitioners’ role is to support and enhance a child’s capacity to instruct, not merely assess it
  • introducing requirements for child protection panel practitioners to be familiar with and follow the VLA guide Representing children in child protection proceedings and have up-to-date knowledge of relevant legislation.

We recognise that these changes reflect existing good practice so do not represent a major change for many practitioners.

Requirement for VLA referral in child protection matters

The standards have also been updated to reflect the new referral process for child protection matters. Child Protection Panel Practitioners will be required to only apply for a grant of legal assistance where a client has been referred by VLA, unless specific circumstances apply. These include:

  • a pre-existing relationship between the applicant for aid and practitioner
  • the applicant for aid was referred to the practitioner by a party other than VLA or DHHS
  • the applicant for aid directly selected the practitioner themselves.

The standards will require practitioners to confirm the source of client referrals by entering a reference number provided by VLA, or by recording how the client selected or was referred to the practitioner if not via VLA.

Independent Children’s Lawyers

Minor updates have also been made to the practice standards for ICLs to bring them in line with VLA’s existing funding guidelines around briefing counsel to appear as advocates.

More information

Review and download the updated practices standards at the practice standards.

For more information about the Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review or the guide Representing children in child protection proceedings please contact Jackie Anders, Project Coordinator Child Protection Transformation on jackie.anders@vla.vic.gov.au.

For more information about complying with the new practice standards please contact Panels on panels@vla.vic.gov.au.

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