…In a Stage of Infacy

The news in Canberra recently has been rife with talk of reforms to the care and protection system (as well as the federal election) and access to information records. Of particular significance is an ACT Court of Appeal decision that overturned the decision of the Community Services Directorate to take several Aboriginal children into care almost six years ago.

The mother whose five children were wrongfully removed from her care has written to the ACT Legislative Assembly requesting it examine her case just days before an inquiry was announced, wrote the Canberra Times this week.

“The woman’s five children were removed from their home in “emergency action” in 2013. They were separated and put into three different foster homes, including one in NSW…

‘The trauma caused to the mother and her children can and will never be repaired. As a community, we need to ensure that our children are thriving in their family environments and that any family who is drawn into the child protection system here in the ACT has the required legal advice and representation. What has happened to this family should never happen again’.”

Former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope and other prominent Canberrans have called also for an inquiry into the child protection system in the ACT.
The Canberra Region Family Law Professional Association convened a panel discussion recently to debate some of the shortcomings of the system, drawing attention to the strong opinions held within the legal community about areas of improvements.

Out of this panel discussion and from recent news articles, some things to consider in addressing these systemic issues include:

  1. The need to provide ongoing training to Child and Youth and Protective Services (“CYPS”) staff on culture and unconscious bias.
  2. A stronger, and more independent, merit review process for how CYPS cases are presented and run in the Children’s Court.
  3. A greater level of legal assistance provided to parents and carers who participate in proceedings.
  4. Greater transparency of information and of the conduct of proceedings in Children’s Court matters, so that there is a level of accountability.
  5. The ability for parties to access information.
  6. The need to generally address the imbalance of power between parents and the Community Services Directorate.
If you think there are other ways the care and protection system can be improved, or if you have any feedback from your own experiences, we would love to hear from you – please leave a comment on our page, or contact us at FGD Facebook.

By Courtney Mullen.

Courtney is one of FGD’s directors based in Canberra.