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Less adversarial child protection proceedings for vulnerable children

Legislation introduced into Parliament today will reform child protection proceedings in the Children’s Court to better focus on the best interests of the child.

The amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act, jointly developed by Attorney-General Robert Clark and Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge, will ensure that court proceedings are less intrusive and less adversarial.

The new legislation will help avoid and reduce further distress and trauma for vulnerable children and promote better outcomes for proceedings in the Family Division of the Children’s Court.

These reforms will:
• introduce ‘less adversarial trial’ principles modelled on those in the Commonwealth Family Law Act. These changes will strengthen the Children’s Court’s ability to use less formal court proceedings, will encourage respectful communication between parties and will reduce distress and confusion for children;

• ensure that children are generally not required to attend Family Division hearings unless they choose to, or are required to by the Court. Currently children as young as five can be required to attend court for child protection proceedings, which can be frightening and confusing for them;

• clarify that the standard of proof required in child protection matters is on the balance of probabilities and does not restrict the Court’s assessment of the likelihood of future risks; and

• extend the Children’s Court jurisdiction under the Family Violence Protection Act and Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act to allow the court to issue intervention orders in relation to child protection proceedings that are on foot in the courts.

Ms Wooldridge said that the amendments proposed in this Bill respond to a number of recommendations in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry report.

“The current environment of the Children’s Court can add to the trauma and harm experienced by vulnerable children and young people,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“These reforms will improve the experience and outcomes for children and facilitate decision-making in a way that promotes the best interests of the child.”

Mr Clark said the amendments will build on the Victorian Coalition Government’s previous reforms to better protect vulnerable children in the legal system.

“These include a major expansion of New Model Conferencing to enable the protection of children to be resolved through alternative approaches that minimise the need to go to court; amending the age at which young children are presumed to be mature enough to provide direct instructions to a lawyer; and the development of a new Children’s Court facility at Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court,” Mr Clark said.