Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of Family Law and Child Protection Systems: Report

Wednesday 26 October 2016 @ 2.08 p.m. | Legal Research

The Attorney General, on 19 October 2016, has released the Family Law Council’s final report of Families with complex needs and the intersection of the family law and child protection systems. The report concentrated on the opportunities to enhance collaboration and information sharing within the family law system as well as other support services such as child protection, mental health and family violence. The report is a response to the Attorney General’s request to consider a range of matters in relation to families with complex needs that are seeking to resolve family disputes.

Among other issues, some of those addressed are:

Risks to Children

The Family Law Council reported on the building of collaborative and integrated services in the identifying, assessing and responding to risks to children by receiving submissions from a range of stakeholders. According to the report:

“These submissions suggest that central to the success of this endeavour will be the strengthening of collaborative relationships and information sharing between family law and other relevant service sectors, including specialist family violence services, mental health and drug and alcohol services, and state and territory courts.”

The report also suggested a simplified tool to support risk identification in legal practice, as a basis for referring clients for a comprehensive risk assessment by a specialist family violence service or other risk assessment service. This comes from the report’s observation safety concerns for children are often missed. The report also recommended that a more systematic approach to responding to the needs of parents and children where risks are identified be developed where appropriate; such as a safety plan or referrals to relevant services.

Self-Representation

The report acknowledged that in more than half of the parenting cases, one or both parents would appear unrepresented and that this in turn is a significant burden on the parties involved. “Council notes in particular stakeholder concerns about the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses by abusive former partners” the report explained. The report also highlighted the lack of resources the Independent Children’s Lawyers suffer and its resulting incapacity to address these concerns. The report went on to recommend that the Australian Government should explore the viability and benefits of a Counsel Assisting model to assist the courts in cases where parties are self-represented.

Family Violence

The report stressed the need for greater competency in the understanding of family violence to better address it. The report says:

“This should include ongoing family violence training for professionals and staff at all levels in the system that incorporates an understanding of trauma-informed practice and the family violence experiences of women and children from high-risk groups.”

The report goes on to recommend accreditation requirements for family report writers and legal practitioners who practice family law as well as extend family violence training to judicial officers .

Children’s Views and Experiences

The report highlighted stakeholder’s concerns that children’s views are not given the respect necessary when responding to risk assessments. The report stressed this as an area for concern and reform. Concurrently, the report suggested that children’s experiences of family law processes should be used to inform the future development of policy and service responses to families with complex needs. To this extent, the report recommended a young person’s advisory panel be formed.

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