On Tuesday, 14 July 2020, the Child Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (Qld) (the Bill) was introduced into the Queensland Parliament by the Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women, Di Farmer. The Bill responds to the findings of the Deputy State Coroner in the Coroners Court of Queensland delivered on 2 June 2020 following the inquest into the death of 22 month old Mason Jet Lee (Mason).
In June 2016, 22 month old Mason was found dead in a Caboolture home, after being punched in the stomach by his mother's then-partner. The boy's stepfather and his mother were subsequently jailed for manslaughter and child cruelty. The Deputy State Coroner, Jane Bentley, in her report said the Department of Child Safety [the Department] failed in its duty to protect the little boy from "the risk of serious harm he faced in the months prior to his death". The Deputy State Coroner found that Mason should have been removed from the care of his mother and stepfather and that the boy died from peritonitis after being punched so hard his intestines ruptured.
The Government’s response to the coronial findings were tabled in the Queensland Parliament on 17 June 2020. Of six recommendations, the key recommendation was 6(b) which provided that:
The objectives of the Bill as stated in the Minister's Explanatory Statement are to:
The Bill also includes a technical amendment to the Adoption Act 2009 (QLD) to allow the chief executive of the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women (DCSYW) to apply for final adoption orders for a small number of children from overseas.
Amendments to the Child Protection Act 1999 (QLD) relating to permanency: The Bill proposes to amend the Child Protection Act 1999 (QLD) by clarifying that adoption is an option for achieving permanency for children in care by providing that adoption is the third preference in the order of priority for deciding whether an action or order best achieves permanency for a child. This excludes Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children where the legislation recognises that adoption means different things to different cultures, and the Bill according to the Minister "cements adoption as the least preferred option for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children coming into the Child Safety system.”
The Bill proposes to amend the principles in the Child Protection Act 1999 (QLD) section 5BA(4) to provide that for a child who is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, the third preference for deciding if an action or order achieves permanency for a child is for the child to be adopted under the Adoption Act 2009 (QLD). Further, to clarify the importance of stability and continuity for children in care, and implement the intent of the Deputy State Coroner’s recommendation 6(b), the Bill also provides that after adoption, the next (or last) preference for a child who is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is for the child to be cared for under the guardianship of the chief executive of the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women.
Section 7 of the Adoption Act 2009 (QLD) provides that because adoption as established under that Act, is not part of Aboriginal tradition or Island custom, adoption of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child should be considered as a way of meeting the child’s need for long-term stable care only if there is no better available option. The amendments proposed by the Bill align with section 7 by providing in section 5BA that in the order of priority for achieving permanency, if the child is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, the last preference is for the child to be adopted under the Adoption Act 2009 (QLD). This is also because adoption has the potential to infringe upon the unique cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including connection with families, communities and cultures.
The Bill, according to the Explanatory Statement, will realise the objective of "clarifying the importance of and promoting alternative permanency options" for children subject to a child protection order granting long-term guardianship order to the chief executive of the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women by inserting new section 51VAA that requires the chief executive of the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women to review the case plan for a child two years after the order was made. This review must consider whether permanency for the child would be best achieved by an alternative arrangement as provided for in section 5BA(4).
Amendments to the Adoption Act 2009: The Bill includes minor and technical amendments to the Adoption Act 2009 (QLD) to enable the chief executive of the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women to apply to the court for a final adoption order for a small number of children from overseas. The Bill amends the Adoption Act 2009 (QLD) section 198 to provide that section 198 applies where the Federal Minister responsible for administering the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 (Cth) (IGOC) has placed children in the custody of the prospective adoptive parents between 30 April 2018 and 1 July 2019, enabling the chief executive of the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women to apply to the court for a final adoption order for the relevant children.
In a joint media release the QLD Premier stated that:
In the same joint media release the Minister commented on the Bill's establishment of a new requirement for the Director General to review the case plan for any child under the Ministers care, after 24 months, to assess the best options for long-term permanency, saying:
After its introduction on 14 July 2020 the Bill was referred to the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee for inquiry, review and report back to Parliament.
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Child Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 [QLD], explanatory statement and 2nd Reading Speech as reported in TimeBase's LawOneService.
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