24 August 2015

Family Law and Child Protection

The Family Law Council 144 page interim report into Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection Systems has been released by the national Attorney-General.

The report was commissioned in October last year
in response to increasing concerns about the parallel operation of the federal family law and state and territory child protection and family violence systems, and how that parallel operation may inadvertently contribute to greater risks for those affected by family violence and other complex needs.
The Attorney-General comments
The Council has provided a detailed and thoughtful report to Government on the first two terms of the reference. The report addresses the prospect of having a more streamlined, coherent and integrated approach to improve the overall safety of families and in particular children, when involved in the family law, child protection and family violence jurisdictions.  
I look forward to receiving the Council’s full report in June 2016. It will advise me on issues concerning enhanced collaboration and information sharing between the family courts and family relationship services as well as other relevant support services such as child protection, mental health, family violence, drug and alcohol, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and migrant settlement services.
The report notes
At the outset, Council notes the significant commitment to improving the interface between the family law, child protection and family violence systems across the organisations, services and individuals who contributed to this reference. Council also notes the complexities of this endeavour and that some stakeholders supported a measured approach to creating a more integrated system for children and families. At the same time, Council is aware of the urgency of the task, and that many of those who assisted Council in its work on this report regard this matter as an issue that should be given priority by all governments in Australia. Council also notes the concern that any reforms should be adequately resourced.  
The remainder of this chapter provides an overview of the empirical and practice context for the issues discussed in this report. This includes a description of recent developments affecting the family law system (at 1.1), followed by descriptions of the law and practice governing children's courts and child protection matters in Australia (at 1.2) and the law and practice governing parenting matters in the family law system (at 1.3). The final section of this chapter describes a recent reform proposal in Western Australia to enhance collaboration between the child protection and family law systems in that state (at 1.4).  
Chapter 2 focuses on question 1 of the terms of reference, which asks Council to report on the legal and practical obstacles to greater co-operation between the family law and child protection systems. This chapter draws on the submissions and consultations to describe the key areas of intersection and gaps between these systems, and the difficulties experienced by families and services associated with these circumstances. This chapter also examines the capacity for transferring proceedings between the federal family courts and state and territory children's courts and the legal and practical limitations of this approach as a solution to the problems described by stakeholders.  
Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the second question of Council’s terms of reference about the capacity for providing the children's courts and family courts with a measure of co-extensive jurisdiction, and the benefits and challenges of doing so.  
Chapter 5 draws on the submissions and consultations to explore the possibilities for creating specialist multi-jurisdiction family violence courts based on the principle of ‘one family, one judge’. This chapter also provides a description of the practice and policy context governing the making of family violence protection orders by state and territory magistrates courts, which are often the first point of contact with the legal system for families with complex needs.  
Chapter 6 draws on the submissions and consultations to canvass ways in which the working relationships between the child protection and family law systems might be improved within current jurisdictional frameworks. This chapter explores areas of effective and promising practice and ideas for enhancing the integration of services across the different systems.  
Chapter 7 sets out Council’s views and preliminary recommendations about these issues.