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Child, Youth and Families Act – Amendments

On 1 December 2013 the Victorian Government introduced amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 that governs community services, child protection and youth justice. The amendments are a series of changes following the Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry. The majority of the amendments have implications for Child Protection Services, with some potential impact for out of home care services. The changes will benefit outcomes for children and families in the Children’s Court with speedier resolution to matters, less delays, less exposure to the court environment and more efficient court processes.

The changes to the legislation relevant to child protection proceedings include:

  • Replacing references to ’taking a child into safe custody’ with ‘placing a child in emergency care’.
  • Substituting references to access with contact to reflect current terminology.  
  • Replacing dispute resolution conferences and legislate for conciliation conferences and processes and authority of the convenor in Children’s Court of Victoria.
  • Confirming that the balance of probabilities is the standard of proof in the Children’s Court  and that there is no requirement to determine the likelihood or unlikelihood of future abuse and neglect. This will enable proof of child abuse and neglect applications that in the past have been examined under a higher standard of proof. This will provide additional protection to children from abuse and neglect.
  • Introducing less adversarial trials to guide Children’s Court judicial officers to actively manage proceedings. Benefits include the promotion of collaborative relationships between parties and narrowing the issues of dispute to minimise delays to final outcomes for children.
  • Not requiring children to attend Court for hearings unless they wish to attend. The exceptions to this rule are where the child is ordered to attend by the Children’s Court or emergency care application. Any consequential breach (emergency care) applications will not require the child to attend court unless they wish to do so. This will minimise children’s exposure to the stressful environment of the Children’s Court.
  • Extending the powers of the Children’s Court of Victoria to hear applications under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 and Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 that relate to child protection proceedings. This will be a more efficient process for families as the one court can hear concurrent matters. Further, it allows these applications to be heard in either closed court or with specified people present. For authors of reports related to these applications it extends the functions of filing and notification to the requirement to attend court.
  • The change relevant to youth justice clients clarifies that there are 21 clear days when adjourning custody applications.

Proposed amendments 2014

There are some additional amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 that have been proposed for 2014.

One proposed amendment will provide a legislative framework for security practices at Secure Welfare Services that ensures the safety and wellbeing of all residents and staff.  

A second proposed amendment clarifies the circumstances in which reasonable force may be used within Secure Welfare Services and in out of home care. The definition of out of home carers includes foster carers or a person employed by an out of home care service to provide care or services to children in an out of home care service managed by the service.

This proposed amendment will allow Secure Welfare Services staff and out of home carers to use reasonable force, as a last resort, to prevent a child from harming themselves or others or damaging property. It will prohibit the use of physical force, unless reasonable and necessary to prevent harm to persons, damage to property, security reasons or as otherwise authorised by law. Further, it will prohibit corporal punishment or intimidation of a child and any form of physical or emotional abuse by out of home carers and Secure Welfare Services.

The Department of Human Services has committed to provide detailed advice to community service organisations on these proposed changes including training materials. In addition, the Quality of Care guidelines and related materials will be updated to reflect these changes.

Any new information that becomes available will be provided to you via the Centre's updates or e-news.


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