Working for a better future and outcomes for our children
Legal Aid’s Child Protection Early Intervention Program
- 21 February 2019
The child protection system can be difficult for vulnerable parents to navigate, particularly in the early stages of involvement by the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women. At times, community-based support agencies may be working with parents who urgently need legal advice and assistance about child protection issues.
Legal Aid’s Child Protection Early Intervention Program partners with community-based support agencies to receive referrals for parents who are involved with or are at risk of becoming involved with the child protection system. The Early Intervention Program works closely with support services to advocate for parents to receive the support and guidance they need to keep their children safe, which helps ensure that statutory child protection intervention occurs only as a last resort. Importantly, the assistance provided by the Early Intervention Program may involve legal advice and assistance before court proceedings begin. Lawyers in the Early Intervention Program can assist parents to negotiate with Child Safety with the aim of achieving a less intrusive outcome. The Early Intervention Program aims to work with community agencies to deliver a holistic service to parents, with lawyers working to meet the parent’s legal needs while support workers provide assistance with the client’s social and emotional needs.
The Child Protection Early Intervention Program is also supported by Legal Aid’s Indigenous Community Engagement Officer to deliver Community Legal Education and to engage and build connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through agencies such as QATSICPP.
A recent referral to the Early Intervention Program saw a community-based support agency refer a mother to the service for assistance with negotiations with Child Safety. Child Safety had become involved with the family due to concerns about substance abuse, housing, domestic violence and mental health. At the time of the Early Intervention Program’s involvement, the children were living in the care of family members under an informal safety plan. However, no arrangements had been made by Child Safety for the children to have contact with the mother. Although Child Safety had intervened, the matter had not yet progressed to a court application.
A lawyer working for Legal Aid’s Early Intervention Program had face-to-face meetings with the mother and her support worker, with the lawyer travelling to meet with the mother at the support worker’s office. This ensured that the meetings took place in a familiar space where the mother felt comfortable and allowed her to more easily access legal advice. With the permission of the mother, the support worker also remained during the meetings to provide emotional support.
During these meetings, the lawyer gave the mother legal advice about responding to Child Safety’s intervention and explored ways in which the lawyer could assist. The support worker also discussed how the community support agency was working to assist the mother to alleviate the concerns raised by Child Safety, including linking the mother in with appropriate services and assisting with the mother’s housing issues. By working together and sharing information, the lawyer and the support worker were able to better assist the mother to address the child protection issues.
The mother was initially hesitant to engage with the lawyer due to concerns about causing tension with Child Safety. The lawyer was able to reassure the mother that she could support her working relationship with Child Safety, while at the same time advocating for her to have contact with the children.
Working closely with the mother and her support worker, the lawyer began advocating for Child Safety to establish a contact regime between the mother and the children. This involved the Early Intervention Program lawyer attending a number of meetings at Child Safety’s offices to represent the mother. At each of these meetings, the lawyer worked collaboratively with the support worker to ensure that the mother was practically and emotionally supported to attend, and that she had a clear understanding of what would occur at the meeting.
Following negotiations with Child Safety, an agreement was reached for the mother to have unsupervised contact with the children for two nights each week. A longer-term plan was also established with Child Safety to gradually increase the children’s contact with the mother, with the aim of returning the children to her full-time care. The Early Intervention Program continues to work with the mother and the support agency to progress safe contact and to provide ongoing legal advice and assistance to the mother.
If your agency works with parents who need legal advice and assistance with child protection issues, Legal Aid’s Child Protection Early Intervention Program invites you to contact us to establish a referral pathway. The Early Intervention Program can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.