Going to court and working to reunite families
What’s involved and what can I do?
This is the second guide in the Working together for kids series. Download Guide 2 – Going to court and working to reunite families: What’s involved and what can I do?
- The purpose of this guide
- Children and young people
- At a glance
- Why might CYPS take court action?
- What happens at the ACT Childrens Court
- Preparing for court
- The Court’s authority
- Restoration planning
- Working with CYPS to meet my child’s needs
- What can I do to give my child the best chance I can of returning home?
The purpose of this guide
The purpose of this guide is to provide you with information about what happens when Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS) takes court action to ensure the care and protection of your child, and how you can work with CYPS to help your child be returned to your care.
Specifically, this guide will tell you about:
- What might lead CYPS to decide to take court action.
- What happens at the ACT Childrens Court.
- What Care and Protection Orders are.
- How you can best prepare for attending court.
- What needs to happen for your child to be returned to your care.
- What a Restoration Plan is.
- How best to work with CYPS.
By providing this information we aim to help parents and family members understand how the child protection system works in the ACT so we can best work together for the benefit of children and families.
If you would like to speak to someone, please contact your case worker in the first instance or use the contacts provided.
The information provided is intended as a guide only and you are encouraged to seek legal advice regarding your particular circumstances where necessary.
This is the second guide in the ‘Working together for kids’ series. Please contact your case worker if you would like a copy of the other guides:
- Guide 1 – Child Concern Reports: What are they and what does it mean if someone makes a report about my child?
- Guide 3 – When children are in care: What happens with my child when they are in care and what can I do to have them come home?
- Guide 4 – Feedback and raising concerns: How can I let others know what I think?
- Guide 5 – Representing yourself in court: What do I need to know to navigate care and protection court processes?
The ‘Working together for kids’ guide series has been developed in partnership between CYPS and the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service. Acknowledgement also goes to the Family Inclusion Network ACT who was involved in the original Working together for kids book on which the guide series is based.
Children and young people
In reading this guide, the terms ‘child’ and ‘children’ also refer to ‘young person’ and ‘young people’.
- To speak to my case worker: 6207 1069 (North team), 6207 1466 (South team)
- To make a Child Concern Report: 1300 556 729
- P: 6110 2200
- P: 6234 7600 | E: email@example.com
- P: 6243 3411 or 1300 654 314 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- P: 6205 2222
- P: 1800 176 468 | email@example.com
- West Belconnen: 6205 2904
- Gungahlin: 6207 0120
- Tuggeranong: 6207 8228
- P: 6207 5294 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Please ask for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Feedback and raising concerns
The ACT Government is committed to making its information, services, events and venues, accessible to as many people as possible.
If you have difficulty reading this content and would like to receive this publication in an alternative format, such as large print or audio, please call (02) 6205 0282.
If English is not your first language and you require the translating and interpreting service, please call 131 450.
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To access the ACT Interpreter Service for the deaf and blind, please call (02) 6287 4391.
At a glance
What can happen when court action is taken involving the care and protection of your child.
An appraisal (investigation) and/or a Family Assessment of your child’s situation and needs, determines your child is ‘in need of care and protection’.
If the Court agrees, your child is cared for by someone else (a carer) who is given parental responsibility for them and can make decisions concerning their day-to-day care. Care and Protection Orders are usually for at least 12 months. The order will include information about contact with your child.
CYPS works with you to implement a Restoration Plan for your child to return to your care. This plan outlines what needs to change before your child can go home.
Support services are offered to you to assist with making positive changes in your situation. You may also be required to take part in drug testing if drug use is a risk to your child.
Your contact with your child will increase as your circumstances change for the better and your child’s risk of harm decreases.
CYPS provides an annual report to reviewing your child’s care arrangements and whether the care order should remain (and your child continues in care) or be revoked (and your child is returned to your home).
The circumstances of each family are different and so the specifics of a court order and the involvement of CYPS will also be different for each family. CYPS will work closely with you, your child and family, and your child’s carer at each step to ensure the right support for everyone is put in place and the best interests of your child are upheld.
Why might CYPS take court action?
When CYPS receives a Child Concern Report they are legally required to look into the matter to determine if your child may be ‘in need of care and protection’. When CYPS forms a belief your child is likely to be in need of care and protection they conduct an appraisal, which is a thorough investigation of your child’s situation and needs. In response to the appraisal a number of things can happen:
- a Family Assessment
- creation of a Voluntary Care Agreement
- Emergency Action
- court action to get a Care and Protection Order.
The Family Assessment is a way for CYPS to hear from you and others connected to your family to better understand your child’s and family’s situation and needs.
Sometimes, it may be appropriate to use a Voluntary Care Agreement to allow another person to care for your child on a short-term, voluntary basis. This action does not require a court application.
Where CYPS believes your child and family need medium or longer-term support, and sometimes out of home care for your child, a Care and Protection Order may be applied for in the ACT Childrens Court. If immediate care is needed, CYPS will take Emergency Action.
All these actions are intended to ensure your family receives the support it needs to look after your child in a way that keeps them safe from harm.
A Family Assessment is a thorough assessment of your family’s situation and your child’s needs. It is used by CYPS to understand in detail what is happening and the risks your child is exposed to. It can also be used by CYPS to present evidence to the ACT Childrens Court in support of a Care and Protection Order application.
Your participation in the assessment is voluntary. However, if you choose not to participate, CYPS can take court action that will require you to take part.
The best way to move forward and sort out the agency’s concerns about your child is to work alongside CYPS. By talking openly and honestly with them, CYPS will get a good understanding of your family’s situation and the particular needs of your child and family, in order to provide the best form of support to everyone involved.
At the beginning of the assessment, CYPS is required to make sure all family members are aware that the information gathered during the assessment will be recorded and may be admitted to the ACT Childrens Court as evidence in the future.
The goals of the Family Assessment are to:
- identify your child’s needs
- identify how risk in your family can be reduced
- identify if your parenting skills, or those of anyone else who cares for your child, need to be improved and how
- consider where your child should live
- consider who your child should have contact with
- identify what (if any) supports might assist you, your child and any other children in your family.
Completing the assessment usually takes several weeks and involves several meetings between your family and CYPS.
As part of the assessment process, CYPS will also conduct interviews with any relevant professionals working with your family, plus other relevant people such as your child’s class teacher. CYPS does not need your permission to speak with these people.
At the end of the assessment, the CYPS staff conducting the assessment will record a professional opinion about:
- the strengths and risks in your child’s home environment
- the quality of your child’s relationships
- your child’s developmental needs and progress
- your ability as a parent to provide suitable care for your child.
When the assessment process is finished, CYPS will arrange a face-to-face meeting with you to discuss the content of the assessment report and the opinions expressed in it. All people with parental responsibility for your child will be given a complete copy of the report.
Where CYPS has concerns about your family and the care being provided to your child (or children), CYPS may arrange a meeting with you and other family members. The purpose is to ensure family members are aware of the reasons for CYPS’ concerns about your child’s safety, and to discuss what needs to happen to resolve the concerns.
You have a right to reply to the content of the Family Assessment report. If you believe there are mistakes in the report or you have been misrepresented, you should put this in writing and send it to the CYPS staff responsible for writing the report. You can also raise these concerns at the meeting if you haven’t beforehand.
You also have a right to make a complaint about the assessment process. Please use the details provided in the Contacts section, or ask your case worker for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Feedback and raising concerns .
If you are told CYPS will be applying for a Care and Protection Order for your child and you are not happy with the content of the Family Assessment report (which will be used in evidence) you should seek legal advice. For more information see Care and Protection Orders.
Voluntary Care Agreement
A Voluntary Care Agreement is a legal agreement CYPS can make with you to share parental responsibility for your child for a short period of time. It is signed by one or both parents (or persons with parental responsibility) as well as your child if they are 15 years or older and agree with the Voluntary Care Agreement.
A Voluntary Care Agreement does not require a court application. It allows you to request CYPS to arrange a temporary placement for your child with an approved carer for an agreed period of time. Usually, you can nominate a person within your family or extended family network to care for your child. This is called ‘kinship care’. The nominated person will need to comply with an assessment process to ensure they are suitable before your child is placed with them. If kinship care is not suitable, your child will be placed in an ‘out of home care’ placement. This could be with a pre-approved foster carer, or may be a residential facility or hospital.
An initial Voluntary Care Agreement should be no longer than 6-10 days, and a Child Protection Case Conference should take place during that time. The purpose of the conference is to develop a clear plan for your child to be returned to your care at the end of the agreement period, and that everyone involved is clear about what will be achieved during that time.
Legally, a Voluntary Care Agreement can be extended for up to six months, however, CYPS will only consider an extension if it is clearly in your child’s best interests.
Voluntary Care Agreements are made in accordance with Section 397 of the Children and Young People Act 2008, which requires:
- consent to the agreement is voluntary and must be made on the principles of informed consent (see section ‘Legal definitions’ for what this means)
- consent from your child if they are aged 15 years or older and have the mental capacity to understand what the agreement means
- the agreement is in the best interests of your child
- your child would not be in immediate need of care and protection if they were to return to your care.
Emergency Action is used by CYPS to secure the immediate safety and wellbeing of your child in response to either a Child Protection Report or an appraisal process that indicates your child is at imminent risk of abuse or neglect.
This action allows CYPS to temporarily remove your child from your care and transfer the daily parental responsibility to the Director General, Community Services Directorate, for an initial period of no more than two working days.
During this time, CYPS must make an application to the ACT Childrens Court for a Care and Protection Order to continue the Director General’s parental responsibility for your child. In doing so, CYPS will seek to provide sufficient evidence that your child is ‘in need of care and protection’. If CYPS is unable to demonstrate this, the ACT Childrens Court will order your child be immediately returned to your care.
Emergency Action is not taken lightly by CYPS. In assessing the need for this action to happen, CYPS must consider whether your child is:
- in immediate need of care and protection, or
- likely to be in immediate need of care and protection if the Emergency Action is not taken.
Sometimes a parent is considered unable to protect their child because they have a history of failing to protect, despite their stated willingness to do so. An example might be when a parent experiences significant mental illness that affects the way they are able to protect their child.
After Emergency Action is taken
When CYPS takes Emergency Action, they must notify you and any other person who has parental responsibility for your child. The Public Advocate and the ACT Childrens Court must also be notified by CYPS.
In caring for your child during the two-working day period (that is between CYPS taking Emergency Action and presenting the application to the ACT Childrens Court), the Director General will arrange for someone to care for and be responsible for your child.
As with a Voluntary Care Agreement, you can usually nominate a carer from within your family or extended family network to care for your child. If there is no one suitable within your family who can provide a temporary home for your child, CYPS will arrange for someone else to care for them. This is likely to be a pre-approved foster carer, but could also be staff at a residential home.
During the two-working day period, CYPS will undertake further appraisal activities, which may include a medical examination of your child. CYPS may also make further enquiries about your child's welfare, including interviews with your child, family members and/or people who are significant in your child’s life. This information may be used as evidence in court.
Care and Protection Orders
The Child and Young People Act 2008 allows CYPS to apply to the ACT Childrens Court for a Care and Protection Order that is specific to the needs of your child. The ACT Childrens Court will only make a Care and Protection Order if it:
- is satisfied your child is in need of care and protection
- has considered the Care Plan prepared by CYPS that outlines what needs to happen to secure your child’s safety and wellbeing
- is satisfied:
- the provisions included in the order are necessary to ensure the care and protection of your child
- making the order is in the best interests of your child.
This means the Court must itself be satisfied your child is in need of care and protection. The Court does not simply accept what CYPS believes.
In considering the needs of your child, a Care and Protection Order may include a:
- contact provision specifying who and when you, another parent, family member or friend can have contact with your child
- supervision provision giving CYPS the right to supervise your child’s care arrangements and regularly visit your family
- drug use provision requiring a parent to attend regular drug testing
- residence provision specifying where and with who your child lives
- short-term parental responsibility provision specifying who can make day-to-day and long-term care decisions for your child for up to two years
- long-term parental responsibility provision specifying who can make day-to-day and long-term care decisions for your child until your child turns 18.
If you are not sure what these provisions mean or what they will require, seek legal advice or speak to your case worker.
All Care and Protection Orders are time limited and usually last for one year, two years or until your child is 18 years old. For each year an order is in place for your child, CYPS is required to provide the Public Advocate with an Annual Review Report. This report outlines your child’s progress over the past 12 months and provides the opportunity for CYPS to indicate whether the order is still required. You, and any other original party to the order, can also apply to the ACT Childrens Court to request the order be amended or revoked. For more information see Types of Care and Protection Orders, Annual Review Reports, and Legal review of decisions and changing orders.
What happens at the ACT Childrens Court
The ACT Childrens Court is responsible for hearing matters that relate to the care and protection of children. When CYPS investigates allegations made in a Child Concern Report and determines a Care and Protection Order is needed to secure your child’s safety, it will be the ACT Childrens Court who decides what should happen.
The ACT Childrens Court is located in the Magistrates Court on Knowles Place, Canberra City. Access to the Childrens Court is through a separate entrance to the left of the main Magistrates’ entrance as you face the building.
When you arrive, you will need to wait until your case is ready to be heard. Court staff will announce when it is your turn.
There is no childcare available at the ACT Childrens Court. It is also likely that sensitive information will be discussed with you that is not appropriate for children to hear. If you have young children, you will need to find an alternative place for them to go while you attend court.
Court can also be a time of heightened emotion and anxiety. You are allowed to bring support people with you, such as a friend, family member, advocate or a staff member from a community agency. They will be able to wait with you before your case is heard. However, support people are only allowed to go into the actual hearing if consent has been given by all parties involved, such as the Registrar or Magistrate, court staff and legal representatives.
Your child’s representative
When court action is taken, your child will be represented by a lawyer who is appointed by Legal Aid. This representative is independent of CYPS and is concerned only with ensuring your child’s best interests are being served by the legal process.
It is likely your child’s representative will approach you in court to introduce themselves. They may also suggest meeting your child either at their office or at your home (if your child is currently living with you). This may take place before your case is presented in court.
Involvement of your child’s representative with your family is only for the duration of the legal process and they will not continue to meet with you or your child after the court process is completed.
Case Management Conferences
Most of the time, your first appearance at the ACT Childrens Court will be at a Case Management Conference rather than appearing before a Magistrate. A conference is a less formal process than going before a Magistrate and is chaired by a Registrar or Deputy Registrar of the Court.
The purpose of the conference is to talk about the proposed Care and Protection Order CYPS is seeking from the ACT Childrens Court. It is used to inform the Court whether you, and all other parties involved, agree with the order and what it includes.
When everyone involved agrees with the order, it will usually be granted. If there is disagreement between the parties, the matter will be progressed through either an adjournment or by going before a Magistrate.
The adjournment can be used for CYPS to gather more information and for you to have the time to seek legal advice. During this time, a Magistrate may make an interim Care and Protection Order to put in place temporary care arrangements for your child until your matter is heard again in Court. The Magistrate will provide a date for when you are to return to the ACT Childrens Court.
Types of Care and Protection Orders
Care and Protection Orders will either be granted by the ACT Childrens Court on an interim or final basis.
An interim Care and Protection Order is usually granted at the first application to put in place short-term protective arrangements for your child, and to provide time to evaluate the arrangements before finalising the order. This time is used to see how your child responds to their new arrangements and to note what changes (if any) you are able to make in that time.
This might mean allowing time for CYPS or an independent assessor to gather further information about your child and family (such as through a comprehensive Family Assessment process) or allowing time for you to make some immediate changes to your circumstances that might increase the safety and wellbeing of your child. This could include securing appropriate accommodation, a violent partner leaving your home, entering a detoxification or rehabilitation program, or simply establishing a successful working relationship with CYPS.
Where you have been asked to make changes to your circumstances, such as those mentioned above, working with CYPS and completing these tasks as effectively as possible will reflect positively on you in Court and increase the likelihood of your child being returned to your care.
When an interim order is granted, the ACT Childrens Court will always set a return court date so you know when you need to attend Court next. During this time, it is a good idea to seek any further legal advice you need. Speak to your lawyer about the circumstances of your case if necessary, and keep in touch with your case worker.
A final Care and Protection Order is granted when the ACT Childrens Court is satisfied it has sufficient information to determine your child is in need of care and protection, and making a Care and Protection Order is in your child’s best interests. A final order is usually made for either 12 months, two years or until your child turns 18.
When a final order is granted, this completes the court process in relation to the original application.
Annual Review Reports
All Care and Protection Orders are time limited and must be reviewed every 12 months. CYPS is required to submit an Annual Review Report to the Public Advocate each year on the anniversary of the order until it expires.
The report outlines your child’s progress over the past year and provides the opportunity for CYPS to indicate whether the order is still required. CYPS can make an application to the ACT Childrens Court to revoke the order if it believes on reasonable grounds your child would not be in need of care and protection if the order were removed.
A copy of the report will be given to your child, anyone who holds parental responsibility and your child’s carer.
Legal review of decisions and changing orders
Most decisions made by CYPS can be reviewed by the ACT Childrens Court. As part of the annual review of your child’s Care and Protection Order, you and any other original party to the order, can apply to the ACT Childrens Court to request the order be amended or revoked – for instance you may want to change the contact arrangements for your child, or argue that the order is no longer needed as your circumstances have changed and there is no longer any risk to your child’s safety or wellbeing.
An application can only be made if you (or the person making the application) believe on reasonable grounds that the amendment is in the best interests of your child.
An application to amend or revoke the order can in special circumstances be made prior to the annual 12-month review. This can only happen if the ACT Childrens Court is satisfied there has been significant and sustained change in any relevant circumstances since the last review and order were made.
If you believe your circumstances have changed to the extent where your child would no longer be at risk when in your care, you should discuss this with your case worker. Changes to your circumstances can include leaving a relationship where domestic violence has occurred or successfully completing a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.
The easiest way to have an order amended or revoked is to work with CYPS towards achieving a situation where CYPS believes it is your child’s best interests to return to your care. A key aim of CYPS is to reunite families and they will work with you to achieve this. For more information go to What has to happen for my child to come home?
If you believe your circumstances have significantly changed but CYPS does not support the need for making a change to your child’s Care and Protection Order, you can seek legal advice about whether you have grounds for making an application to vary or revoke the order.
Similarly, each time CYPS makes an application in the ACT Childrens Court regarding your child (for example initiating Emergency Action or when applying for the Care and Protection Order) all CYPS affidavits filed in relation to the matter can be challenged by affidavits of other parties, the views of your child’s separate legal representative and also the views of the Public Advocate.
Preparing for court
The following tips will help you get ready for attending the ACT Childrens Court.
- Make a record of when you need to attend Court. If you don’t attend, the Court can still make an order without hearing your side of the story and you will be bound by any orders made. Not attending Court can reflect badly on you and may make it harder for you to argue your case in the future.
- Ensure you are represented by a lawyer in court. Important decisions are made in court which could affect you and your child over the long term. If you cannot get legal representation at least seek legal advice from community legal services before the day. If you intend to represent yourself in Court, please ask your case worker for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Representing yourself in court.
- Know what you want in advance. Make sure your lawyer has enough information too. It will help you if you read all the documents CYPS has given you and write down what you don’t agree with. Also write down any things you have been doing to improve or change your circumstances. Give both these lists to your lawyer.
- Take pens and a notebook so you can write notes. You may be asked questions and get the chance to have your say. Be aware that anything you say will be used to make the final decision. Think about what questions you may be asked and consider how you might best respond.
- Make any childcare arrangements you may need. Court is not a child-friendly place and sensitive information may be discussed.
- Be early.this way you can speak to your lawyer beforehand.
- Be prepared to wait for your case to be called. There may be other cases ahead of you and you need to be patient.
- If you don’t want to be in the same waiting room as someone you conflict with, speak to your lawyer, a court staff member if you do not have a lawyer, or your case worker about where to go. Separate rooms or security support can be organised if needed.
- Turn off your mobile phone before going into court.
- Remember to bow to the Magistrate as you enter and leave, and address them as ‘Your Honour’. There is no official address for Registrars so address them in any respectful way you feel comfortable with.
- Do not leave the court once you are there. Important decisions are made in court and your case may be heard with or without you present.
- Remember, everything is focused on what is in the best interests of your child and how this can be achieved.
- If you don’t understand what is going on, you can ask the Magistrate, a court staff member or your lawyer to explain it to you.
- A separate child representative (a lawyer) will be appointed for your child.
Who will be in the courtroom?
ACT Childrens Court proceedings are not open to the public. Depending on what you are attending Court for, the following people are allowed in the courtroom:
- Childrens Court Magistrate
- you and your child's other parent
- parties to the proceedings and their lawyers (including your child and your child’s lawyer)
- Court officers
- anyone the Court admits as your child’s representative
- the Director General or an authorised person from CYPS
- a representative from the Public Advocate (the Public Advocate can intervene in proceedings and represent the rights of children in care and protection matters)
- a person or representative of an entity that has provided a report about your child
- anyone who has parental responsibility for your child (however, carers are not usually parties to the proceedings)
- anyone else required or permitted to be present by the ACT Childrens Court or by law.
You can have support people with you at Court. However, for them to be present in the actual courtroom during the proceedings, consent is required by all other parties involved, such as the Registrar or Magistrate, court staff and legal representatives.
Will my child have to participate in the proceedings?
The ACT Childrens Court must ensure your child understands what is happening and what might happen to them after a Court decision is made. This is usually left to your child's lawyer or their case worker to explain to your child.
Remember, your child will be represented by their own lawyer, appointed free by Legal Aid. This lawyer must ensure the views and wishes of your child are put to the Court. This lawyer is completely independent from you and from CYPS.
The Court’s authority
The ACT Childrens Court can decide on your case without you being present, if CYPS proves they gave you copies of the court documents or made reasonable attempts to do so within a reasonable time before the hearing.
The Magistrate deciding on your case may also make a different Care and Protection Order to the one you expect if they believe it is in your child’s best interests.
An order made by the ACT Childrens Court overrides any orders made in the Family Court of Australia. If a Family Court order is in place when a Childrens Court Care and Protection Order is made, the Family Court order will cease to have effect while the care order is in force.
The role of the ACT Childrens Court Magistrate is to determine:
- Is your child (or children) in need of care and protection?
- Is there a person with parental responsibility who is willing AND able to provide care that will protect your child from abuse or neglect?
Where the answers to these questions are ‘yes’, your child is in need of care and protection and ‘no’, there is not a person with parental responsibility who is both willing AND able to protect them, the ACT Childrens Court will be informed by the Care Plan developed by CYPS for ensuring your child’s needs are met. The Care Plan will outline what needs to happen to secure your child’s safety and wellbeing.
In some instances, you may be able to appeal the decision made by the ACT Childrens Court. You should get legal advice if this is something you want to do.
If you choose not to comply with any aspect of the Court’s order you may be charged with breaching the order, which is an offence under the Act. A warrant can be issued for the Police to enter and search premises and remove your child if you try to hide or harbour them.
The ACT Childrens Court is concerned primarily with the wellbeing of your child. Any shortcomings of CYPS or difficulties you have with how your child’s placement is managed are not the issues being decided by the Court. Any issues you have with CYPS needs to be taken through the Public Advocate or the complaints process. See What to do if? Common concerns.
If your child is put in care, they will be looked after by an approved kinship or foster carer, or residential home staff. Their role is to ensure your child’s safety and wellbeing while the Care and Protection Order is in place. You are encouraged to read the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, When children are in care, for detailed information about what happens when your child is in care. Please ask your case worker for a copy.
While your child is in care, a key focus for CYPS is to reunite them with you and your family when there is no longer significant risk to your child if they were to return to your home. CYPS will work closely with you and your family to achieve this, ensuring the best interests of your child are always at the centre of all decisions.
What has to happen for my child to come home?
Reunification, or family restoration, refers to the process of returning your child to your care after an out of home care placement.
When your child is placed in out of home care, whether that is with another family member or in foster care, CYPS will explore the possibility of restoration as soon as possible. CYPS will seek to reunite your child with you as soon as it is safe for your child to do so. This means there must be only a very low likelihood of your child being exposed to abuse or neglect after returning home because your home situation has changed.
Decisions about whether your child can return to your care will be based on the same risk assessment processes and safety methods that were applied by CYPS in deciding to obtain the Care and Protection Order for your child. Your case worker may need to complete another Family Assessment to confirm the changes you or others have made. As with the previous assessments, CYPS wants to hear from you about what is now happening in your family and will not prejudge your situation or ability based on your history.
During the time your child is subject to a Care and Protection Order, CYPS will work with you to identify the abilities of your child, family and support network to implement a ‘Restoration Plan’ to achieve a sustainable reunification. This is best achieved using a staged approach where goals and review dates are put in place to support the gradual transition of parental care and responsibility for your child back to you.
The restoration process involves CYPS, you, your family and community support services working together to:
- improve your relationship with your child through attending therapy or parenting courses such as Circle of Security
- improve your child’s sense of connection with, and belonging to, their birth and extended family
- make recommendations about transitioning your child back to you or your family
- ensure appropriate and timely services and responses are in place to facilitate and sustain your child’s return home.
If you are working towards having your child returned to your care, you should:
- have a copy of your child’s Restoration Plan
- understand what the Restoration Plan says you need to do and focus your efforts on doing these
- have had your views considered when your child’s Restoration Plan was developed.
What’s included in my child’s Restoration Plan?
Your child’s Restoration Plan will cover:
- what needs to change before CYPS believes it would be safe for your child to return to your home. This is sometimes called ‘outcomes’ or ‘goals’, and are usually tasks that need to be completed by you as their parent.
- services that can be arranged by CYPS to help your family
- how long support will be given to you to work towards your child returning home.
How long will it take for my child to come home?
The time it takes for your child to return home depends on your family’s situation and the age of your child. For some children, it could be a matter of weeks, but for others it could take longer. Your child’s Restoration Plan should explain how long it might take for your family.
Usually the amount of time your child spends with you and at home will gradually increase. You may start with day visits and then move onto overnight or weekend stays.
Young children are better off if they spend their early years in the care of the person who will be with them as they grow up. This means they need to go home as soon as possible. If your child is a baby, their Restoration Plan may be much shorter than if your child is school-aged.
However, no child benefits if they go home before their parents are ready. It is important that when your child goes home, they are able to stay home.
Working with CYPS to meet my child’s needs
Sometimes CYPS or the ACT Childrens Court will ask you to participate in drug testing. This can be requested on a voluntary basis or as part of compliance with your child’s Care and Protection Order using a drug testing provision. Agreeing to participate in regular drug tests can be a good way of proving to CYPS that you have stopped using drugs and are making positive changes.
The results of drug tests are used by CYPS to help form a total picture or assessment of your child’s possible exposure to risk or harm in your home. They are never considered in isolation from other personal and family factors that provide a context for the drug use or misuse. CYPS is guided by a Risk Assessment Framework that acknowledges drug and/or alcohol misuse is not necessarily indicative of poor parenting or a predictor of abuse or neglect. However, the framework and current research recognise parental drug use, along with other risk factors, greatly increases a child’s risk of physical and emotional neglect.
CYPS will ask you to comply with drug testing if they have reason to believe or suspect your drug use may be placing your child at risk of harm. Examples of possible harm include:
- not storing drugs safely
- not attending to your child’s physical needs because of the effect the drug has on you, or you being preoccupied with getting the drug
- not meeting your child’s emotional needs due to the effect the drug has on you, or you being preoccupied with getting the drug
- not meeting your child’s needs due to financial problems associated with the cost of the drug
- being distracted from focusing on your child due to legal problems related to drug misuse
- your child being exposed to other people affected by drugs
- your child being bullied or isolated because of your drug misuse
- your child being at increased risk of abuse by others because you are not focused on keeping your child safe.
When drug testing is part of your child’s Care Plan, the expectations around this will be clearly spelled out. For example, the plan will explain how often, where and what type of testing will happen. CYPS will contact you by phone or in writing to tell you on what day, or days, you need to attend testing. This may take place on the morning of the test.
Results of drug tests are admissible as evidence in the ACT Childrens Court.
Types of drug testing
CYPS typically tests for drug use through the analysis of urine and sometimes hair. The collection and analysis is undertaken by accredited and approved service providers known as a collection centre. A collection centre will be one of the Canberra pathology labs.
If you are required to do drug testing by urinalysis, you will need to attend a collection centre up to three times per week. The days you attend may be randomly selected, be set days each week or be a combination of both. The testing may continue for up to three months for one series of tests.
The amount of hair required for drug testing depends on whether you have thick or thin hair. It is preferable to use hair from the head but it can be taken from any part of your body. The analysis of your hair is not compromised by the use of hair dye, being exposed to second-hand smoke or other factors. Approximately one centimetre of hair will be able to indicate your drug use, or abstinence, for approximately one month. The collection centres prefer to use samples that are about four centimetres in length.
Remember photo identification: You will need to provide photo identification, such as a driver’s licence, when you go to a collection centre to provide a sample for testing. If you do not have a licence, CYPS can organise an identification card for you to use.
Supervised sample collection
In urinalysis, every sample collected undergoes an integrity test. This is to check the temperature of the sample, whether it has been diluted and whether it is consistent with human urine.
In most situations, you will provide a sample in a supervised setting at the collection centre. CYPS has the right to request you be observed when you provide your sample. This means a staff member at the collection centre will watch you.
If you are asked to provide a supervised sample you can ask CYPS to request the supervisor for this process be the same gender as you. This may mean you are asked to attend a specific collection centre in order to have a supervisor of the same gender available. If you don’t make this request, it will depend on who is available on the day at the collection centre and you may be supervised by someone of the opposite gender.
With hair testing, an approved person will cut the hair sample from your body at the time of collection.
Screening and confirmation tests
The analysis of urine starts with a screening test to determine if there are any indicators of drug use. Where the amount detected in your urine is above a certain level, a more detailed confirmation test is done. The second test also helps rule out when a substance may be present for other reasons, for example eating poppy seeds.
CYPS will be provided with a report outlining the results of your drug test. The results may be provided to another service if you have agreed, or if the ACT Childrens Court has ordered it. Both you and CYPS have the right to present the test results to the Court in care and protection matters.
What to do if? Common concerns
If your child is placed in care, you may experience some concerns. You have the right to raise these concerns and ask for them to be resolved. Your first step to do this should always be to talk with your case worker.
You may not always agree with decisions made concerning your child’s care, but what is important to understand is that all decisions will be based on what is in your child’s best interests. Sometimes what is best for your child is not what you want to have happen.
Below are some common concerns you may experience if your child is in care and what you should do in each case.
I don’t like the case worker assigned to my child
Complaints about individual staff regarding how ‘likeable’ the person is or whether you think they are on ‘your side’, are not sufficient grounds for a complaint and will not be actioned by CYPS or other official complaint processes. As with colleagues in a workplace, it is not important whether you like the people in your child’s Care Team. What is important is that everyone involved works together effectively to promote your child’s best interests.
If you are having difficulty working with your case worker, it is recommended you contact an advocacy service (such as the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service) to help you to manage the relationship as effectively as possible.
If, however, you have examples of behaviour by a staff member you believe demonstrates unprofessional, unethical or ill-informed conduct, then a complaint can be made through the complaints process. You will need to provide specific information about what the staff member said or did, and when, for your complaint to be properly investigated.
I’m not happy with the frequency of contact
Contact frequency is usually determined by either the ACT Childrens Court (with a contact provision), or by a professional assessment conducted by your child’s case worker of what is in your child’s best interests. Changes to contact will only be made if it is believed the change is in your child’s best interests.
The best steps to take if you have a concern about the frequency of contact with your child are to discuss with your case worker:
- why the current contact arrangements exist in their current format
- what (if anything) needs to happen before the existing arrangements will be reviewed
- why you believe it is in your child’s best interests for the contact arrangements to change.
If you case worker does not agree with you, you can:
- escalate your concerns to a Team Leader or Operations Manager
- attend a Care Team meeting where you can raise your concerns with the broader group of people involved with your child’s care.
It is important to also understand that sometimes specific contact arrangements are stipulated as part of a Care and Protection Order made by the ACT Childrens Court. In these instances, changes may only be made by applying to the Court to amend the existing order.
Contact arrangements are intended to reflect your child’s right to contact with the people who are important to them. It is not about a parent’s right or need. It is also important to balance your child’s right to normality on weekends and to have time for involvement in sporting activities, time with friends, attendance at birthday parties, time to relax, and to participate in their carer’s family events and activities.
I don’t like my child’s carer or placement
Decisions about your child’s care placement are based on a detailed assessment and checking process. This includes a criminal history check and a ‘Working with Vulnerable People’ check, followed by a comprehensive carer assessment process. Sections 64 and 65 of the Children and Young People Act 2008 also provide criteria that are used to help make decisions about who should care for your child.
When making this decision, consideration is given to many factors, including (but not limited to):
- the proximity of the carer’s home to your child’s existing school and family members
- the fit of the carer’s family for your child including the ages of any children the carer may already have
- the relationship between the carer and your child’s biological family
- the long-term health prospects of the carer.
Once a carer is approved and your child is placed with them, your child’s case worker will visit regularly to monitor your child’s wellbeing and provide any necessary support. Your child’s views and wishes about their carer and placement should be regularly sought and recorded by their case worker.
If you do not get on with, or like, your child’s carer, this is not grounds for a complaint. Instead you should contact an advocacy service (such as the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service) to assist you in managing this important relationship. A positive relationship between you and your child’s carer is very important to your child’s wellbeing in care.
However, if you are concerned about the quality of care your child is receiving, or believe your child may be at risk of harm in their care placement, this is something you should always report to CYPS. You should make a Child Concern Report by contacting 1300 556 729 or using the online portal from the Community Services Directorate website and provide as much specific detail about your concerns as possible. CYPS will then respond to your Concern Report through its normal procedures.
Remember, your case worker and Care Team is focused on ensuring the best interests of your child are upheld. Please speak with them if you have any concerns. They will work with you to resolve them.
If you are not happy with their response, you can contact the Public Advocate or use the Community Services Directorate complaints process.
For more information about making a complaint, please ask your case worker for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Feedback and raising concerns.
What can I do to give my child the best chance I can of returning home?
- Hang in there, even if it’s tough. Tell yourself you can get there in the end.
- Know what is in your child’s Restoration Plan. If you are confused, or worried about the plan, talk to your case worker, or another person you trust, about your concerns.
- Do what you say you are going to do. This shows your child and other people you can be trusted. Children grow up fast, so the time to get started is now.
- You don’t have to do it on your own. There are people out there who can help you, even if you don’t find them straight away.
- When you see your child, try to do things you would be able to keep doing with them at home. Remember, presents and expensive outings don’t count as much as having a good time with you.
- Always engage with your case worker. Do all they ask you to do, such as attending meetings and contact with your child.
- Work with CYPS to address the issues that led your child to be taken into care. CYPS will be able to offer you referrals to support services in the community who can help you achieve this.
If your child is placed in care, you are encouraged to read the guide When children are in care. This guide has been developed by CYPS and community partners to support you through the process. If a copy of the guide has not been given to you, please ask your case worker for one.