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2.2.15 Working with the Family Court in the context of child protection matters

Last Modified: 11-Nov-2019 Review Date: 30-Nov-2010

Purpose

To provide child protection workers with guidance on working with the Family Court of Western Australia (Family Court) in the context of child protection matters.

Practice Requirements

Form 4 Notice of Child Abuse and/or Family Violence (or Risk) (Form 4 Notice)

  • You must provide a written response to a Form 4 Notice within six weeks of receiving the request.
  • If the assessment cannot be completed within six weeks, you must email the Family Court to request an extension within 21 calendar days of receiving a Form 4 Notice.
  • A Child Safety Investigation (CSI) must be undertaken for all Form 4 Notices where the initial inquiry determines there are concerns about a child’s wellbeing and further information is required.
  • You must discuss the outcome of the assessment with the family before submitting the response to the Family Court. 
  • The Form 4 Notice response must be approved by your team leader and endorsed by the district director.
  • You should be aware that information is made available to the parties to the Family Court proceedings, which can include the parents, extended family members and the Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL); your information must only include information about either parent that relates to the child’s current circumstances.
  • You must check that the response to Form 4 Notice does not contain information that identifies the notifier, or is likely to lead to the identification of the notifier or from which the identity of the notifier could be deduced, unless the notifier is the person who filed the Form 4 Notice and has included this information in the affidavit filed with the Form 4.
  • You must summarise relevant interview notes or transcripts for the Family Court and include this in the written response.

Where the Department becomes aware that a parent or family member we have been working with is going to apply for a Family Court parenting order:

  • If we have had significant concerns about the parent or family member in the past, and consider the information to be relevant to the Family Court, you must send an email to counselling.services@justice.wa.gov.au, to advise:
    • the full names, addresses and dates of birth of the parents, child and any other significant persons; and
    • that we have information which may be of use to the Family Court.

Where we support a parent or family member seeking Family Court parenting orders

  • Where it has been assessed that there are ongoing child protection concerns, and that the child’s safety could be secured by supporting a party to apply for a Family Court parenting order, you must send an email to the Court to advise that an application is likely to be filed and provide a letter or report that sets out our assessment and support for the application.
  • When we support a party applying for a parenting order you must work cooperatively with the Family Court and manage the case at least until an interim parenting order is granted.

Where child protection proceedings are commenced in the Children’s Court during Family Court  proceedings

  • You must email familycourt.form4ref@dcp.wa.gov.au and counselling.services@justice.wa.gov.au when proceedings are initiated in the Children’s Court and proceedings are already underway in the Family Court. This email must include the current circumstances, decisions and rationale.
  • Following our decision to initiate proceedings in the Children’s Court, the district legal support officer must inform the Family Court immediately if we decide to not pursue the protection application.

When there is a protection order in place and the Department supports a party to apply for a Family Court parenting order

  • You must consult with Legal Practice Services when matters are transferred from the Children’s Court to the Family Court and vice versa.
  • When we have been granted a provisional protection order by the Children’s Court and make a case planning decision to support a party to apply for a Family Court parenting order, the district legal support officer must, as soon as practicable, inform the Family Court.
  • When we have been granted a protection order by the Children’s Court and make a case planning decision to support a party to apply for a parenting order, the district legal support officer must inform the Family Court three months before the protection order expires, and include our assessment and reasons for supporting the application.
Process Maps

Not applicable.

Procedures

  • Background
  • Relevant roles in the Family Court
  • Exchange of information initiated by the Family Court
  • Exchange of information initiated by the Department
  • Information or referral to Legal Aid
  • Background

    The Family Law Act 1975 encourages separating parents to make their own arrangements for their children wherever possible. It is critical that the Family Court Western Australia has all relevant information to enable the Court to make appropriate decisions in the best interests of the child.

    A Memorandum of Understanding between the Family Court, the Department for Child Protection and Legal Aid Western Australia (click here) guides interagency collaboration between the agencies in relation to Family Court proceedings.

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    Relevant roles in the Family Court

    Family Consultant

    Family Consultants are appointed as officers of the Court and undertake risk assessment, case management, mediation, counselling, and reporting as required under the Family Law and Family Court Acts, giving particular attention to the protection and safety of children, family violence and related issues.

    Family Consultants facilitate mandatory reporting to the Department of child abuse and neglect and/or family violence matters for the Court, and in the ongoing management of cases interact directly with Department staff, or through the co-located Family Court Liaison Officer at the Court.

    Family Court Liaison Officer (FCLO) (known as Child Protection Consultant by Court personnel)

    The Department's Family Court Liaison Officer coordinates  information sharing between the Family Court and the Department, including matters in the Children’s Court. The FCLO is located at the Family Court, and can be contacted on (08) 9224 8248.

    Independent Children’s Lawyer

    The role of the Independent Children’s Lawyer is set out in paragraphs of the Family Law Act 1975 and the Family Court of WA Act 1997.

    Child protection workers should provide all relevant information (s.23) to the Independent Children’s Lawyer.

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    Exchange of information initiated by the Family Court

    Request for information resulting from a recovery order application

     

    The Family Court may request urgent information from the Department about an application for a recovery order. These requests are made directly to the district office and the child protection worker must advise the allocated Family Consultant over the telephone whether we have any relevant information in relation to the application.

     

    Pre section 69ZW order (Family Law Act 1975)

     

    The Family Consultant, or if not available, the Independent Children’s Lawyer may request information from us to make an informed decision regarding the welfare of a child. These requests are sent to the Family Court Liaison Officer, who completes a duty interaction. Relevant information that should be forwarded to the Family Court includes:

     
    • whether we have a file in relation to the matter
    • the date that the file was opened
    • our the most recent assessment in relation to the matter
    • the current status of any ongoing action
    • the estimated timeframe for the completion of those interventions
    • to the extent practicable, the nature of the documents on our files.

    Section 69ZW order (Family Law Act 1975)

    Subsequent to a pre section 69ZW order, the Family Court may request specific documents that have been identified. These requests are forwarded to Legal Practice Services who provide the documents to the Family Court.

    Subpoena the child’s file

    The Family Court may subpoena the child’s file. These requests are forwarded to Legal Practice Services who provide the file to the Family Court.

    Form 4 Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence (or Risk) (Form 4 Notice)

    An applicant or respondent to a family law proceeding who alleges child abuse, neglect, or family and domestic violence, or the risk of these, is required to file a Form 4 Notice with the Family Court.

    Family Court personnel and/or the Family Consultant are also required to submit a Form 4 Notice to us if they suspect, on reasonable grounds, that a child has been subjected to, or is at risk of being subjected to, abuse and/or family violence.

    All Form 4 Notices must be emailed to the Family Court Liaison Officer (FCLO).  The FCLO forwards the request to the appropriate district office.

    The assessment process for a Form 4 Notice is the same as any allegation of abuse or neglect. Refer to Chapter 2. Conducting a Child Safety Investigation for further information.

    Child protection workers should include the family’s views of the concerns and their willingness to increase safety for the children.

    Child protection workers should also include the following in the response:  

    • the PTW number, district office, date the Form 4 Notice was received, and child and family name in the first paragraph of the report
    • a summary of the reason for involvement, action taken, assessment and analysis, key decisions and rationale (including if harm was substantiated) and the plan
    • approval by the team leader and endorsement by the district director
    • the signature of the assessing child protection worker (approval by team leader and endorsement by district director).

    The child protection worker may also give a view on the need for supervised contact or other action, treatment or social services that relate to the current concerns. Child protection workers should not make recommendations to the Family Court, but may request that the Court takes into consideration our findings in relation to the particular body of work that led to our view about "live with" and contact arrangements.

    Note:  The Family Court does not require detailed disclosures from the child (excerpts from interview transcripts should not be included in our response).  If the Family Court needs exact details of the child's disclosure, this can be dealt with through the formal subpoena process. 

    The Family Court gives significant weight to our assessment and the position we take in response to a Form 4 Notice, particularly in regard to identified risks.  It is, therefore, child protection workers must complete a comprehensive assessment and provide a clear rationale for our decisions.

    Child protection workers should use the relevant form when responding to Form 4 Notifications:

    • Form 994 Extension / More Time Required
    • Form 995 Abuse Unsubstantiated
    • Form 996 CMA Substantiated
    • Form 997 Previous Involvement/Investigation Assessment
    • Form 998 No Action Warranted
    • Form 999 Children's Court Order in Existence / Children's Court Proceedings Initiated
  • Email the response to: familycourt.form4ref@dcp.wa.gov.au.
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    Recording in Assist

    Child protection workers must record Form 4 Notices in Assist as a duty interaction with the:

    • Outcome: Concern for a Child
    • Next Action: Intake - as an open period of involvement with the following codes in the interaction for each child:
      • Protocol: Family Court
      • Issue: there is the capacity to record more than one issue.

    If the referral or contact is in relation to a request for information (only), an interaction must be completed with:

    • Referral agency: Family Court
    • Referrer name: Enter the name of the Family Court Officer
    • Description: Describe the presenting issue and what is being requested
    • Issues: As above
    • Referral to external agency: This is a task and must be recorded as an interaction task.

    If the matter requires further analysis and assessment the child protection worker should follow normal initial inquiries (intake) and Child Safety Investigation processes in Assist.

    Complex cases

    In complex cases, child protection workers should participate in ongoing case discussions with the Family Consultant, the judicial officer or the Independent Children’s Lawyer, where necessary, to resolve issues and assist the Family Court to make appropriate orders.

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    Exchange of information initiated by the Department

    The Department supports a client to apply for a parenting order where there are ongoing child protection concerns

    In addition to providing a letter/report, the child protection worker must also participate in proceedings as required or ordered by the Family Court. Where necessary, the child protection worker must be available to attend the first court appearance in the Family Court, or provide a written report to the Family Court stating our position (including contact and care arrangements).

    Child protection workers need to follow up to check that an application has been made. If the application has not been made, they should consider whether statutory protection action and/or family support may be required.

    The Department must maintain case management at least until an interim parenting order is granted. If safety issues have been addressed the case may closed and the Family Court must be advised. Where child protection workers are concerned about lengthy resolution of Family Court matters, they should contact the allocated Family Consultant at the Family Court.

    Where the Department becomes aware that a parent or family member they have been working with is going to apply for a Family Court parenting order:

    Child protection workers may need to share relevant information with the Family Court when we become aware that a parent or family member that we have had significant historical concerns is applying for a Family Court parenting order.

    After the email is sent to the Family Court, the Family Consultant may contact the district office that made the notification to seek relevant information from us, or request the child protection worker's attendance at the next Family Court event.

    The Family Court will provide a copy of this email to the Legal Aid duty lawyer service. When a person applies for legal assistance concerning a Family Court parenting order, and advises that the Department is involved, Legal Aid may contact the district office to confirm its involvement.  This information is used to assist Legal Aid to determine whether a grant of aid is issued.

    Requesting copies of Family Court orders

    Child protection workers must make requests for copies of Family Court documents in writing to the Senior Records Officer, Family Court of Western Australia, GPO Box 9991 PERTH WA 6848 or by facsimile (08) 9224 8360.

    The following information must be provided in the letter:

    • full name and contact details of person requesting the order
    • full names of the applicant and respondent, including birth dates, if known
    • court file number, if known
    • details of the document(s) being requested
    • a brief summary of the reason for the request, or a statement of interest and
    • signature of person making the request.
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    Information or referral to Legal Aid

    Family Law and Child Protection Legal Assistance in WA

    Where appropriate, child protection workers should advise parents, carers, or the child (age and maturity permitting) on the need to be fully informed and may seek independent legal advice via:

    Where clients present to the duty officer with Family Court issues and there are no ongoing child protection concerns, the client should be advised to contact an appropriate Legal Aid Service by telephoning 1300 650 579.

    If the duty officer believes the client needs urgent assistance they should contact the Legal Aid Lawyer at the Family Court on 9224 8390.

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