Children’s Court struggling with explosion of protection orders

THE Children’s Court of Victoria could not cope if child protection orders and notices continue to rise at the same rate, its president says.
Nanjing Night Net

Judge Paul Grant said the ”already overcrowded” court was overwhelmed with reports and investigations of child abuse, which had grown in Victoria and Australia in the past decade, with a spike in investigations and orders in the past three years.

According to the Department of Human Services, the number of protection applications rose 5.6 per cent on average every year from 2003 to 2011, with a 13 per cent increase in protection applications in Victoria last year, Judge Grant said at a conference on indigenous barriers to justice on Thursday.

”If we get each year a significant increase … we may have increased delay [which] is not a good thing in child protection. That’s what I’m concerned about,” he said.

Some country courts had to deal with even higher rates of growth, with applications up 26 per cent in Gippsland and 21 per cent in Hume.

Judge Grant said this also affected welfare agencies and the criminal justice system, as 40 per cent of young people in detention had been in the child protection system.

”It’s hard to comprehend how the system will cope if there should be a similar increase in the 2012-2013 year,” he said.

Judge Grant said the rise was largely because the public knew more about child protection after Ombudsman investigations and the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children inquiry. He also said Victoria Police had strengthened its response to family violence.

Judge Grant said indigenous communities were overrepresented in the area of child protection, with an Aboriginal child in Victoria about 15 times more likely than a non-Aboriginal child to be on a protection order. This was particularly worrying as 44 per cent of the Aboriginal population in Victoria was aged under 18.

”The lived experience of their history has resulted in many Aboriginal children and families facing challenges that those in the non-Aboriginal population do not and will never experience,” he said.

Judge Grant said cases were taking longer to resolve, with about 75 per cent now resolved in six months, compared to 85 per cent in 2003.

He would not comment on how much more the numbers could rise before the Children’s Court reached crisis point.

Judge Grant said the federal government should, as soon as possible, reduce the number of cases by adopting the early intervention recommendations of former Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins, SC, who headed the inquiry into Victoria’s vulnerable children.

”Child protection is about disadvantage. The families who come into our court have complex problems. We know that responses are most effective if there is early intervention to support vulnerable families.

”We know that outcomes for Aboriginal children and families will only improve once practical gains in Aboriginal self-determination … are achieved.”

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