About child protection conferencing
A child protection conference is a facilitated meeting between all the people involved in a child protection application.
Participation in child protection conferences is court ordered. The conference is run to discuss:
- what is currently working well
- the areas of concern and risks for the children named in the application
- the steps required to remedy the concerns with the best interest of the children in mind.
Conferences are an alternative dispute resolution process so the matter might be settled before proceeding to a court hearing.
They give the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the issues behind the application, and to discuss concerns and issues relating to the children.
They also give participants a chance to agree on the way forward that serves the best interest of the child(ren) involved.
Purpose of the conference
If the Office of Director of Child Protection Litigation (ODCPL) applies to the court for a child protection order, and the parents and/or the child contest the order, the court may order a conference to decide the matters in dispute or try to resolve them.
If a child protection order is contested by the parents, an order cannot be made without a conference being held or until reasonable attempts have been made to hold one.
The conference convenor aims to create a collaborative, inclusive, confidential and constructive environment for the parents, applicant (ODCPL), child safety officers and other participants to discuss and negotiate issues around the future care of the child.
- what happened
- what needs to be done to make things right.
The conferences give everyone the opportunity to talk about their views and to hear everyone else’s viewpoints.
They also promote productive ongoing relationships between child safety officers and the parent(s), recognising the roles of the parents and giving them the opportunity to:
- contribute to discussions about the child’s wellbeing
- remain engaged in the child’s protection process.
The court sets the date for a court ordered conference; often in discussion with all parties at the court mention.
Who attends the conference
Conferences are usually attended by:
- the convenor, an accredited mediator appointed under the Dispute Resolution Centres Act 1990, who facilitates the confidential conference
- the parent(s)
- a representative of ODCPL
- legal professionals
- interested parties as directed by the court
- the recognised entity
- a representative of the Office of the Public Guardian
- the child(ren) involved—sometimes
- support persons for the parent.
Before the conference
Before the day of the conference, our staff will speak with the parents and other participants to inform them about the conference and advise how they can participate constructively.
During this intake discussion with each person, we will cover:
- the conference process
- who else will be present
- what they may want to share
- their views about the application and related issues
- what might happen if an agreement is or is not reached.
We will help you consider what might need to be discussed and how to present your views in the most informed manner. We can also answer any questions you may have.
What happens at the conference
The convenor follows an impartial and confidential process to facilitate informal discussions to:
- identify the issues in dispute
- consider options and alternatives
- give the opportunity to agree about the best interests of the child without the need to go to court.
The convenor helps everyone talk about what happened, what is working well and what the concerns are. They then facilitate the negotiation of an outcome.
Remaining impartial, the convenor helps the participants determine an outcome that maintains a clear and consistent focus on the safety, wellbeing and best interests of the child.
This may involve discussing the issues that led to the child protection application and/or parties agreeing to do something that may help to reunite the child with the parent, such as:
- attending counselling
- providing clean drug tests
- attending parenting courses
- attending or enrolling in special courses that address the causes of the behaviour
- referrals to medical or mental health professionals
- creating a network of support.
If the parties can agree on the outcome, the agreement will be written up by the convenor and provided to the court.
Conferences are sometimes adjourned for parties to complete courses, find additional information, complete medical treatments, and so on.
A conference usually takes about 2 hours and is sometimes split into different sessions for the parents.
After an agreement is reached
After the conference, the convenor provides a report (known as form 20) to the court and all participants.
If an agreement was found, the court will discuss the agreement at the next mention and finalise the order.
If no agreement was found, the court will set a date for a trial.
Learn more about child protection conferencing.