Children usually attend only a hearing when a magistrate asks them to.
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While children are encouraged to participate in child protection matters, a child or young person usually does not need to attend a hearing unless the magistrate asks them to.
The law says children should be told what is happening at court and about the court’s decisions in a way that fits their age and understanding.
The court has the responsibility to ensure that:
- the child or young person has the opportunity to be heard and participate in the proceedings
- the child’s age and developmental capacity are taken into account so that they understand the proceedings and their implications
- if the child asks for an explanation, they will have the procedures and rulings fully explained to them.
A lawyer usually represents a child at the hearing
In Victoria, the most direct and meaningful way a child can participate in child protection proceedings is by having a lawyer represent them.
All children aged 10 and above who are the subject of child protection proceedings have to be legally represented, unless the court has determined they do not have maturity to give instructions. Children under 10 or have been assessed as not having maturity to give instructions may only have a lawyer appointed to act in their best interests where the court determines exceptional circumstances exist.
When a child attends a hearing
The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) is required to assist the child or young person in meeting their lawyer before court, so that the child can:
- have the proceedings explained
- express their views
- where appropriate, give instructions.
At a hearing, if circumstances arise that might be harmful to a child or a young person, the magistrate may ask them to leave the room.