This page provides information about Family Division cases in the Children's Court. If there's anything else you want to know, ask your lawyer or contact the court you will be attending.
Why do I have to go to court?
Social workers from the Department of Health & Human Services have brought you to court because they believe that you are at risk of serious harm. They think that you are not safe and they want the Court to make sure that someone is taking care of you and protecting you.
Do I need a lawyer?
Yes. A lawyer can:
- explain to you what is happening
- explain your choices
- help you negotiate with the protection workers and your parents
- listen to what you say and speak for you in court, and
- answer your questions about court and the law.
Even if you think your case is easy, and even if you have been told you don’t need one, you should see a lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer is there for you. What you say to your lawyer is confidential - they won’t tell anyone else if you don’t want them to.
Where do I get a lawyer?
Victoria Legal Aid provides specialised services for children and young people who have to appear before the courts or who are involved in legal cases. Free legal advice is available at all offices. Duty lawyers are at all Children’s Courts in Melbourne and on mention days at all other Children’s Courts in Victoria. Duty lawyers can give advice and represent people who have not had the opportunity to see a lawyer before going to court. Phone them on (03) 9269 0234 for your nearest Legal Aid office.
Youthlaw is the Young People’s Legal Rights Centre, a free legal service for young people in Victoria. Phone them on (03) 9611 2412.
Telephone the Law Insitute of Victoria on (03) 9607 9451 to find a private lawyer close to you who knows about the Children’s Court.
Aboriginal people can contact the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service on (03) 9419 3888.
What does the magistrate do?
The magistrate is the judge in the Children’s Court. The magistrate has to decide:
- if you are in need of protection, and if so
- what should happen to you.
The child protection workers prepare a written report which the magistrate reads. Your lawyer will have a copy of the report and will talk to you about what it says.
The magistrate listens to what the protection workers, your parent(s) and you want to happen. The magistrate may also listen to other people who come to court (such as doctors or teachers).
How long will it be before the case is finished?
It can take a long time before the magistrate makes a final decision. Almost all cases are put off at least once, so that protection workers can prepare reports, parents can get lawyers and the Court can set aside time to hear the whole story. Sometimes you might have to go to court three or four times for further hearings and conferences.
Where will I live until then?
Usually the first time you go to court the magistrate will put your case off for three weeks and decide where you should live until then. The magistrate will listen to the protection workers, your parent(s) and your lawyer. The magistrate may decide that you have to live with a relation, in foster care, at home or somewhere else. There may be conditions on you or other people in the house.
The magistrate’s decision about where you have to live is called an interim accommodation order. You must live where the order says and obey the conditions. If you do not you can be brought back to court. Talk to your lawyer if you are unhappy about the order.
Before you come back to court the protection workers will talk to you and your parents and write a report for the Court about what they think should happen.
Your protection workers will arrange for you to attend court and if you are not living with your family they usually bring you. Your lawyer will meet you at court.
It often helps to have someone you know and trust with you at court. Ask a relative, friend or worker you know to come with you.
Court starts at 10.00 am but you might have to wait until later for your case. At court your lawyer, the protection workers and your parents might talk some more to try and reach an agreement before your case is heard.
When your name is called you will go into the courtroom with your lawyer, the protection workers, your parent(s) and their lawyer(s).
In the courtroom your lawyer will speak to the magistrate for you and tell the Court what you want to happen. The magistrate will want to know about your family situation and why the protection worker thinks you are not safe. They might ask for written reports from the Department and other people who know you and your family.
Dispute resolution conferences
If you, the protection worker and your parents can’t all agree about what should happen, the magistrate may decide that you should all go to a dispute resolution conference. The dispute resolution conference is run by an independent person called a convenor.
You, your lawyer, the protection worker, your parent(s) and their lawyer(s) meet with the convenor to discuss what should happen now. In this meeting, the convenor tries to help everybody find a solution that will ensure you are safe in the future.