On Tuesday 2 September, 2014 the Victorian Parliament passed legislation in relation to children and young people in out-of-home care. These changes will come into effect on 1 March, 2016.

Where possible, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) aims to return children who have been removed from their parents due to neglect or abuse, once the safety concerns have been alleviated. However, safety is always the priority and reunification is not always possible or appropriate. The best interests of the child is always the paramount consideration.

What is reunification?

Reunification is a planned and timely process of safely returning and enabling a child to remain at home with their family of origin.

Under changes to child protection law, if a child has been out of a parent’s care for more than two years, the Children’s Court will no longer be able to make or extend a reunification order.

Parents will have 12 months to resolve any issues required in order to resume the care of the child. At the end of this period, either an additional 12 months will be provided in circumstances where reunification is likely, or alternatively, permanent care arrangements will be sought. This endeavours to place children in stable permanent accommodation as soon as possible. If a permanent carer cannot be found, the child will be placed in state residential care.

The changes aim to identify and remove barriers to achieving permanent placements for children.

Further changes include:

  • Giving carers more authority to make decisions with respect to the children in their care. Currently, carers are unable to make decisions with respect to the children in their care without the consent of DHHS. The changes will allow carers to seek authority from DHHS with respect to specific issues. Carers are encouraged to discuss their specific needs with the child’s case worker;
  • Changes to Permanent Care Orders, including making a carer the child’s legal parent until the child reaches 18 years; and
  • Ensuring the cultural needs of Aboriginal children in care are met through culture support planning.

Should you have any queries in relation to the changes coming into effect in March 2016 and how this may affect your family’s circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family lawyers.

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