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A separate representative is a lawyer who will represent your child’s best interests and will ensure their views and wishes are considered by the court during legal proceedings.
How is a separate representative appointed?
A separate representative is appointed by the Childrens Court. If the magistrate considers it important in protecting your child’s best interests, when deciding if a child protection order should be made, the Childrens Court will ask Legal Aid Queensland to appoint a lawyer to be the separate representative.
How will I be involved with the separate representative?
It is important the separate representative remains independent from the people involved in the case.
If you have your own lawyer, the separate representative will communicate with you through them. It is important you do not contact the separate representative yourself. If you do not have a lawyer, the separate representative will contact you either in person, by phone or in writing.
How will the separate representative recognise my child’s best interests?
The separate representative is responsible for representing your child’s best interests. They may gather information about the case by:
- reading the information given to the court by you, the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (Child Safety) and the Director of Child Protection Litigation (DCPL)
- reading any subpoenaed documents
- meeting your child in person (depending on their age and circumstances)
- speaking to teachers, guidance officers or other people who have spent a significant amount of time with your child
- requesting reports from other professionals such as psychologists or psychiatrists
- requesting a social assessment report
- listening carefully to relevant witnesses if a case goes to hearing.
What is a social assessment report?
A social assessment report is used to help the court understand your family situation and your child’s views, wishes and emotional attachments.
A social worker or another professional, such as a psychologist, will write the social assessment report. The separate representative will ask you to take part in an interview to help the report writer collect the information they need.
What information will the separate representative give to the social assessment report writer?
The separate representative will usually provide a copy of all documents that have been given to the court to the report writer. The separate representative can also obtain more information by issuing a subpoena. A subpoena is a document that compels a person to give evidence or produce documents in their possession to the court. Copies of subpoenaed documents can be given to the report writer. Any other information and reports requested from other people (such as teachers, guidance officers, other professionals or people who have spent a significant amount of time with your child) will also usually be given to the report writer.
What will happen before a hearing?
Before a hearing takes place, the Childrens Court will ask you to attend a court-ordered conference with representatives from the DCPL and Child Safety. The conference aims to decide which issues affecting your child are in dispute and tries to resolve them. A chairperson and the separate representative will also attend.
A family group meeting and case plan review meetings will also be held to ensure there is a case plan in place for your child before the magistrate makes their final decision about whether a child protection order should be made.
A case plan covers the arrangements that will be in place to meet your child’s care and protection needs while they are in out-of-home care, or subject to a child protection order in your care. If your child is in out-of-home care, the case plan will contain information about what changes must be made before your child can return home, or if your child is at home, what changes need to be made for the child protection order to be revoked. It also deals with things like what contact you will have with your child, how your child’s cultural needs will be supported, and how your child’s education and other needs will be met.
Child Safety organises the family group meeting and case plan review meetings and involves you (the child’s parents), other family members, the separate representative and anyone else who might make a useful contribution to preparing a case plan, such as support workers, counsellors, teachers, and if appropriate, an independent person or independent entity.
What happens in court?
The separate representative will present evidence to the court about your child’s views and wishes.
If a matter goes to hearing, they will ask relevant witnesses—such as representatives from Child Safety, the report writer, you (the child’s parents) and other professionals involved in your child’s life—questions to ‘test’ the information before the court (evidence) about what is in your child’s best interests. This means your child’s views and wishes may not always be followed.
Information for the court proceedings (evidence) will be included in affidavits, reports and any subpeonaed documents given to the magistrate. If your child wants to give evidence in court they may be able to do so if the court gives them permission beforehand.
Your child can give evidence in court if they:
- are 12 years or older and
- are represented by a lawyer and
- agree to give evidence.
When the magistrate makes their final decision about whether a child protection order should be made, the separate representative may explain the outcome and next steps to your child.