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The protection of children and young people - everyone's business

Reform that achieves better outcomes for children and young people was at the heart of a keynote address delivered by the Minister for Family and Community Services The Hon Pru Goward MP at the annual Legal Aid NSW Care and Protection conference on Wednesday, 31 October.

The Minister said it was her "strong belief that the protection of children and young people is everyone's business".

She outlined a "radical new approach" that places emphasis on decision-making by the family, avoiding court as the first forum for decision-making about a child or young person's wellbeing.

A Children Protection Reform discussion paper to be launched next year will promote a child-focused system that helps parents to better meet their parenting obligations, and provides stability of care by removing barriers to applying the State's existing legal provisions for adoption and permanent care arrangements.

Parents will be helped to 'step up' to meet the responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of their children - a new and more collaborative approach to families. The Minister pointed out that compelling parents to attend a parenting course or program is well supported by UK research showing that the success rate for parents who were ordered by courts to attend such programs was the same as for those who participated voluntarily.

Other measures include the better use of alternative dispute resolution in the care and protection jurisdiction, in particular, family group conferencing, where extended family networks come together to develop their own solutions to issues of care and protection.

The Minister said it is time to look at the option of adoption for children in care through a different lens, streamlining the process for open adoption of children in long-term stable out-of-home care placements to remove undue delay where this is in the best interests of the child.

Removing the Children's Court's power to make long-term contact orders for children in care where there is no realistic possibility of restoration, was also a priority, moving towards Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), with recourse to the court only as a last resort.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Justin Dowd told the conference the law society "supported the use of ADR, producing a less adversarial process for families and hopefully a better outcome for all concerned".

Papers delivered at the conference will shortly be available on the family law resources section of the website.

Read a full transcript of the Minister's speech.

Director Family Law, Legal Aid NSW, Kylie Beckhouse, The Hon Pru Goward MP, Minister for Family and Community Services and President, Law Society of NSW, Justin Dowd
Shared commitment in creating a better future that will provide stability of care for children and young people and a child-focused system l to r: Director Family Law, Legal Aid NSW, Kylie Beckhouse, The Hon Pru Goward MP, Minister for Family and Community Services and President, Law Society of NSW, Justin Dowd.