Who works to keep children safe?
Child Safety Services works with parents, family members, schools, community agencies and other government departments to make sure you are safe and cared for, and can grow up to be the best you can be. Keeping children safe is everybody’s responsibility.
There are other people around who can also help to keep you safe. Family members, like grandparents, aunts and uncles, might help you out. The courts will help to make sure the laws that protect you are followed. There are also people like community visitors and child advocates, who work at the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), who can give you help and support while you’re in care. Non-government groups – that is, organisations and services that work with children – can also help give you support and guidance when you need it. These groups, like CREATE Foundation and the Youth Advocacy Centre, can put you in touch with someone who knows how the system works, show you how to get the most out of it and tell Child Safety Services and the courts what you want to happen.
There are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that help keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children safe. They can also help you understand what is happening with the court. For example, the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak can help you find what you need to know or tell you about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations in your area.
Your rights, and how to have your say
As a child, it’s important for you to have your say, and for people to listen to you when decisions are made about your life.
You have clear and important rights. The United Nations has listed these rights in a document called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. These rights include:
- children should have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account (Article 12)
- children who cannot be looked after by their own family must be looked after properly by people who respect their religion, culture and language (Article 25)
- children who are looked after by people other than their parents should have their situation reviewed regularly (Article 30)
- children have the right to learn and use the language and customs of their families (Article 39)
- all organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child (Article 3)
- governments should ensure that children are properly cared for, and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents or anyone else who looks after them (Article 19)
- governments should respect a child’s right to have a name, and connection to their nationality and family ties (Article 8).
Every government in Australia needs to make sure these rights are respected. Queensland even has its own Charter of Rights for Children in Care, which describes the rights you have if you are living in out-of-home care.
Laws to keep you safe
There are a few different words that mean ‘the law’. Sometimes, you’ll hear the word ‘legislation’, which means the laws of the state or country. Other times you might hear someone talk about an ‘Act’, which is a specific law – like the Child Protection Act 1999 that outlines what the government must do, and can do, in order to keep children safe.
The Child Protection Act 1999 gives Child Safety Services the power to:
- investigate worries about your safety
- help parents to keep you safe, using a care agreement
- get people to help your family
- find a place for you to stay and be looked after away from your home if you can no longer stay with your family or parents (this is called out-of-home care). This might be:
- staying with an approved family member (otherwise known as kinship carer) or someone else Child Safety Services has approved to look after young people who are not safe at home
- care services – for example, a residential home with other young people who need to be looked after
- ensure your cultural needs are met, especially if you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.
The people who help you have to keep some key things in mind. These are:
- you need to be more than safe
- your safety and wellbeing is the most important concern
- the best way to support you is to help your family
- people outside your family should only be involved when needed
- your family should be helped to plan and make safe decisions about you
- children and families have a right to know what’s happening
- everyone who is involved in helping you, like families, agencies, professionals and your local community, should help to make decisions that keep you safe
- Child Safety Services is responsible for its actions
- the people who help you need to make sure you stay connected to your culture and language.
If you come from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, an Independent Person can also help when making decisions.
An Independent Person is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or a group who knows about protecting children, your community or you, but is separate from Child Safety Services.
To find out more about what an Independent Person is and how they can help, check out Independent Person: Information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
There are many resources available to help you stand up for your rights while you’re in care. Here are a few:
Participate This guide gives tips on how to get involved when decisions are being made.
Legal Aid Queensland
What are your rights while in care? This guide will help explain your rights.
Youth Advocacy Centre
Being in Care - Making Decisions This guide will help you make decisions.
What are the principles – the key ideas – that guide decisions about children?
By law, the people who make decisions about your safety have to keep certain things in mind, to make sure the decisions are fair and lead to good outcomes. Some of these are:
Best interests of the child (the paramount principle)
When we say the paramount principle, we mean the most important principle that everyone has to consider when making a decision.
The paramount principle is that your safety, wellbeing and best interests are the most important things to think about when making a decision about you.
Views and wishes of a child
"Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account" (Article 12).
This applies to all decision making, including decisions on how to keep you safe. You should also be given information and support to understand why a decision was made, and what your rights are.
Family preservation and reunification
Normally, the best way to care for you is through your family. The preferred way to make sure your safety and wellbeing needs are met is by supporting your family.
If you have to be moved from your family, you and your family should be given the support you need to help you return home safely.
If you have to be moved from your family, Child Safety Services should consider whether you can be placed with your extended family (sometimes called ‘kin’) and, where possible, place you together with your siblings.
You should be able to maintain relationships with your family and kin and to know, explore and maintain your identity and values. This includes maintaining your cultural, ethnic and religious identity and values.
You have a right to grow up in a stable home that provides a connection to your family and community if that is in your best interests. Your living situation must meet your development, educational, emotional, health, intellectual and physical needs.
Fair and respectful decision-making
Decisions should be made in a way that is open and fair and respects the rights of each person affected by the decision, including you.
Your privacy should be respected where possible.
Least intrusive order
When a court makes a decision about an order they need to decide whether an ‘order on less intrusive terms’ – that is, an order that changes fewer things about your life – would be enough to protect you.
To do this, the court may ask questions like: Does this order have to be for two years or is one enough? Can the order be for supervision rather than custody, or custody rather than guardianship?
For example, if Child Safety Services has applied for an order seeking guardianship until you turn 18, the court would consider whether a shorter order, such as a two-year custody order, would be enough to protect you.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the court must consider your traditions and customs when making a decision that affects you.
When Child Safety Services is making an important decision, you have a right to have a say and have an Independent Person help you. When making a decision about where an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child should live if they are taken from their home because it is not safe, Child Safety Services must try and place the child with a member of their family, someone from their community or another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. This is called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. All consultations, negotiations, meetings and proceedings involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are to be done in a way and a place that is appropriate and considers Aboriginal tradition or Island custom.
Collaborative Family Decision Making (CFDM)
Collaborative Family Decision Making (CDFM) means Child Safety Services works with your family and community to make sure your family is given the chance to make decisions about your care.