VCAT hears a range of disputes (for example, discrimination, guardianship and administration, purchase and supply of goods) and deals with disputes between people and the government. See 2711 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). Review of child protection decisions falls within the Review and Regulation List of VCAT.
Where a child or child's parent applies to VCAT for the review of a decision contained in a child's case plan or any other decision made by the Secretary concerning the child, the child protection practitioner should contact the department's Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO) for assistance.
Where the application to VCAT is about:
- the finding of a suitability panel that a carer should be disqualified
- a decision relating to a childcare agreement
- a review of a decision made by an Aboriginal Principal Officer authorised under s. 18 of the CYFA,
the child protection practitioner should contact Legal Services for assistance.
In accordance with s. 331(1) of the CYFA, the Secretary must prepare and implement procedures for the review within the department of decisions made as part of the decision-making process following the making of a protection order.
The child and the parent must be given a copy of the internal review procedures together with the copy of the case plan (s. 331(2)). See procedure Internal review of decision for tasks that must be undertaken.
Child protection practitioners should inform a child or parent who remains dissatisfied with the outcome of an internal review, that they can apply to VCAT for an independent review and provide them with a VCAT application form (this can be downloaded from the VCAT website at www.vcat.vic.gov.au). Child protection practitioners should also suggest the child or parent seek their own independent legal advice.
The most common VCAT review process that a child protection practitioner will be involved in will follow an application by a child or a child's parent to VCAT for a review of a decision contained in a child's case plan or any other decision made by the Secretary concerning the child (s. 333 of the CYFA).
A parent or child must have exhausted all available options for internal review within the department before making an application to VCAT.
To apply for a review by VCAT, the applicant completes an application form and either lodges this by hand or post to The Principal Registrar, VCAT, 55 King Street, Melbourne, within 28 days. It may be possible to make applications on-line. Check the VCAT website. All hearings are held at 55 King Street, Melbourne, unless otherwise indicated.
The VCAT registrar will acknowledge all applications received and advise all parties that an application for review has been received. VCAT will send the department a copy of the application and a letter setting out what steps need to be taken.
As soon as any VCAT documents are received, the child protection practitioner should contact the department's Legal Services Branch or CPLO, depending on the matter before VCAT as outlined above. Advice will then be provided to assist the child protection practitioner (or team) in responding to the VCAT application and legal representation will be arranged if necessary.
If a matter proceeds to a hearing, the case planner or supervisor or practitioner is to seek advice from CPLO before implementing any significant changes to the child's situation pursuant to the case plan. This is essential where the proposed change relates to the decision under review.
The CPLO will allocate the matter to a CPLO solicitor who will represent the department and prepare the necessary paperwork for the VCAT proceedings.
Staff involved should attend all conferences and hearings at VCAT unless specifically directed not to by the department's solicitor handling the matter.
Responding to a review by VCAT is similar to preparing for Court and giving evidence in that the practitioner may be required to provide copies of material relating to the decision under review, be able to defend the decision, and to call witnesses to support their case.
VCAT has a range of options available to assist in settling a dispute. These include mediation, compulsory conferences and hearings. If the matter progresses to a hearing then all parties have the opportunity to make submissions, call or give evidence and ask questions of witnesses. At any time the parties can resolve their differences without the need to use any of the aforementioned options, or even while engaged in one of the options.
VCAT can confirm or overturn the department's decision, make a new decision or send the matter back to the department to reconsider.
Ensure the details of VCAT review are entered in the Internal/VCAT Reviews tab in the Case Practice component in CRIS.
A person who is dissatisfied with a decision of VCAT may appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria only on a question of law.