The purpose of a court report is to assist the Court and other parties to obtain a clear understanding of the protective concerns held by the department and the rationale for the recommended disposition. As a government agency report, child protection practitioners have a duty to the Court to ensure the court report provides it with all the information necessary to assist the Court to make a decision, not only the information that supports the recommended disposition.
A court report provides the main opportunity to convey to the Court an understanding of child protection’s rationale for the decisions that have been made in relation to the child.
A court report forms the basis for the practitioner's evidence and an effective tool to state the risk of harm to the child and articulate the child's best interests in a formal manner. A well articulated court report allows for early resolution of cases in court and assists practitioners if evidence is required to be given at a later stage.
Refer to the Court report writing guide in Forms and secure documents/Court/Reports for general guidance on writing court reports and detailed information on completing court report templates.
Temporary assessment order report
The purpose of the temporary assessment order report is to inform the Court of the:
- details of the action taken by the child protection practitioner under the order
- the results of the investigation and assessment
- any other information that the child protection practitioner considers to be in the child’s best interests or the Court directs to be included in the report
- recommendation regarding child protection involvement with the child and family.
The practitioner needs to complete the temporary assessment order report in CRIS. A copy of the format can be found in Forms and secure documents/Court/Reports.
When the Court has issued a temporary assessment order, the practitioner is required to complete the protective investigation within the timeframe specified in the order.
Protection application report
The protection application report (referred to as a protection report in s. 553 of the CYFA) should be provided to the Court in the following circumstances:
- a protection application has been issued
- the magistrate in the Criminal Division of the Melbourne Children's Court requests a protection and disposition report by the Secretary.
The protection report is informed by the risk assessment or review risk assessment and must only deal with matters that are relevant to the question of whether the child is in need of protection (s. 555 of the CYFA). This includes:
- the reasons the application was issued and how these relate to the legislated ground(s) for a child being in need of protection
- why the child cannot be adequately protected without a Children’s Court protection order.
- supports and services provided to the family to address the concerns
- which of the best interests principles and rights are relevant and how they have been considered.
- the child’s current circumstances, including their care and contact arrangements, their significant needs and rights and their views and wishes
- the consequences and probability of harm to the child.
Consult your supervisor and if necessary a solicitor or divisional legal officer regarding the information that you should include in the court report.
In accordance with the provisions of s. 557(1), CYFA, the child protection practitioner must prepare and submit a recommendations report (referred to in the CYFA as a disposition report) if the Court is satisfied that:
- a child is in need of protection
- there is a substantial and presently irreconcilable difference between the person who has parental responsibility for the child and the child to such an extent that the care and control of the child are likely to be seriously disrupted
- there has been a failure to comply with a family preservation order.
Section 558 requires that the following matters be included in a recommendations report:
- the case plan, if any, prepared for the child
- recommendations, where appropriate, regarding the order child protection believes the Court ought to make, including recommended conditions if any
- where a recommendation is made that the child be removed from the parent’s care, a statement outlining the steps taken by child protection to provide the services necessary to enable the child to remain in the parent’s care must be included.
- any other information as directed by the Court or that the regulations require.
Also include the child’s views and wishes in relation to the department’s recommendations.
The practitioner needs to complete the recommendations report in CRIS. A copy of the format can be found in Forms and secure documents/Court.
Report in support of application to extend/breach/vary/revoke a protection order and recommendations
The child protection practitioner must prepare and submit a report ( referred to in the CYFA as a disposition report) to the Court if any party has made an application to extend, breach, vary or revoke a protection order.
In this type of recommendations report the practitioner should:
- outline the reasons for the application to extend/breach/vary/revoke
- provide factual evidence regarding harm to the child
- articulate the rights of the child that are affected and need to be protected
- describe the current circumstances of the child
- articulate the family’s strengths and parental capacity to protect the child from harm and promote positive development
- outline what actions need to be undertaken to ensure the child's best interests and rights are adhered to
- include the case plan and permanency objective as defined in CYFA s167(1)
- outline the steps taken by the child protection practitioner to provide the services necessary to enable the child to remain in the parent’s care, if it is recommended that the child be removed from the parent’s care
- articulate the rationale for any decision making as informed by the risk assessment
- also include advice for the magistrate, as set out in s.276A (see above).
The practitioner needs to complete the report in support of application to extend/breach/vary/revoke and recommendations in CRIS. A copy of the format can be found in Forms and secure documents/Court.
Report in support of application for a care by Secretary order/long-term care order and recommendations
This report is to be used when the current family reunification order cannot be extended and/or reunification is no longer a viable permanency objective for the child.
In this type of recommendations report the practitioner should include:
- an update on the progress towards achieving reunification by addressing the protective concerns identified in previous court reports and in the child’s case plan (this may include any new concerns that have arisen during the current order period)
- the evidence for ongoing concerns and how these concerns impact on the child
- the services and supports the parents been referred to and involved in, including what steps have been taken for the child to safely return to their parent’s care
- an update on the child’s current circumstances, including any changes to care and contact arrangements, update on the child’s significant needs and rights and their views and wishes
- articulate the rationale for decision making relating to the application in line with the current risk assessment.
Report in support of application for a permanent care order and recommendations
This report (referred to as a disposition report in s. 557(1) of the CYFA) is to be used to support an application for a permanent care order (PCO).
The CYFA provides for the Children’s Court to make a PCO to a person or persons if satisfied that the person or persons is/are suitable to have parental responsibility for the child. Sections 319-327 of the CYFA, provide for when the Court may make a PCO, how an application may be made, the effect of a PCO, the restrictions on making a PCO, when a PCO may lapse, how disputes between persons jointly granted parental responsibility are to be resolved, changes to the nature of a PCO and how applications to revoke or vary a PCO may be made and by whom.
In this type of recommendations report the practitioner should include:
- The circumstances leading to the PCO application.
- The child’s permanent carer arrangements, focussing on the child’s experience of the current permanent care arrangements.
- Required information relating to the permanent carer assessment. The Court must be satisfied that the person or persons named in the permanent care application are suitable to have parental responsibility for the child having regard to Children Youth and Families Regulations 2017 – Regulation 18 which outlines the prescribed matters. Each prescribed matter must be addressed.
- Under section 320 (1) of the CYFA the report must include a statement that the carers are approved as suitable to have parental responsibility for the child.
- If the child is Aboriginal, the report must also address the requirements of Section 323 of the CYFA.
- Significant needs and rights of the child and their views and wishes.
- Recommendation in relation to contact arrangements.
Update reports (referred to as additional reports in the CYFA)
Section 560, CYFA, stipulates that the Court may order the submission of an additional report by:
- the Secretary
- the Department of Justice and Community Safety, or
- another person specified by the Court
if it requires further information to determine a matter and the most appropriate recommendation.
In practice, where the Court has requested an additional report by the Department of Justice and Community Safet, it is provided by the Children's Court Clinic. The clinician will prepare a Children's Court Clinic report for the Court. See service description Children's Court Clinic.
The Court may request an additional report to be provided by any community agency or service provider, for example, foster care agency, family support service, drug and alcohol service or mental health service.
When the Court orders that the child protection practitioner is to provide an update report, an addendum report will need to be completed. Additionally, the practitioner is required to prepare and submit an update report when:
- there has been an adjournment period of a reasonable length
- the facts or circumstances have changed and the risk assessment has changed, or there has been a significant change to the case plan
- a long period has elapsed since the last report was prepared
- the practitioner is seeking to amend the grounds of the application
- the practitioner is seeking to withdraw the application
- the recommendations are different from the previous report.
The update report provides a summary of the circumstances and events since the previous adjournment and the current recommendation regarding the application. It is not necessary to outline the original protective concerns or repeat any information included in previous reports. The purpose of the report is to provide an update to the Court of the current situation, reiterate the department's recommendations and explain the reasons for any changes in the practitioner's assessment, recommendation or the child’s case plan if applicable. The practitioner needs to complete the update report in CRIS. A copy of the format can be found in Forms and secure documents/Court/Reports.
If a court report is required, the practitioner must forward a copy of the report to(s. 556, s. 559, s. 561, s. 566 and s. 570, CYFA):
- the Court (original)
- the child (aged 12 years or over)
- the child's parents
- the legal practitioners representing the child and the child's parents
- the legal practitioner representing the child protection practitioner
- a party to the proceeding
- any other person specified by the Court.
The practitioner can only provide a copy of the court report to the persons outline above.
The practitioner cannot provide a copy of the court report to any other person. It is good practice to seek permission of the child or the parents in addition to permission from the Court, to distribute the court report.
See Access to court reports for further guidance.
Service of court reports
The service of court reports to parents or any other person who is a party to the proceeding needs to occur -
- in person, or
- via registered post if the person is living some distance away or cannot meet with the practitioner in person and is willing to accept service via post.
It is not acceptable practice to leave a private document such as a court report in an open or public place such as at the door of a family home. Court reports contain personal information and all attempts should be made to avoid them being accessed by third parties.
It is usual practice that a court report is provided to a child aged 12 years or over, as this is the age that a child is legally required to be served with any application. If however, it is the practitioner's opinion (in consultation with the supervisor or more senior officer) that the whole or part of the court report should not be provided to the child, then consideration needs to be given to withholding the whole or part of the report. If this is being considered, consult with CPLO or your divisional legal representative as an application to withhold part or all of the report may need to be made to the Court.
For a child aged under 12 years, it is usual practice to provide a copy of the court report to the child's legal representative only. However, in some instances a child aged under 12 years may request a copy of the court report and the practitioner needs to consider whether this is appropriate or whether an application to withhold the whole or part of the court report is required.
At the time when a directions hearing is booked, the Court will make a procedural order to the effect that the practitioner must file and serve all reports by a particular date or otherwise no later than three days before the directions hearing. The child protection practitioner must comply with the procedural order, which is made by the Court in relation to directions hearings. If this does not occur, it is possible that costs may be awarded against the department.
A court report should only contain information relevant to the application.
In some circumstances the unauthorised release of private or contact information may have significant unintended consequences, including risk to the safety of clients, family members, carers or professionals.
The court report templates on CRIS do not include address or contact details for a child, their family, carers or professionals.
Therefore, it is very important to generate reports from CRIS as opposed to working off-line. If a report is created off-line practitioners must ensure contact details are not included. If the Court requires a professional’s contact details, child protection must supply this information to the Court at the time of the request.
All court reports must be checked prior to submitting to court and providing a copy to the child and parents to ensure no private information has been inappropriately included in the report.
Practitioners should exercise caution about including contact details in court or case plan documents to avoid placing children, family members, carers or professionals at risk, or contravening an existing order. See Use of personal information in court reports.
When determining whether private information will be withheld from court reports, particular consideration should be given to:
- the existence of any prior alerts or decisions regarding the protection of the child, parent's, carers or professionals' address or other information, including the existence of intervention orders
- any history of violence or threats, including criminal assaults, between parents, or against other family members, carers or professionals
- the relevance of the information to the matter considered by the Court
- the appropriateness of seeking the parent's consent to the release of the information.
Where there is uncertainty, legal advice should be obtained from the divisional solicitor or CPLO, regarding the appropriateness of and legal requirements relating to withholding relevant information or inserting 'details withheld' in lieu of address details. This must be recorded accurately in CRIS.
The child protection practitioner, the author of the report, the child or the parent may make an application to the Court to withhold the whole or part of the report from:
- the child
- the parent
- a party to the proceeding
- any other person specified by the Court
- the practitioner or the author of the report is of the opinion that information contained in the report may be prejudicial to the physical or mental health of the child or the parent of the child, or
- the child or a parent of the child or any other party to the proceeding notifies the practitioner of their objection to the forwarding of copies of the report.
Where part of a report is withheld from a person, the practitioner must provide the remainder of the report to that person.
The practitioner must make an application to the Court for an order to withhold the whole or part of the report not less than two working days before the hearing of the proceeding. This applies to all types of court reports, including the Children's Court Clinic report, where the clinician of the Children's Court Clinic may apply to withhold the whole or part of the report. The Court will then decide whether to uphold the decision to not distribute the report or to release the report. This decision must be made prior to the hearing, with the hearing being stood down for the decision to be made, if necessary.
A court report:
- must not identify the reporter or a person who provides information in confidence or contain information that may lead to the identity of the reporter or person who provided information in confidence, without that person's written permission
- contains the facts as disclosed by the child or observed by the practitioner or other professionals
- critically examines all the available information
- must clearly identify the source of all information and must clearly state information as being an allegation where there is little or no independent evidence to support it
In writing a court report:
- Consider whether the information will impact on an individual's reputation or privacy and only include that information if it is necessary and relevant to the case.
- Ensure the timely recording of notes and retain hand written notes, as required. See Case recording for advice.
- Select what information is relevant to the report. Specifically, the evidence in the protection report must indicate what risk of harm the child has suffered or is likely to suffer, how the parents have not or are unlikely to protect the child and must relate to the question of whether the child is in need of protection.
- Present the factual information in a succinct way using dot points and sub-headings. Assist the magistrate to answer the question “is this child in need of protection?”
- List the protective concerns using dot points. These should relate to the confirmed and verified evidence based factors and essential information categories. There is no need to elaborate or describe, as further information is included in the section ‘Evidence for the concerns’.
- Use direct quotes, as appropriate.
- When quoting from other professionals or using their professional opinion to formulate a risk assessment, ensure the information is accurate.
- Use clear, simple language and be succinct.
- Avoid unnecessary repetition.
- Parents should be referred to as Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms or by their full name
- Write in the first person, that is, use “I” rather than “the worker”.
- Use short sentences. Make every sentence count.
Unless the grounds relate solely to an absence of a carer, the practitioner needs to be able to demonstrate how the protective concerns place the child at risk of significant harm. There should be a link between the risk factors and the impact on the child's safety and development. The use of the SAFER practice activities will support analysis of the vulnerability of the child, severity of harm, likelihood of harm, and safety to determine judgements and decision making. It is not sufficient to indicate what the protective concerns are. Being able to articulate how the risk factors compromise the child's safety and development will provide for a strong court report. For example, parental mental illness or substance abuse alone may not necessarily be a significant protective concern. The practitioner will need to indicate how the mental illness or substance use impacts on the parent's ability to care for and protect the child and consequential risk of harm to the child.
The SAFER children framework provides guidance for using professional judgement to determine the probability of harm, consequence of harm and safety to inform the risk assessment and decision making. Using the information and evidence which informed the risk assessment will assist in articulating within the court report the impact of the harm on the child and why the child is in need of protection.
Harm to a child may include physical injury, harm from sexual abuse, emotional or psychological harm damaging emotional or intellectual development, or harm to physical development or health, including as a result of neglect or failure to ensure safety. Where harm has accumulated through a series of acts, omissions or circumstances
In writing the recommendation report (following a protection application):
- The recommendation report will include the child’s case plan, and explain how it addresses the protective concerns in a way that promotes the child’s best interests.
- The report will recommend the making of an order consistent with the permanency objective and other aspect of the case plan. The permanency objective will often determine the type of order to be recommended and the case plan may determine the recommended duration of the order and, if appropriate, conditions to be attached to the order. The case plan’s permanency objective should be chosen from the permanency hierarchy contained in s. 167 of the CYFA as being the earliest in the hierarchy that will promote the child’s best interests.
- Where the permanency objective is family preservation, a family preservation order should be recommended.
- Where a child is in out-of-home care, a family reunification order will usually be recommended following a protection application, noting the limitations on the maximum duration of this order. There will be a small number of cases where a care by Secretary order or other order would be appropriate following a protection application, because it has been assessed that family reunification cannot be achieved. If there have been extensive delays in decision-making and an IAO is still in force, or if siblings are already placed in out-of-home care and there has been no change in the parents’ circumstances, or where parents have abandoned or relinquished care of the child, a long-term care order may be recommended if the child is already placed with carers who are prepared to be long-term carers, or an application for a permanent care order can be made if the child is with carers who are able to be recommended, and are prepared to become permanent carers, where the child has been out of their parents’ care for six months, or for six of the previous 12 months.
The case plan
A case plan is to be prepared for each child, endorsed and provided to the parents and children within 21 days of substantiation. The most recent, endorsed case plan recorded on CRIS will automatically generate with recommendations and any update report. In the case of a protection application by emergency care, this initial case plan will often be developed with the family during an adjournment period, prior to the completion of the report.
The author of a court report may be required to attend court to give evidence at the hearing of the proceeding to which the report is relevant. The child, a parent of the child, the Secretary or the Court, may give notice requiring the author to attend.
If the author of the report is a child protection practitioner or employed within the department, then a subpoena is not required to be issued, unless the practitioner is no longer employed by the department.
If the author of the report is from a community agency or service provider, then a subpoena should be issued to ensure the person's attendance at the proceeding.
However, all witnesses, including report authors should be given as much notice as possible of their required attendance at court.
Often the child protection practitioner may rely on reports prepared by community agencies or service providers that have not been court ordered. The practitioner may utilise the information in these reports when articulating risk of harm to the child. These reports may be from services such as drug and alcohol agencies, mental health services, a doctor, the Gatehouse Centre, Parenting Assessment and Skills Development Service (PASDS) or a foster care agency. During court proceedings, the legal representatives may request a copy of these reports, particularly if the practitioner's assessment is based on information obtained from the reports.
In relation to reports that have been commissioned by child protection, that is, requested and paid for by child protection, these become the property of the department and the practitioner can use these as deemed necessary. This includes distributing them to all parties for the purposes of a court hearing, if required.
In relation to reports from community agencies that have not been commissioned by child protection, that is the report may have been requested by child protection for the purposes of formulating a risk assessment and decision-making, however has not been paid for (for example progress report of a parent's drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, forensic medical report or foster care placement report) the practitioner needs to ensure that the author of the report is advised that information contained within the report may be used for the purposes of a protection application.
In all cases involving infants under the age of two years where protective issues are present, the child protection practitioner must discuss SIDS risk factors with parents, strategies to reduce these risks and must record this information on CRIS. See advice SIDS and safe sleeping. The practitioner should note in the court report the presence of SIDS risk factors and the parents' response to these, as appropriate and relevant to the case.
There are occasions when the child or family refuses, or is unable to be involved in the assessment, for example, when the child absconds, where a parent is unwell or where families create unreasonable barriers. Although the practitioner is responsible for attempting to engage the family, the practitioner cannot be accountable for the situations described above. In such circumstances, the practitioner will need to describe in the court report the attempts to engage the family and will need to complete the report as thoroughly as possible, outlining to the Court the constraints to the assessment. The practitioner is not compelled to make a recommendation if it is felt that the assessment has been so seriously constrained that a recommendation is not possible.
Early preparation of the report
The preparation and writing of court reports can be time-consuming. It is therefore important that the practitioner allows adequate time for the writing and re-reading of the report to ensure that all relevant information is presented in a clear, succinct and logical manner. Take time to plan the report, highlight the assessment and evidence, and present the evidence using subheadings and dot points to organise the content and make every sentence count, will benefit the child and family, as well as practitioner’s reputation.
It is good practice to allow sufficient time for a colleague to read and provide feedback on the report prior to providing it to a supervisor, for final review and sign off.
Practitioners are required to give the report to families three (3) days prior to the hearing. It is good practice to discuss the content of the report with the family prior to the court date. The value in the family reading the report prior to the court hearing is that it provides them an opportunity to correct any factual errors, ensures that they are aware of the protective concerns, assessment, case plan and recommended disposition. This allows the parents to process the information and to ask questions outside the court environment.