The Children’s Court Clinic (the clinic) is a state-wide service funded by the Department of Justice and Regulation. Its primary roles are to:
- conduct clinical assessments of children and their families who are involved in a Children’s Court process
- provide a report to the Children’s Court to inform its decision making
- provide clinical services to children and their families.
Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists conduct the assessments, which can be ordered by the Criminal or Family Division of the Children’s Court. A request to the clinic for an assessment can only be made by a judge or magistrate, either through an application by a party to the proceedings or upon the Court’s own motion.
Who is entitled to receive a copy of the clinic report?
If the Court orders a report from the clinic, the report must be prepared and lodged with the Court within 21 days and not less than three days before the hearing. The report must be released to:
- the child subject of the report
- that child’s parents
- the Secretary (Department of Health and Human Services)
- legal practitioners representing the child, the child’s parents, the Secretary or an employee authorised to appear in proceedings before the Family Division
- a party to the proceedings
- any other person specified by the Court.
The Court can only withhold a clinic report from the Secretary if releasing the report would cause ‘significant psychological’ harm to the child. This term will be subject to interpretation by the Children’s Court. In practice, where a clinician has recommended to the Court that part or whole of the report be withheld from the Secretary, an opportunity to cross-examine the clinician on this issue should be provided.
It is the responsibility of the Secretary to distribute clinic reports, rather than the author of the report and the responsibility of the Court to release clinic reports.
Where do clinic assessments occur?
In cases heard at rural and regional courts, the court clinic professional will travel to the country to do an assessment where there is a special need for it. However, in the main, assessments are done on the court clinic premises in Melbourne, although young people in custody or secure welfare services (SWS) are seen together with their families at remand or a SWS centre. When there is a special need a home visit will be made. If the clinician is required to travel to the country to conduct an assessment, or somewhere other than the clinic premises, this should be raised with the magistrate or judge prior to the Court ordering a clinic assessment.
Clarifying issues for the clinic
At the point of a clinic assessment being ordered, it is imperative for the parties to try to reach agreement and clarify exactly what is hoped the clinic assessment will achieve. Good practice would ensure that all parties have agreed on terms of reference for the issues in dispute and what is sought from the clinic (such as, a general family assessment, and for the clinic to consider if a neurological assessment is required).
Terms of reference for the clinic assessment should be recommended to the Court prior to the Court ordering the assessment. The terms of reference for a clinic assessment may not be agreed upon by all of the parties. Child protection should be ready to articulate to the Court and to instruct their legal representative as to the rationale for a clinic assessment and the basis for the terms of reference.
What information should child protection practitioners provide to the clinic?
If a clinic assessment is ordered, the Court will provide the clinic with information that is already contained on the court file (court reports). Any information that child protection wishes the clinic to know about and consider when making an assessment, must already be in the form of a report (court report, addendum, breach report, extension report) and practitioners must ensure reports have been filed in a timely manner with the Court. In order to bring new information to the attention of the clinician, child protection must file and serve a report to the Court. Child protection practitioners can respond to requests from the Children's Court Clinic for additional information, without the need for an additional court report.
Disputed clinic reports
If child protection believes there is information in the clinic report that is factually incorrect or has any significant issues with the assessment and recommendation, this should be raised in court. If necessary the clinician may be cross-examined on the disputed material. It is important to raise any such issues with your legal representative as soon as possible.
Clinic drug program
The clinic provides referrals to drug treatment programs and clinical drug assessments to young people who have an illicit drug use problem; are not subject to any other drug treatment condition on a court order; and who appear in the Criminal Division of the Children’s Court. The main aim is to keep a young person out of the courts, reduce the risk of their offending and assist them to become drug free. Referral to the clinic drug program can only be made by a judge or magistrate by way of court order. For further information about this program contact the senior drug clinician at the clinic.