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Individual advocacy for children and young people in out of home care. - lessons from practice is in the spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 10th December 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> December -> Individual advocacy for children and young people in out of home care. - lessons from practice is in the spotlight

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At the recent PeakCare Encore Sessions, Catherine Moynihan, Official Solicitor of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) outlined the role of the OPG and highlighted the importance of advocating for and listening to children and young people. The OPG came to be on July 1st, 2014 as a result of recommendations of the Carmody Inquiry.

The role of the OPG is promoting and protecting the rights, interests and wellbeing of vulnerable Queenslanders. This involves oversight, advisory and advocacy functions. The Public Guardian is charged with the promotion and protection of the rights and interests of vulnerable adults and children. Wherever possible the Public Guardian ensures adults and children are involved in making decisions that affect their care and the voices of vulnerable people are heard and their wishes are taken into consideration when decisions are made with regard to their lives and wellbeing. The Public Guardian also assists adults, children and young people in navigating statutory systems and resolving any disputes that may arise.

The OPG is guided by the main principle that the best interests of the child are paramount. Other principles include:

  • That children are valued, respected and protected. The voice of the child should be heard.
  • The importance of the child’s relationship with family and community are considered.
  • Children and young people are entitled to be heard even if others may not agree with their expressed views.

The Public Guardian provides individual advocacy for children and young people – primarily those in the Queensland Child Protection System. In doing so they offer information, advice on options and assistance. This role is shared between community visitors and child advocates who provide advocacy about legal issues.

The child visiting program is one of the child advocate functions of the Office of the Public Guardian. Community visitors (CVs) play a key role in promoting and protecting the rights and interests of children and young people. Through visiting and engaging with children and young people and forming trusting relationships CVs can identify when a child may need dedicated advocacy services. In such instances the advocates will facilitate the resolution of the child or young person’s concerns and grievances.

Children with whom the OPG works include those children under child protection orders (including urgent and temporary orders), interventions and voluntary agreements under the Child Protection Act. When deemed appropriate, children and young people who were receiving assistance before the cessation of a child protection order, agreement or intervention can continue to be assisted. Support in reviewing a decision to end an order agreement or intervention is also an option. As is support for a child or young person or an 18 year old transitioning from care to independence. Referrals are received via self-referrals, the Childrens Court, Child Safety Service Centres, Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal and carers including those across foster, kinship and residential care.

Child advocates provide advice and information to children and young people. They offer support at conferences, mediations, family group meetings and other relevant meetings. They assist the child to resolve issues that arise with others in their lives and/or as part of their care experience. They monitor case plans and health or education plans. They also work closely with government and non-government agencies who work with the child or young person. Furthermore, they can seek to resolve disputes with regard to reviewable decisions with the Chief Executive of Child Safety. If a child or young person wants to make an official complaint to an authority, advocates can also assist the process. The advocates enact legal advocacy functions and can also support a child or young person when they consider that the Child Protection Act Charter of Rights has not been complied with.

As the OPG continues in its establishment phase they are looking to fill gaps in legal services to children and young people. They are also ensuring clarity of role between community visitors and child legal advocates. In the main child advocates focus on: placement reviews, contact with family and suspensions and exclusions from school.

Catherine Moynihan noted that the concerns raised about children and young people participating in decisions that impact them include:

  • Sharing information with children and young people will harm them
  • If children and young people participated in decisions made about them they will want something that is unsafe
  • If children and young people participate and don’t get what they want they will be upset
  • That understanding they have rights raises unrealistic expectations of children and young people

Concerns are often allayed through working closely with key stakeholders as advocates clearly explain to children and young people what each process will entail and what possible realistic outcomes they can expect. Open communication with children and young people assists them in being more comfortable with decisions, even those that require negotiation from their stated request.

In the coming year the OPG will be developing their practice framework around the Charter of Rights. The charter is a simple way of uniting all in being clear about how the wishes and views of children and young people are taken into account.

From September 1st 2014-June 30th 2015 the OPG attended:

  • 309 visits to children and young people
  • 103 court appearances
  • 68 Family Group Meetings
  • 21 Court ordered conferences
  • 16 QCAT hearings
  • 19 other court or QCAT matters

As well as developing the practice framework, in 2016 the OPG will be working on staff recruitment and progressing how they work effectively with referral pathways.

For more information you can visit the OPG website