Children and young people in care have the right to a safe and stable living environment that meets your needs and allows you to be prepared for leaving care when you are older.
The Charter of Rights for children in care sets out your rights and how you can be involved in decisions about your care.
If the Court is making a decision about your care, then a ‘direct representative’ lawyer may be able to give the Court information about what you want and argue for your point of view. A ‘separate representative’ lawyer appointed by the Court to act in your best interests can also help make your views known to the Court, but they must also tell the Court what they think is best for you. Sometimes, what you want and what is best for you might not be the same thing.
If you have concerns about how you are being treated while in care, get legal advice.
The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women
The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women is the Queensland Government department responsible for investigating and assessing children at risk of harm. They are sometimes known as ‘the department’, DoCS or Child Safety. Child Safety will become involved if they are concerned about your safety and whether anyone can look after you.
Charter of Rights for children in care
The charter of rights for children in care outlines what rights you have while in care. You must be:
- told about the Charter of Rights and its effect.
- given written information about the Charter of Rights.
- told about the Office of the Public Guardian.
You can find the charter in schedule 1 of the Child Protection Act 1999, which says you have a right to:
- a safe and stable living environment.
- live in a place that meets your needs and respects your cultural background.
- have contact with your family and community.
- take part in making decisions affecting your life like where you live, contact with your family, school and health.
- be given information about the decisions and plans made about your life.
- privacy, including, for example, your personal information.
- have what is happening to you regularly reviewed (if you are being cared for by the department until you are 18).
- access the help you need, like dental, medical treatment or counselling services.
- access a school or education that is right for you.
- access job training opportunities and help to find a job.
- be involved in planning the kind of support and help you may need after leaving care, like where you will live, help from Centrelink, job training and education.
Being involved in decisions about yourself
When Child Safety makes a decision about you, they need to consider what you want to happen.
The law says:
- a child or young person should be kept informed of matters affecting them in a way they can understand.
- if a child can form and express views about their care, those views must be given consideration, taking into account their age and ability to understand.
A case plan sets out what should happen while you are in Child Safety’s care, for example, where you will live, where you will go to school and what contact you will have with your family.
If the plan is for you to return home to your parents, the case plan sets out what needs to be done to make sure it is safe for you to return home.
The case plan also sets out what is going to happen while you are staying in out-of-home care (eg foster care).
When Child Safety is creating a case plan, you must be kept informed and be given a chance to tell people how you feel about what is happening (if you are of an age and ability to understand what is happening).
It is also very important that you understand what is in the plan. For example, Child Safety should explain the case planning process to you using language appropriate to your age, language, skills and situation.
You should also have:
- an Education Support Plan that sets out what support you will get with school while in care. Your child safety officer or teacher may be able to help.
- a Child Health Passport with a health plan, medical records and information on how to meet your day-to-day medical needs. For more information talk to your child safety officer.
Family group meetings
A family group meeting (PDF, 153KB) is where the important people in your life (including your parents) have a meeting with Child Safety to discuss the best way to take care of you.
You should be given a chance to attend some or all of the meeting to have your say, unless it is not appropriate because of your age or your ability to understand what is going on. You can talk to the meeting convenor (the person organising the family group meeting) about how to attend and having your say.
You can also have someone else attend and be part of the family group meeting for support. For example, this could include a youth worker, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander elder, a representative from your cultural community or a lawyer.
Child Safety must, giving consideration to your age and ability to understand:
- give you a copy of the case plan, and
- explain the case plan to you.
Having a say when decisions are made by the Children’s Court
The Children’s Court makes Child Protection Orders and when making its decisions, must take into consideration your views and wishes (and other information) if they have been made known to the Court. There are many different ways you can make sure your views and wishes are made known to the Children’s Court.
One way to have your say is through a separate representative – a lawyer appointed by the Children’s Court to act in your best interests and who lets the decision maker know your wishes or views. They are independent from everyone else in the Court—they do not work for Child Safety or your parents.
The separate representative may:
- meet with you
- arrange a social worker or another independent expert to write a report for the Court after meeting you and your family
- talk to your school or other professionals who know you.
Part of the separate representative’s job is to find out your views and wishes (if you want to have a say) and to make sure they are known to the Court. They must also look at all the evidence and make recommendations to the Court about what is in your best interests. It is important to understand that what the separate representative making these recommendations may think is in your best interests can sometimes be different to what you want.
For example: you may want to go back and live with your parents, but there may be evidence to show it is not safe for you to do so just yet. In this situation, the separate representative is appointed to tell the Court what you want, but they may also recommend to the Court that what you want (to return home) is not in your best interests (because it is unsafe).
If the Court makes an Order for a separate representative to act for you, Legal Aid Queensland will organise a lawyer to be your separate representative.
You may be able to get your own lawyer to act as your direct representative, who will tell the Court what you would like to happen and stand up for your point of view. To be your lawyer, a direct representative will need to be sure you understand the Court process and the decision you want to have a say in. Get legal advice.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people
If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child or young person, the law also says:
- if you are taken into care, Child Safety must support you to maintain your connection to your family, culture, traditions, language and community.
- a ‘recognised entity’ is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that provides cultural advice about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child protection matters.
- the recognised entity should have a chance to participate in significant decisions about you (such as decisions about your case plan and where you should live). They should be consulted about any other decisions that may involve you.
- a case plan should be prepared in a culturally appropriate way.
- if you are in out-of-home care, you should be cared for in your own family or community if possible.
- you should have a cultural support plan to make sure you maintain a connection to your family, community and culture.
If you have any questions about how this applies to you, you can talk to your child safety officer or someone from the recognised entity for your family.
Disagreeing with a decision made about you
When a decision is made about you (like where you should live or who you can have contact with), Child Safety should tell you about the decision and may give you a letter explaining their reasons.
If you disagree with the decision that was made, in some situations you can ask the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal to review the decision. This is called an ‘application for review’. Your foster carer, parents and other people affected by the decision may also be able to ask for a review.
The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) is a free service that is part of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General. It is independent from Child Safety and the Office of the Public Guardian.
You can ask them to review decisions about:
- who you should live with.
- who should know where you are living.
- when and how you spend time with your family.
Child advocates from the Office of the Public Guardian may be able to help you to apply to QCAT for a review of a decision that affects you, or to make the application on your behalf.
Office of the Public Guardian
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) is an independent body working to protect the rights and interests of children and young people in out-of-home care, such as foster care, kinship care, residential care, youth detention or other supported accommodation.
Community visitors and OPG child advocates are independent from Child Safety, and can help children and young people in the child protection system in different ways. Community visitors visit children and young people in out-of-home care to check if their needs are being met. They can help you get information and help solve problems you may be experiencing in care. They can also help you get the support services you may need.
Child advocates are lawyers who can help protect your rights and make sure you have a say in decisions affecting you and your care arrangements—including decisions being made by the Children’s Court or QCAT. They may be able to help you apply to the Children’s Court or QCAT to change a Child Protection Order or review a decision by Child Safety.
To talk to a community visitor or a child advocate, contact the Office of the Public Guardian or ask a youth worker, foster carer, or your child safety officer to help you contact them.
Are you turning 18 and getting ready to leave Child Safety’s care?
Child protection Orders finish once you turn 18. However, the law says Child Safety must make sure you are prepared to leave care and start life on your own.
The Charter of Rights for children in care states that before leaving care you have the right to be involved in planning for the kind of help and support you may need after leaving care—like where you will live, help from Centrelink, job training and education. Planning for your transition to independence when you leave care should start when you turn 15.
Child Safety should plan and help you do things like:
- sort out any financial issues.
- get a Medicare card.
- get a tax file number.
- find somewhere to live.
- find job and educational opportunities.
- visit or reconnect with your family.
If you have questions about what is going to happen when you turn 18, talk to your child safety officer. You can also talk to the Office of the Public Guardian for help with having a say about your transition to independence plan.