Family Courts put child safety first

Why do Judges agree to plans proposed by Child Youth and Family (CYF) lawyers and lawyer for child? Why are parents left out when making those plans? Why do CYF separate the child from the family? Why does the law give too much freedom to the child, with the result that whatever the child says is believed by Judges and lawyers?

Family Court Judges do not always agree with the plans that have been prepared.

In some cases, the general plan will be approved, but not the specifics of it, contrary to what CYF and Lawyer for Child recommend.

By the time a case comes before a court to approve a plan for the child, there will have already been a declaration or order made that the child is in need of care and protection.

That order is made only if there is agreement in the family that the child is in need of care and protection, or if there has been a full hearing where the Judge listens to social workers and lawyers, and hears what the family say.

Once an order is made whether, by agreement or not, it is put off to another hearing to put a plan in place.

Opportunities for Families

There are many opportunities for families to have good input into what the outcomes are going to be for their child, and they will never be left out when those plans are made.

They will always have the opportunity to have their say at the time the plan is prepared or later at a court hearing if they do not agree, before the stage is reached of a declaration being made.

The law says under the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act (CYPF Act) that a Family Group Conference must be held. At that conference, the family are fully involved, and no lawyers are allowed with the exception of Lawyer for Child. The family have the opportunity right at that first meeting or conference to answer what the social workers are saying is going wrong with the family and why CYF thinks it should be involved.

Under the law (CYPF Act), the separation of a child from his or her family is the last resort.

Safety priority

The Act and its principles provide that children have the right to remain in their own families, whether it is their parents or their extended family, and they have rights to be raised connected with their own culture and background.

One of the priorities is the safety of the child, and at times CYF believe the only way that the child can be protected from significant harm, whether physical or psychological, is by removing the child from the family.

If they do that in the first place, then the decision will be subject to scrutiny by the court and the family, as previously outlined.

What a child says is not always believed by Judges and lawyers; it depends on the circumstances.

Children are given rights in accordance with the mainstream culture in New Zealand, which is not necessarily the view of other cultures, which have much more emphasis on family rights generally, rather than children’s rights.

However, it is not the case that what the child wants is going to be the outcome because Judges always look at what is in the child’s best interests, and the Judge has regard to family connections and cultural heritage when making the decision.

The wishes of the child are balanced by the Judge looking at the child’s overall welfare and what is in his or her ultimate best interests.

The above is the response given by the judges of the Auckland District Court at their ‘Community Day’ held at Fickling Convention Centre on September 24, 2012. The Editor of this newspaper was present at the meeting and the responses of the judges to a number of questions will be published over several ensuing editions. The responses are reproduced verbatim, as given by the judges.

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