Protection and care matters involve the Department of Communities (Child Protection and Family Support Division) WA ("the Department"). The Department is a West Australian government department with authority to remove a child from their family if it considers that the child is in need of protection.
This information is for parents or other relatives of a child or young person involved with the Department. If your case is at court or your child is already on an order see Protection and care - court process.
The following questions are answered here:
When is a child or young person in need of protection?
What will the Department do if it thinks a child needs protection?
Can the Department take a child into care?
Can the Department talk to me child without me being there?
Will the Department tell me if they have talked to my child?
Does the Department need a warrant to take a child?
What happens after the Department takes a child into care?
The Department has asked me to go to a Signs of Safety meeting. What is that?
What if my child is not in need of protection but needs care?
What if I am pregnant and the Department is involved?
Where can I get more information?
When is a child or young person in need of protection?
The Department makes the initial decision about when a child or young person is in need of protection. The Department will consider a child in need of protection if they have suffered, or are likely to suffer:
- physical, sexual, emotional abuse which includes psychological abuse and being exposed to an act of family and domestic violence
- neglect or
- harm due to parent being unable to provide enough care.
The Department may also consider a child to be in need of protection if the child has been abandoned and the parents cannot be found, or if the parents are dead or unable to care for the child and no suitable relatives can be found.
What will the Department do if it thinks a child or young person needs protection?
The Department can make inquiries.
If the Department gets information (usually by someone contacting the Department) that makes it worried about a child or young person's safety, the Department can make inquiries to find out whether it needs to do something to protect the child or young person's safety.
If the Department think that something should be done to protect a child or young person, it must do one (or more) of the following:
- Arrange for particular social services (such as counselling) to be given to the child or young person and possibly also to the parents or other relatives of the child or young person.
- Arrange a meeting between the parents or another person and a Department officer to develop a plan to address the ongoing needs of the child or young person in a way that ensures the best outcome for the child or young person.
- Take interventionist action in respect of the child or young person.
- Take any other action in respect of the child or young person that is considered reasonably necessary.
Yes. If the Department is concerned that your child might need protection and if it considers it to be in the best interests of your child, a Department officer can talk to your child without you there and even without you knowing that they are speaking to your child.
In most cases the Department must inform you that it has spoken to your child, however, there are some exceptions including:
- where telling you may interfere with a police investigation into the laying of possible criminal charges
- where the Department believes that telling you may put the child in danger, or
- where the child has requested that you not be told and the Department believes it is in the child's best interests not to tell you.
Generally, the Department's officers will need a warrant to remove a child from the parents. However, in urgent cases, an authorised Department officer or police officer can remove a child from you without a warrant. If the Department has taken your child into care, you should get legal advice as soon as possible.
If the Department thinks that a child is in need of protection, it may take a child into provisional protection and care. This is often just called being taken "into care".
Being taken into care usually means that the child is taken away from the parents and placed into the care of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Department. When a child has been taken into care, the Department will make all of the decisions about the day-to-day care and protection of that child.
After the Department has taken a child into care, it will make a decision about whether that child requires ongoing protection. Sometimes the Department will not take any further action and the child will be returned to the parents.
However, if the Department considers that a child continues to be in need of protection and should not be returned to the parents or only returned with supervision by the Department, it may decide to make an application to the Children's Court for a protection order. The court will then decide if a child is in need of protection and whether a protection order is needed.
See Protection and care - court process for more information.
The Department has asked me to go to a signs of safety meeting. What is that?
The Department holds signs of safety meetings to talk about how to make sure a child or young person is safe. The meetings assess risk to the child, look at worries and strengths of families and make decisions about a child’s safety.
Pre-birth signs of safety meetings can also be held. Anyone who cares about a child and their family, or the child themselves, can go to the meetings. Family members, friends, support services, and others are welcome.
Everyone who goes to a signs of safety meeting should have the chance to talk about what is working well and what is worrying them, and be involved in decisions about people who might support a child who has been harmed or is at risk.
Signs of safety pre-hearing conferences may also be held as part of the court process at Perth Children's Court.
The Department has a booklet The Signs of Safety Pre-Birth Meetings - Frequently Asked Questions which can be downloaded from its website. Copies can also be requested from the Department.
The Family Inclusion Network of WA Inc also has prepared a brochure "Tips for parents attending Pre-Birth signs of Safety Meetings". It can be downloaded from the Department website.
If the parents of a child are unable to care for their child, they and the Department may enter into a written agreement for it to make a placement arrangement for the child.
This is called a negotiated placement agreement. For example, if you are going into hospital for an operation for a few weeks and there is no one to look after your child, an agreement can be made for the Department to make arrangements for your child while you are in hospital.
Contact Children's Court (Protection) Services on (08) 9218 0160 or Legal Aid WA's Infoline on 1300 650 579. If you live in the metropolitan area you may be eligible for legal representation at some pre-birth signs of safety meetings.