Stages at court in a child protection case

There are a number of different stages in a child protection court case in the Children’s Court. At each stage it is important for the court to know what you think is best for your child and your views about the protection order Child Protection is asking the court to make. If an agreement cannot be reached about what order should be made for the child, the last stage of the court case is a final order hearing. After a final hearing the court will make a decision about what, if any, order should be made.

Find out about each of these different court stages:

  • a mention
  • a child protection mediation style conference
  • an interim hearing
  • a pre-hearing conference
  • a protection review or trial listing hearing, and
  • a final order hearing.
What is a mention?

The first court date is called a mention. A mention is a short court hearing for the court to get an update from everyone involved in the case about what has happened and plan what should happen next. For example, the court may decide it is appropriate for the next step to be for everyone to attend a mediation style conference to have more time to talk about the case and try to reach an agreement.   

On mention dates there is not a lot of time to talk about the case.

There may be a number of mention dates during the court case.

What is a child protection mediation style conference?

A child protection mediation style conference is a meeting attended by Child Protection (usually the case worker and team leader) and other people involved in the case (usually parents) and their lawyers. Parents and other people involved will have the opportunity to talk about the issues in the case, care arrangements for the child and have a say about what they would like to happen in the case. The meeting is organised by Legal Aid WA and run by a person who has special mediation training. The person running the meeting is independent. This means they are not on the side of Child Protection or on the side of the parents of the child. They are there to help everyone have their say about the issues in the case and help them reach agreement.

If you are a parent, you would usually have a lawyer go to the child protection mediation style conference with you. You can also usually bring family, friends and other support people.

At the meeting Child Protection will talk about the good things parents and family have been doing to care for the child. Child Protection will also talk about any worries they may have about the child’s care and safety (for example, drug or alcohol use). The meeting is an opportunity for parents and family to make a plan with Child Protection to work towards making things safer for the child in the future.

Going to the conference with your lawyer gives you the best chance to be clear on what Child Protection is looking for from you to make it safe for your child, to say what you think is best for your child, to maybe narrow the issues that are in dispute or even come to an agreement about your case.

To encourage everyone to speak up, everything talked about during the meeting is confidential. This means what is said during the meeting cannot be talked about in court.

Child protection mediation style conference forms

What is an interim hearing?

Sometimes it can take a year or more before there is a final order hearing and the court makes a final decision about what should happen in the case. An interim hearing is a short hearing where the court makes interim (temporary) orders, before there is a final order hearing.

A parent or other person who is a party to the proceedings (or their lawyer) or Child Protection can ask the court to make interim orders if an agreement cannot be reached.

After listening to what everyone thinks is best for your child, the court will decide what if any interim orders to make. 

Some examples of common issues dealt with at an interim hearing include:

  • how often a child should spend time with their parents, and
  • whether a child’s time with their parents needs to be supervised.
What is a pre-hearing conference?

A pre-hearing conference is a meeting attended by a magistrate, parents, Child Protection’s case worker and team leader (and their lawyers) and the child’s lawyer, if one has been appointed. The meeting is run by the magistrate.

When everyone does not agree with the reasons Child Protection brought your case to court and the final order Child Protection is asking for, a pre-hearing conference can be arranged by the court. This meeting is an opportunity for everyone have a say about what they think is best for the child and to try and reach an agreement.

This meeting is confidential and what is said during the meeting cannot be told to the court later unless everyone who attends agrees or the court allow this.

If everyone is able to reach an agreement at the meeting the case can finish. If not, the case will be given another conference or court date.

What are protection review and trial listing hearings?

A trial listing hearing is a short court hearing held before the final order hearing.

At the hearing the court will want to hear from everyone involved in the case about:

  • what the issues in the case are
  • whether an agreement may be able to be reached, and
  • whether the case is ready to be given a date for the final hearing.

At the hearing the court can make orders requiring people to do things to get the case ready for trial. For example, the court may order a parent or Child Protection to file documents.

In some cases which have already been given a date for the final hearing, the court will conduct a protection review hearing which is similar to a trial listing hearing.

What is a final order hearing?

A final order hearing is a hearing where the court hears all the evidence in the case and then makes a final decision. The court will make a decision about what is best for your child and whether a final protection order is needed to keep your child safe.  The case is listed for a final order hearing when other steps have not lead to agreement between the parties.

How long the final hearing will go depends on how much evidence the court needs to hear. For example, some cases may go for two days and others for many days.

The court can make a decision about:

  • whether a protection order is needed
  • whether the parents and family need help to make sure things are safe for the child at home
  • whether the child can live at home, or
  • if the child cannot live at home, how long the child will be in the care of Child Protection or a special guardian.  This could be for a short time, or up to two years for a protection order (time limited), or until the child is 18 years of age with a protection order (until 18) or a special guardianship order.

 

Reviewed: 11 November 2020

Disclaimer

The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.