Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women

History of child protection legislation reforms

Reviewing our legislation

On 1 July 2013, the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry released its final report - Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection. The Commission made 121 recommendations aimed at making Queensland the safest place to raise children. A number of recommendations involved legislative reforms.

Legislative amendments 2014

As part of the first stage of building the new child and family support system in Queensland, three child protection reform Acts have commenced.

  1. Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2014
  2. Public Guardian Act 2014
  3. Family and Child Commission Act 2014

These legislative reforms:

  • established a new framework that reduces red tape and bureaucracy, eliminates duplication and uses resources efficiently
  • encourage everyone to take responsibility for protecting children
  • are driving a fundamental shift in the way government agencies, child safety professionals and community organisations work with vulnerable families and with each other
  • enable families and children to be referred to family support services and other secondary services where needed, instead of investigation.

Legislative amendments 2016

As part of the second stage of building the new child and family support system in Queensland, two reform Acts have commenced to improve court processes for child protection matters.

  1. Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2016
  2. Director of Child Protection Litigation Act 2016

The Director of Child Protection Litigation Act 2016 and the Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2016 together formed the second stage of legislative child protection reforms resulting from the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry.

These Acts enabled the establishment of a new court work model for the child protection system to commence on 1 July 2016. The new model consists of the Office of the Official Child and Family Solicitor within the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women and the Office of the Director of Child Protection Litigation, an independent statutory agency within the justice portfolio.

The Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2016 made amendments to the functions of the chief executive to support the establishment of the Office of the Child and Family Official Solicitor and clarify the roles of the department and other entities in Childrens Court child protection proceedings. The Office of the Child and Family Official Solicitor is responsible for providing child safety staff with early, independent legal advice and the preparation of briefs of evidence for the Office of the Director of Child Protection Litigation.

The Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2016 also responded to 11 recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry to improve the way child protection proceedings are heard in the Childrens Court as well as the quality of information provided to a Court in proceedings on an application for a child protection order.

The Director of Child Protection Litigation Bill 2016 established the Office of the Director of Child Protection Litigation which functions include preparing and applying for child protection orders and to conduct proceedings in the Childrens Court. This includes transfers of child protection proceedings to another State and also appeals in relation to child protection orders or decisions about the transfer of child protection orders.

These reforms are intended to strengthen the way in which the justice system deals with child protection matters in Queensland and give children and families a stronger voice in proceedings.

Comprehensive Review of the Child Protection Act 1999

The third stage of building the new child and family support system in Queensland is comprehensively reviewing the Child Protection Act 1999.

Legislative amendments 2010 - 2011

The Child Protection and Other Acts Amendment Act 2010 made various amendments to:

  • support the implementation of the Helping Out Families initiative
  • improve the operation of court orders
  • provided for new court orders to help the department secure the safety of children at risk
  • improve decision-making to promote children’s safety and wellbeing
  • recognise the status of long-term guardians.

Legislative amendments 2004 - 2006

Amendments were made to the Child Protection Act 1999 as a result of the recommendations of the 2004 Crime and Misconduct Commission report on its Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Foster Care.

These changes were implemented in three stages from 2004 to 2006 and dealt with a range of matters including:

  • Child Guardian's functions and powers
  • Community Visitor Program
  • Children Services Tribunal's jurisdiction
  • Child death case reviews
  • Case planning
  • Responses to an unborn child notification
  • Mandatory reporting by nurses
  • Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) teams
  • Information sharing between departments, agencies and non-government organisations
  • Assessment and approval of carers

Further amendments were made after stage three of the legislation reforms via the Child Safety (Carers) Amendment Act 2006 to introduce the requirement that carers, and relevant persons associated with licensed residential facilities and shared family care services hold blue cards (PDF).

History of the Child Protection Act 1999

Various pieces of legislation operated in Queensland in the 19th century to provide for the care of children, usually children whose parents were living in poverty. The Deserted Wives and Children Act 1840 (New South Wales) allowed for maintenance payments, and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (United Kingdom) set penalties for child stealing and carnal knowledge or indecent assault of girls younger than 12 years of age. The Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1865 (Queensland) set up special schools to educate and care for neglected children and young offenders.

This Orphanages Act 1879 was the first to consolidate legislation that provided for the care of children in Queensland. The Orphanages Act 1879 permitted destitute or deserted children under the age of 12 years to be sent to an orphanage and to remain there until they reached 12 years of age unless boarded out with a 'trustworthy and respectable person' or hired out or apprenticed. A child could be hired out or become an apprentice at 10 years of age. At this time, the state subsidised orphanages in Brisbane, Rockhampton and Townsville, and an inspector of orphanages was appointed. Parents or relatives of children living in these institutions were expected to contribute to their support.

The Guardianship and Custody of Infants Act 1891 provided that if a child was not living with a parent, the child could not be returned to the care of the parent unless the parent was fit to have custody.

The Protection of Children Act 1896 applied to boys under 14 and girls under 16. It made it an offence to ill treat or neglect a child and gave a court the power to deal with such a child as it saw fit.

This State Children Act 1911 provided for the care of children younger than 13 years of age and established the State Children Department with a director to replace the inspector of orphanages.

It was more than 50 years before the next major piece of child welfare legislation. This was the Children's Services Act 1965 that replaced the State Children Act 1911 and, in turn, was replaced by the Child Protection Act 1999.

The Children's Services Act 1965 was designed 'to promote and protect the wellbeing of the children and youth of the State through a comprehensive and co-ordinated program of child and family welfare'. The focus was on the protection of children from neglectful acts and behaviour by parents, and protection from unacceptable living conditions. There were some major changes and many minor amendments to the Act, but the child protection provisions remained virtually unchanged for 35 years. By the 1990s, the Children's Services Act 1965 had ceased to reflect child protection practice or policy of the time, or national and international directions in child protection. For example, there was no recognition of sexual or emotional abuse in the Act.

In the 1960s, the response to a child needing 'protection' was most likely to be a removal from their parent's care. 'Neglect' was a frequent reason for removal, and social circumstances such as poverty were responsible for many children coming into state care. Children who came into care generally remained in care until they reached the age of 18 years. Until the early 1980s, it was also considered acceptable for parents to apply voluntarily for their children to be placed under the guardianship of the Director-General. Children could be 'signed into care' administratively with the Director-General formally accepting guardianship.

Development of the Child Protection Act 1999 began in 1993 with the release of the Child Protection Issues Paper and an extensive statewide consultation process. The development process culminated in passage of the legislation in March 1999 and proclamation of the Act in March 2000.

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