The New South Wales Children's Court, like other state and territory Children's Courts, is a closed court. This means that the public cannot attend court hearings when care and protection matters are before the court. The exception is Victoria where even in the Family Division of the Children's Court that deals with care and protection matters an application has to be made to a magistrate for the court to be closed. This article is designed to take the reader behind the closed door and provide information about court processes and procedures as well as present parents' comments on the way in which the court works.
In New South Wales there are seven specialist children's courts at Parramatta, Glebe (Bidura), Campbeltown, Newcastle (Broadmeadow), Wyong, Woy Woy and in the Illawarra (Port Kembla). In other places children's care matters are dealt with by local magistrates supported by specialist Children's Court magistrates from Parramatta who staff a country Children's Court circuit.
Parents' views on these processes and procedures are troubling as many see the court as unfair in the way that decisions are made. The parents' views have been obtained, through interviews with parents over a number of years, as part of the authors' professional duties, as a Guardian ad Litem and solicitor in the New South Wales Children's Court.
From this experience it is clear that many professional staff who have contact with parents involved in Children's Court matters are also unclear about the court processes, and as a result they are less able to support parents through this stressful process. This article aims to assist staff to understand the court processes so that they may in turn support parents.