A day in the life of a Child Advocate Legal Officer

8.30am

My day starts with a meeting with Child Safety about a 13 year old – Jack* – who has recently been charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle. After spending most of his early childhood in a dysfunctional home that saw him neglected and exposed to emotional and physical abuse, Jack has spent the last few years moving through various short term placements.

This combination of developmental trauma and lack of stability is often at the root of the behaviours that see these young people criminally charged. Stakeholders need to address the underlying issues to minimise the risk that the young person will continue to cycle through the youth justice system, and then ultimately into the adult criminal justice system. If we can advocate for the appropriate supports to be put in place early for Jack, there is a real chance he can break the cycle and go on to lead a productive life.

The purpose of my meeting is to advocate for Jack to have access to a stable place to live, more frequent and consistent contact with members of his family and social peers so that he can have more supportive social attachments, to be supported to return to school to continue his education, and to be linked in with therapeutic interventions to provide support around his history of trauma.

11.30am

I am now in the Children’s Court advocating for Taylah’s* views and wishes about a child protection order. Taylah experienced a lot of physical and emotional abuse from her father when she was young, and was placed with a foster carer at a very young age.

She still has some contact with her mother, but she thinks of her foster carers as her parents as she has lived with them most of her life and they have always made her feel like part of the family. The Director of Child Protection Litigation (DCPL) applied to the court for a long term guardianship order granting guardianship to the Chief Executive of the Department of Child Safety.

However Taylah wanted the court to make a long term order granting guardianship to her foster parents, not Child Safety, because she has always thought of her foster carers as her parents and she does not want to be known as a “child in care” anymore. Taylah did not want to go to court herself, so I have been advocating for Taylah’s views and wishes at court to have the order changed so that her foster carers would be her guardians, not Child Safety.

I received an email recently from the DCPL lawyer confirming that they have agreed to change the application to grant long term guardianship to Taylah’s carers, so today we are going to court for the Magistrate to make these final orders. Later this week I will go out to visit Taylah again to give her the good news.

1.00pm

I am writing to Child Safety on behalf of a young girl, Dee,* who I visited earlier in the week at a Youth Detention Centre. Child Safety is appointed as Dee’s guardian until she turns 18.

Dee has been refused bail because she currently does not have a placement, and the Magistrate felt she should not be released from detention until she has an appropriate and safe placement to live in. I’m currently advocating for Child Safety to provide an appropriate placement for Dee.

After Child Safety have provided her with a placement, I will work with her criminal lawyer to have a bail application brought on early with the hope she can get out on bail, and into a safe and stable environment, instead of remaining in detention.

4.00pm

Time to get out of the office and meet with Hannah.* Hannah goes to school, so the only time I can visit her is late in the afternoon after school. Hannah is placed with her Aunty because she lives closer to Hannah’s mother, but she does not feel safe living here. Hannah wants to live with a cousin on the Sunshine Coast.

Hannah feels that Child Safety is not listening to her views and wishes, so I am helping her to make an application to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) to review this placement decision. I am also helping Hannah to complete an application to have a lawyer represent her at QCAT. Hannah was really grateful that I came out to speak with her about this, because she feels that we are one of the first people that have actually listened to her and are trying to help her.

I finished the day on a bit of a high after I received a text message from a young person I had been advocating for. Rory had been placed in a very unstable residential placement with older boys, where he was very unhappy, and felt unsafe, due to conflict with the other boys that often led to the police being called.

We spoke with Child Safety to get Rory moved to another residential placement, and in his text message Rory talked about how thankful he was for everything we did for him, and how happy he is in his new placement. My job can be tough sometimes, but it’s things like this that make it all worthwhile.

*All names have been changed to protect identities.