This introduction provides guidance and information for lawyers submitting applications for Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) funded legal assistance in child protection matters. They should be read in conjunction with:
- related chapters of the VLA Handbook – such as the (chapter 10), the and (Chapters 12 and 14) and (Chapter 23)
- the and .
Any child protection guideline matter that is not the subject of commentary in the notes has been deemed sufficiently clear not to require commentary.
The notes set out the following:
- definitions of key terms used in the child protection guidelines
- guidance on what documentation needs to be included in lawyer files to support a grant of assistance under the child protection guidelines
- in respect of each child protection guideline:
- guidance on the scope and/or application of the guideline
- other applicable eligibility criteria – relating to the and the
- the grants assessment process to be followed for the guideline, including where an application will be assessed by VLA and when an application can be lodged as an extension to an existing grant of assistance
- documentary requirements specific to the guideline.
Together with guidance on applying for specific extensions to a broadband grant:
- notes on child protection applications under special circumstances
- guidance on fees and other costs payable in respect of work performed for persons granted funding under the child protection guidelines.
Unless the context requires otherwise, in the notes:
- terms defined in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) (the Act) have the same meaning in the notes including (without limitation) case plan, child, court, disposition report, parent, protection application and protection order.
- broadband grant – the fees available to be claimed following a grant of legal assistance under guideline 1, guideline 2.1 or guideline 5 without applying for an extension, as discussed in detail in notes on fees and other costs payable.
- child - as defined in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. Reference in these guidelines to legal assistance to a child covers on a direct representation or on a best interests basis as relevant. With respect to legal representation on a best interests basis, the lawyer must be or have been appointed under section 524(5) to legally represent the child on a best interests basis and VLA considers it appropriate to provide assistance for the child.
- DFFH – the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
- extraordinary circumstances – has the meaning given in .
- interim stage – the period between a protection application being made to the court and a final order being made by the court.
- legislated timeframe – as defined by the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, which provides that a family reunification order can be made for a period with the effect of a child being in court-ordered out-of-home care for up to 12 months. The order can only be extended where there is compelling evidence that reunification will occur within the extension period, and provided the extension will not have the effect of the child being in court-ordered out-of-home-care for more than 24 months.
Legislated timeframe is measured from the last time the child was at home without any court order in place (with orders before this time not taken into account).
- means test – means the as described in VLA Handbook chapter 12. Further guidance on required documentary proof of income and assets is set out in Section 3 of these 'Simplified grants process – Notes on VLA guidelines'. Note that VLA does not apply the means test to a child or any spouse or de facto partner of the child applying for a grant of assistance under the child protection guidelines.
- NDIS - means the National Disabiliy Insurance Scheme.
- opposed – means actively contested.
- parent - as defined in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
- question of placement – has the meaning given in .
- reasonable prospects – means that a prudent and experienced lawyer would consider it ‘more likely than not’ in all the circumstances that satisfaction of the relevant criteria under the guideline (eg of the child being placed in the parent’s care, of a case plan being changed, of reunification within the legislated time frame, that a change in placement was not in the best interests of the child, etc) can be successfully argued. The prospect of success must be real and not fanciful, having regard to the evidence and circumstances of the case. This requires more than an arguable case.
- State reasonableness test – means the as described in VLA Handbook chapter 14 (and is referred to as 'merit outcome' in ATLAS). The lawyer must consider:
- the nature and extent of any benefit that may be gained by the person (or the public or any section of the public) from providing legal assistance – as measured against the likely cost of the case, recognising that it is public funds being spent
- any detriment which the person (or the public or any section of the public) might suffer if a grant of assistance is refused, and
- whether the proceeding is likely to terminate in a manner favourable to the person.
The lawyer considers this to assess whether the application satisfies the cost/benefit criteria and is meritorious. This assessment must be based on the information available at the time and will require ongoing assessment as a matter progresses.
- substantively different outcome – means that there will be a significant impact on the child or the party's lifestyle, contact or cultural support.
- third party – has the meaning given in .
- VLA assessed – means a matter that, via the ATLAS simplified grants process, is automatically referred to a VLA officer for decision prior to an application (either for a new grant of legal assistance or for an extension) being approved.
The following guidance on documentary requirements is supplementary to these standards and measures and is specific to VLA-funded child protection matters.
A lawyer’s file for each matter funded under the child protection guidelines needs to include:
- clear notes of all recommendations made to VLA and the reasons for them, including the lawyer’s assessment of how the matter meets the relevant child protection guideline and
- evidence in support of all recommendations, including statements or documentation relevant to forming an opinion on the cost/benefits and merits of a matter
- relevant proof of means (except where the client is a child or the client is in custody)
- copies of any protection, breach, variation, extension or irreconcilable differences applications
- copies of all relevant reports, such as (without limitation):
- court clinic reports
- DFFH reports (eg current DFFH disposition report, addendums and case plan)
- medical reports from treating doctors
- reports of third party service providers (eg PASDS, QEC, behavioural change)
- confirmation on service wait list letters
- psychiatric risk assessment reports.
- an indication of the orders sought by each of the parties
- copies of any briefs to counsel and documents submitted to court
- records of all conference, court or VCAT attendances, including names of adjudicators, counsel and parties present, an outline of negotiation or submissions made and duration of the attendance
- copies of any court orders, or directions or notations made by the court
- evidence that the lawyer explained the nature of the grant of legal assistance and kept the client informed of their rights and obligations in relation to the grant of assistance
- clear notes of all client instructions, with instructions to be obtained at each stage of a matter
- documented forensic and legal analysis of the matter
- clear notes of all advice to the client, with all communication with the client to be appropriate to the client's age, maturity, education, literacy, past experiences and cultural and social circumstances.
- copies of all correspondence
- file notes of all attendances and other documentation so that the file accurately reflects the work the lawyer does on the matter
- any conferencing exchange documents
- clear documentation of all outcomes of work performed
- records of disbursements
- at the conclusion of a matter, a final report to the client within five business days confirming the outcome and any consequent rights and obligations.
- Where a statement or other piece of evidence is determinative of a particular issue, it must be easily identifiable to enable VLA quality assurance review process to be conducted in an effective manner.
- Wherever a lawyer submits a funding application that has a VLA assessed issue, the lawyer will need to provide sufficient supporting information to enable VLA to make the relevant assessment.
Lawyers are required to:
- apply for a grant of legal assistance, or an extension of assistance, before undertaking any work or engaging third party providers (such as counsel)
- ensure that all relevant documents that are available are on file prior to submitting an application via the ATLAS simplified grants process
- avoid retrospective grant applications. Retrospective applications outside 14 days will not be approved unless there are exceptional circumstances
- immediately notify VLA, via the ATLAS simplified grants process ‘submit correspondence’ function, of anything that affects a client's entitlement to legal assistance (including circumstances that impact the merit of a matter) or obligation to pay a contribution to VLA
- submit a final account to VLA via ATLAS, and complete the ATLAS ‘file outcome’ screen, within 30 days of the matter being legally finalised or the grant of legal assistance being terminated.
Examples of file notes and other documents relevant to specific guidelines and/or claiming specific fees are discussed in the relevant sections of these notes.
Child protection applications under special circumstances
(a) Introduction to special circumstances
The following notes are specific to special circumstances applications to fund child protection matters.
(b) Guidance notes and eligibility criteria
Under the child protection guidelines, if a person seeks a grant of legal assistance from VLA for child protection proceedings which are outside the child protection guidelines, then VLA may make a grant of legal assistance only if the person meets both:
(c) Grants assessment process
Lawyers can lodge a application for grants of legal assistance on the basis of special circumstances via the ATLAS simplified grants ‘new application’ template. Any special circumstances that warrant legal assistance will be VLA assessed. When applying for the grant, the lawyer will need to:
- under ‘Practitioner certification’–‘Guidelines outcome’, select ‘Not satisfied discretion’
- submit correspondence that identifies the applicable special circumstance and its impact and, were relevant, attach supporting documentation.
(d) Documentary requirements
The lawyer should attach to the ATLAS application:
- details of special circumstances, including details of potential adverse impact on the person if assistance is not granted
- the basis on which the state reasonableness test (as defined) is met for the relevant proceedings
and the lawyer’s file should include:
- relevant proof of the special circumstances
- the documents required under guidelines 1 to 7 (as applicable).
Reviewed 26 October 2022