The role of expert evidence in facilitating child participation in care and adoption matters in New South Wales, Australia

Miss Pei Kong1,3, Professor Rita Shackel1, Professor Judith  Cashmore1,3, Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright1,2,3

1University Of Sydney (Sydney Law School), Sydney, Australia, 2University of Sydney (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), Sydney, Australia, 3Research Centre for Children and Families, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

The child’s rights to participation in decision making and legal proceedings (such as care and adoption matters) is no longer disputed. Whilst there is increasing focus on child inclusive practice, children continue to report barriers to being heard and having their views considered during decision-making. Past research have focussed on the role of caseworkers and child legal representatives in promoting the child’s views in care or family law proceedings, though surprisingly there is a dearth of research on the role of expert evidence in facilitating child participation in care and adoption matters. In NSW, experts in care matters are referred to as authorised clinicians, whilst experts in adoptions are referred to as independent assessors (collectively referred to as ‘experts’ in this paper).

This PhD study argues that expert reports are informative to judicial decision-making in the context of assessing the child’s maturity, capacity, views, and making recommendations about the child’s care. It seeks to identify areas of consensus and best practice amongst experts, the effect of professional background on assessment approaches, how the child’s views are incorporated into the experts’ decision-making.

Preliminary themes and findings are presented, including similarities and differences in assessment approaches amongst experts of different professional background (social work psychology, psychiatry), how experts assess the child’s evolving capacities and weight that is attributed based on the child’s capacity, other variables that are considered in the child’s ‘best interests’, and the extent to which experts take the child’s views into account.


Biography:

Pei is a PhD candidate at the Sydney Law School, University of Sydney. Her dissertation is investigating the efficacy of expert evidence in facilitating children and young persons’ participation in care and adoption proceeding in New South Wales, Australia. Her research is focused on therapeutic jurisprudence and children’s rights in decision-making within care and adoption proceedings. Pei is also assisting Professor Judith Cashmore, one of her research supervisors on a project reviewing the impact of Permanency Amendments on outcomes for children in care in Victoria, Australia. Pei holds a Master of Clinical Psychology and has professional experience as a practicing clinical psychologist. She has assisted a court appointed clinician in preparing expert reports in care, adoption and family matters over the last 8 years. Pei’s research and career goals are to promote children’s participation and children’s rights within a social justice framework and contribute to law reform.