Changes to child protection law

The Victorian Parliament passed legislation to strengthen Victoria's response to children and young people in out-of-home care on Tuesday, 2 September 2014.

The amendments address key recommendations of the January 2012 Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children’s Inquiry regarding the simplification of Children's Court orders.

Amendments include:

  • Increased penalties for offences relating to the protection and exploitation of children, including leaving children unattended and harbouring children, which commenced on 21 January 2015 (see Leaving children unattended)
  • Identifying and removing barriers to achieving permanent placements for children (see Permanency for children)
  • The authorisation of carers to make decisions on specified issues about the children in their care, which commenced on 17 November 2014.

To download a copy of the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Permanent Care and Other Matters) Act 2014, visit the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website.

Note: Under Victorian Law Today, the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and the Commission for Children and Young People Act 2012 have been updated to include amendments that commenced following Royal Assent.

  • Leaving children unattended

    In Victoria, it is an offence for a person responsible for a child to leave the child unattended for any longer than is reasonable, without making appropriate arrangements for the child’s supervision and care. This includes leaving a child at home, or in a car, or anywhere else unattended.

    In Victoria there is no set age at which it is legal to leave a child unattended. It depends on the child and the situation.

    When deciding whether to charge a person with this offence, authorities must consider each case individually to determine the reasonableness of the circumstances in which the child was left unattended. This includes the needs of the particular child. The Secretary of the department has to be consulted before a charge can be laid. 

    From 21 January 2015, the penalty for leaving children unattended is a fine of 25 penalty units or imprisonment for six months or both.

    Leaving children unattended at home

    Part of growing up is becoming more independent, step by step. Being left at home alone is part of developing independence and all parents make the decision to leave their child at home alone sooner or later.

    Babies and young children should never be left at home alone. As children get older they need the opportunity to gradually take on more responsibility for themselves and practice being by themselves at home.

    Parents are in the best position to decide whether their child is mature enough to be left alone for any length of time.

    Leaving children in cars

    Leaving a young child unsupervised in a car at any time is very dangerous. Never leave babies or young children alone in a car, even to run a quick errand.

    Even in mild weather, cars quickly become too hot for small children. It can be 20 to 30 degrees hotter inside a car than the temperature outside. Children are more at risk from heat-related problems because their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult's, and they can lose fluid very quickly. They become dehydrated, leading to heat stroke, organ damage and potentially death.

    The Victorian Government in partnership with Kidsafe has launched an awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of leaving children unattended in cars. The Kidsafe Victoria website has further information on the 'Don't leave children in cars' campaign.

    Help to decide

    Parentline Victoria is a telephone counselling service provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development that can help parents with these kinds of decisions. Parents can also find links to information on the Parentline website to help them decide whether their child is ready to be left at home alone.

  • Permanency for children

    Legislative changes came into effect on 1 March 2016 to address harmful delays in decision-making for children who cannot live with their families due to concerns about their safety and wellbeing. The changes respond to the findings and recommendations of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry (2012) which found that it took, on average, just over five years from a child protection report being received, to a child being placed on a permanent care order (where this was required). This was too long.

    The changes will make a significant difference for children, particularly those who are in out-of-home care and are not likely to return safely to their parent’s care.

    At the core of the changes is the need to give children greater permanency in their long-term care that provides them with stability and a sense of certainty about their future. For most children who come into contact with Child Protection, permanency is achieved through family preservation or reunification.

    The changes include:

    • Early intervention and case planning when abuse and neglect is first identified
    • A reduced number of Children's Court orders that clarify the purpose of the intervention
    • Child protection case plans aligned to Children’s Court orders. There will be an actions table, so parents know what they need to do to regain care of their children
    • Set timeframes for parents to address protective concerns. Parents will have an initial 12 months to resolve issues so they can safely resume care of their child. An additional 12 months will be provided by the Children’s Court if reunification is likely to be achieved in that time, or a permanent alternative will be sought
    • Cultural support planning will be required for all Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.

    An independent review of these legislative changes will begin in 6 months.

    More support for families and carers

    The Victorian Government has allocated $2 million for more individualised Family Preservation Packages. The aim is to provide at-risk families with the support and programs they need to address protective concerns and provide children with improved care. The packages will also support reunification of children, who are already in care, with their parents.

    A further $1 million has been provided, recurrently, to child protection programs across the state. This is to support carers to meet the needs of children where the Children’s Court has determined they are unable to return to their parents’ care and require alternative permanent arrangements.

    In addition, $1 million will also be made available, recurrently, to support existing permanent carers to better meet the needs of children in their care.