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Dispute Resolution Conferences in Care Proceedings

The Children's Court of New South Wales is now encouraging greater use of Alternative Dispute Resolution in care and protection proceedings to facilitate direct participation of families in decisions about their child's future care.

One ADR program currently being run by the Children's Court is Dispute Resolution Conferences (DRCs), conducted under section 65 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) (the Care Act). The purpose of a DRC is to provide the parties with an opportunity to agree on the action that should be taken in the best interests of the child. If the parties cannot reach an agreement on the day, then they should identify areas in agreement, and issues in dispute. The purpose of this is to narrow the scope and length of any hearing.

A Court-appointed Guardian ad Litem (GAL) will be required to attend a conference in person. GALs are expected to prepare for the conference by:

  • considering the issues around the subject child's care that need to be resolved;
  • identifying different options for the child's care in light of their best interests, and considering the case from Community Services' perspective;
  • committing to attend for the full duration of the conference​;
  • acting in good faith;
  • representing the client's views/interests appropriately; and
  • acting in a non-adversarial manner.

Any conciliated agreement(s) will be drafted by one of the legal representatives as a draft Minute of Care Order, and will be provided to the Magistrate when the matter is next mentioned. The Magistrate will make the order if he/she agrees that the agreement is in the child's best interests.

Parties to care and protection proceedings within the Children's Court may also be referred to an external mediation service under section 65A of the Care Act. The purpose of an external mediation conference is the same as a DRC, although the format of the conference may differ. These conferences will be conducted by a skilled mediator, independent of the Children's Court. The content of these conferences, along with DRCs, is confidential, subject to certain exceptions.

Guidelines for a Dispute Resolution Conference are available here.

For further information regarding your role as a GAL in DRC proceedings, contact the Guardian ad Litem Panel Coordinator.