Information for those seeking an assessment

The Children's Court Clinic's role is to undertake clinical assessments of children and families for courts across New South Wales.

View a flowchart of this process.

1. What's an application for an assessment order?

An assessment order is granted by a court to obtain an independent assessment that will enable the court to reach an informed decision about the needs of the child or young person, to facilitate decisions about permanency planning.

Under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 the assessment order could be for an assessment of a child or young person (s.53)* or to assess the capacity of a person with parental responsibility or who is seeking parental responsibility for a child or young person (s.54).

* Reference to sections of the Act (e.g. s.53) refers to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 unless otherwise specified. Check the Act for the precise meaning.

2. Who can apply for an assessment order?

To obtain a clinic assessment, any party to a care application (s.55) may complete the 'Application to the Children's Court for Assessment Order' form and present it to the court.

When considering whether to make an assessment order, the court will take into account whether the proposed assessment is necessary, whether the information sought can be obtained elsewhere, and whether the assessment will produce any unnecessary distress to the child or young person.

The Children’s Court Clinic does not undertake physical, medical or emergency assessments. These are best done by specialist medical practitioners.

When the court makes an assessment order it will usually appoint the Children’s Court Clinic to conduct the assessment and submit the required report.

3. Lodging the assessment application

Parties may consider lodging an application for an assessment when:

  1. There is a need to unravel the complications of cases that are unclear and there is dispute over what is in the best interests of the child
  2. The information required is clinical in nature.
  3. The information needed will assist the court to decide how best to ensure children and young people’s safety, welfare and well-being (s.56).

The court will be aided in its decision, and the Children's Court Clinic will be better able to provide a useful assessment, if a clear summary of the case, agreed by all parties involved, is provided in the Application for an Assessment Order. Included with this summary should be the questions that the parties wish to resolve and a relevant and succinct list of issues to be addressed by the clinician. Scroll down to Section 7 below (Questions in an Assessment Order).

Assessments can only be conducted with the valid consent of the person(s) being assessed. This is required before an assessment application is lodged. The person to be assessed clearly needs to be informed of the need for the assessment. Valid consent involves ensuring the person understands the reasons for seeking the particular assessment, what the assessment will involve and what the likely outcomes will be from the assessment.

Often the legal representative of the person being assessed will consent on the person's behalf in court. This implies a duty of care from the legal representative to explain to his or her client the reasons for seeking the particular assessment order(s), what the assessment may involve, and what the likely outcomes will be for the assessment.

A child or young person can refuse to submit to an assessment if he or she is of sufficient understanding to make an informed decision s.53(4).

5. Who completes assessments for the Children’s Court?

The Children’s Court Clinic provides independent assessments of children, young persons and their families to the Children’s Court. The clinic was established pursuant to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (The Act), and located as part of the NSW Attorney General’s Department to ensure its independence.

The Children’s Court Clinic employs and contracts a number of experienced psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers as Authorised Clinicians. They are experts in their fields and adhere to the Uniform Civil Procedures Rules 2005, Schedule 7 Expert Witness Code of Conduct.

Authorised Clinicians:

  • Provide independent assessments of clients, addressing the questions or concerns of the court.
  • Prepare assessment reports for the court that include recommendations in accordance with the objects, principles, and responsibilities outlined in the Children and Young Person (Care and Protection) Act 1998.
  • Consider any aspects of culture, disability, language, religion and sexuality of the child or young person when conducting assessments s.9(c).
  • Recognise that self-determination is a fundamental principle in our work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, (s.11).
  • Participate in conferences as requested by the court.
  • Attend court when requested by the magistrate or judge (e.g., for cross-examination to allow parties to test the accuracy or applicability of the report).

As well as face-to-face assessments, the clinic is able to conduct file reviews of multiple or conflicting assessments in order to assist the court in making an interpretation of the available facts.

Authorised Clinicians have a small amount of time to conduct these assessments, and need to be given well-justified, clear, relevant and succinct issues to address.

6. When is an assessment order not a good idea?

The Children's Court Clinic is generally unable to add to an understanding of a matter under the following circumstances:

  • When a parenting capacity assessment is asked of a person who is in gaol, or with significant alcohol or other drug problems but has not begun rehabilitation, or is just about to give birth,
  • When questions are asked only about the impact on a child of parental alcohol and/or other drugs misuse, or domestic violence,
  • When there is a request for medical or paediatric assessments, or requests for a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment compliance when that parent already has a treating health practitioner,
  • When the child is unsafe, living in filth or squalor, or living with a convicted paedophile,
  • Requests for evidence of sexual abuse,
  • When there are impossible restrictions on the clinician, for example, to assess a child 'by observation only' when a comprehensive understanding is required,
  • When the focus of the assessment is on placement suitability rather than permanency planning, or
  • When comprehensive assessments have already been conducted by, for example, school counsellors, inpatient mental health facilities, or Community Services psychologists.

If a child is still living with those whose parenting capacity is to be assessed, an up-to-date risk assessment with a viable safety plan is essential. The clinic cannot accept responsibility for the safety of children during the assessment period.

If the Children’s Court Clinic is unable to accept the assessment order, any party to the matter may nominate a clinician who is not from the clinic to complete the assessment. The nomination should be made in the assessment order. A request for an alternative clinician should only be made with the agreement of the child or young person being assessed and the parents or carer s.58(2).

7. Questions in an assessment order

Each care matter presents the court with different specific problems to resolve, with particular information needed to help make decisions. The issues to be addressed in the Assessment Order should be pertinent to these problems. However, most of the problems have similar themes. The questions to be addressed by the clinic may be modelled on a few basic questions and made relevant for each individual case. They should relate to an agreed case summary which will explain why the assessment is necessary (s.56).These models are organised below.

It is important to limit the number of questions to no more than ten, and to make them broad enough to allow the clinician freedom to discover the most relevant information for each case. Similarly, it is best to consolidate questions about a sibling group in the one Assessment Order (with separate sections for issues specific for each child, if necessary) rather than copy/paste questions for each sibling in separate application orders.

1. Parenting capacity/responsibility

  • What are the parents’ current and potential abilities to prioritise and meet the specific developmental needs (including care and protection) of their children?
  • If the parents/caregivers suffer from (specify, e.g., alcohol or other drug dependence, domestic violence, mental health, personality disorder and/or intellectual or other disabilities), to what extent do any such problems impair their parenting capacity?
  • What are the parents or caregivers’ willingness and capacity to respond to any necessary therapeutic interventions needed to resolve any of the above problems?

2. Parent/ Caregiver – Child Relationships [These include, but are broader than, bonding (parents’ commitment and responsiveness to their offspring) and attachment (children’s emotional ties to their parents)]

  • Describe the quality of the relationships between the child and the child’s mother/ father/ siblings/ grandparents/ other significant persons (who must be parties to the Assessment Order).
  • What is the impact of the child’s separation from his/ her parent/ carer?

3. Children and young persons’ individual characteristics, needs and wishes

  • What are the child’s individual characteristics and needs (specify, e.g., mental health, an understanding of current problem behaviour, and cognitive, adaptive, emotional, social and other individual developmental needs), particularly in relation to experiences alleged (specify, e.g., abuse/ neglect/ loss/ grief)?
  • What supports and interventions might the child or young person need to assist them to resolve any of the above problems? How well might the (specify) mother/ father/ siblings/ grandparents/ significant others be able to support or respond to these needs?
  • What are the child’s wishes in relation to the available placement/ contact/ other options? How much weight should be placed on these wishes?

4. Suggestions for steps to achieve desired outcomes

  • What long-term placement, restoration plans, contact visits, do you recommend (give reasons)?
  • What if any counselling, treatment, compliance with urinalysis or supports do you recommend?
  • What supports and interventions are needed to assist the child or young person to maintain attachments, or achieve meaningful connections, with her/ his (specify) mother/ father/ siblings/ grandparents/ carers/ significant others?

After the Issues to be Addressed section, under the heading Reasons, please explain how the assessment will assist the court to make an informed decision.

8. Preparing an assessment order

Assessment Application (Form No. 2)

The application helps organise information to enable the court to order an assessment that will help its decision-making, and essential information that will enable the Authorised Clinician to plan and conduct the assessment. It is important to ensure:

  • that the proposed assessment is likely to provide relevant information that is unlikely to be obtained elsewhere,
  • that valid informed consent has been obtained from the person(s) being assessed,
  • that any distress the assessment is likely to cause the child or young person will be outweighed by the value of the information that might be obtained,
  • whether any distress has been caused to the child or young person by any previous assessment,
  • whether an interpreter will be required by the AC conducting the assessment, and in what language.

If the party is aware that a specific clinician has particular expertise for the required assessment, and/or has had previous contact with the family, these issues should be detailed in the application, along with the clinician’s contact details and the reasons for recommending the clinician. It may be possible to request a particular Authorised Clinician or an AC of a specific discipline to conduct the assessment (psychiatrist, psychologist or social workers). The order may make such a recommendation if suitable reasons are provided. The clinic will attempt to meet this request, however this will not always be possible.

Clinicians who are not from the Children’s Court Clinic

A clinician who is not from the Children’s Court Clinic may be appointed by the court to complete the assessment in the following circumstances s.58(1)

when the clinic has indicated it is unable to prepare the assessment report, or
when the clinic is of the opinion that it is more appropriate for the assessment report to be prepared by another person.
In circumstances where the clinic is unable to provide the assessment sought, an affidavit must indicate to the court that the clinic is unable to carry out this assessment. Details should be given of an appropriate person to carry out the assessment. The affidavit should indicate that agreement was reached between the parties about the proposed person to carry out the assessment.

Other evidence that may accompany the application

Any documents or reports that support the need for an assessment or that would assist the Children’s Court in making this decision should accompany the application.

9. What's included in an assessment order?

The Application for an Assessment Order will include names, current addresses and contact details of all children and other parties to be assessed, and contact details for the relevant Community Services officers and the legal representatives of all parties.

It should also indicate the ATSI status of the parties, whether an interpreter will be required for the assessment, and also indicate the general area in which the child is living.

A short description of the reasons why the assessment is required will enable the assessment to assist the court. These reasons may include the specific problem that the court is trying to resolve with a clinical assessment, instead of, for example, legal debate or alternative dispute resolution. The best way may be to provide an agreed case summary which will explain why the assessment is necessary (s.56)

The Terms of Assessment organises the kind of questions the clinic can most effectively answer.

If the court makes an assessment order and the Children’s Court Clinic is appointed to prepare and submit the required assessment report, the Registrar must immediately fax a copy of the Assessment Order and the Application for Assessment Form to the Children’s Court Clinic (fax: 02 8688 1520).

10. Lodging the documents

Information provided to the Children’s Court Clinic or appointed clinician

When the Children’s Court grants an assessment order, a file of documents is provided to the Children’s Court Clinic or other nominated clinician. The file of documents provides background information on the person(s) subject to an assessment order. If the Children’s Court Clinic has been requested to conduct the assessment, the information helps determine whether the clinic is able to carry out the assessment, and who may be the most suitable clinician to do it.

The person who lodged the application is responsible for providing the file of documents, unless the court directs otherwise. The file of documents is sent by registered post or hand delivered.

Suggestions for the construction of the file of documents

Documents are needed that give the clinician a summary of the main facts of the case and an overall understanding of assessments and interviews that have already been conducted. This is best done with an agreed casework summary, including the agreed points as well as the relevant areas where parties do not concur. Further documents may help flesh out the background to the clinical issues to be addressed in the assessment.

The file of documents is to:

  • Arrive at the clinic less than five days after the assessment order has been made.
  • Be securely and confidentially packed, and sent by registered post to the clinic’s correct address (Children’s Court Clinic, DX 8257 Parramatta, or Locked Bag 4001, Westmead 2145).
  • The file of documents should not simply be a photocopy of the Community Services case file, or papers before the courts, but constructed so as to provide all the available relevant background information needed by a clinician in order to plan a valid assessment.
  • The Application to the Children's Court for Assessment Order (Form No. 2) includes a guideline for listing the documents, to provide background material to help the Authorised Clinician plan the assessment.
    • the name and contact details of the person responsible for forwarding the documents will enable any difficulties to be resolved quickly.
    • the documents need to have been agreed by all parties for the assessment.
    • the list needs to include details of annexures to affidavits and reports.
  • The file of documents is to contain two copies of legible, relevant documents, as agreed between the parties, organised and tabbed according to the documents listed in the sealed assessment order application. To ensure the documents have been checked for relevance, accuracy and security, these need to be in paper format. DVDs and CDs are not accepted.
  • Use this checklist to construct the file of documents:
    • A statement of intended casework proposals, and the initiating document
    • Applications and orders relevant to the assessment, including relevant Stage 1 and Stage 2 documents that are relevant to the issues to be addressed in the assessment order. Previous drafts of assessment order applications are NOT to be included.
    • Only documentary or other evidence filed in the proceedings that is relevant to the assessment,
    • Any relevant documents that have not been filed in the proceedings but that all parties agree should be included in the file of documents. These may include selected subpoenaed documents.
    • Relevant current court orders, including those made by courts other than the Children’s Court (e.g., Apprehended Violence Orders, Family Court Orders).
    • The most useful relevant documents include:
      • a brief chronology of proceedings, casework reviews and case plans, summaries of relevant interventions attempted and the family’s responses to them.
      • copies of previous clinical assessments undertaken of the child, children or family (e.g., paediatric, psychological, psychiatric, social work assessments or reports, school reports, Children's Court Clinic assessments, and Karitane/Tresillian/hospital discharge summaries).
      • only those documents that relate to the specific questions being asked of the clinic, and that clarify the reasons why the assessment is required (as noted in the assessment order application).

Only documents agreed by all parties in court are to be made available to the clinic. Additional documents that become available after an assessment order has been granted, whether obtained by subpoena or otherwise, can seriously delay or even invalidate an assessment.

Other information may only be provided by the caseworker or other parties to the clinician upon the AC's specific request. If the additional information is in writing, then copies are to be distributed to all parties. Any other extra information should be limited to verbal clarification of the information already provided.