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. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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).

9. Lodging the documents

Information provided to the Children’s Court

Suggestions for the construction of the file of documents

  • Arrive at the clinic less than five days after the Assessment Order has been made.

  • Be sent via email or in the case of secure USB or by registered post to the Clinic’s correct address 2 George St, Parramatta 2150, or Locked Bag 4001, Westmead 2145 or in person during business hours.

  • 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.

Video in any form is not  accepted by the Children’s Court Clinic

Please 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 all documents that are relevant to the issues to be addressed in the Assessment Order. Previous drafts of Assessment Order applications do NOT need to be included.

  • Relevant current court orders, including those made by courts other than the Children’s Court (e.g., Apprehended Violence Orders, Family Court Orders) should be included.

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).

  • Copies of previous Children’s Court Clinic Reports will be provided to the Clinician as a matter of Children’s Court Clinic procedure as per NSW Children’s Court Practice Note 6.