I started my internship in ALS Care & Protection optimistic, but not certain of what I would be in for. As I worked for court transcription services, I had been one of the privileged few to hear care & protection proceedings before, but my university is in a different state and doesn’t offer care & protection/children’s law as an elective. I did however feel a little more confident about working in the office’s Family Law practice, as it was a subject based in federal law that I had studied before.
It was extremely surprising to me then that, even after just a week into the internship, I became extremely interested in Care & Protection as an area of law, particularly in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children. Though the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, which is the primary piece of legislation governing care and protection law in NSW, has detailed placement principles in place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, in practice a lot of cases I came across during my internship had not applied these principles thoroughly enough, leading to children being placed with non-Aboriginal carers. This was concerning given that one in six Aboriginal children are placed in out of home care, and the rate of removal for Aboriginal children is currently greater than during the Stolen Generation. Though the facts of cases were occasionally hard to process, it was inspiring to see members of the ALS Care & Protection team work tirelessly to ensure children were restored to their parents or at least relocated to culturally appropriate carers.
My work at ALS was extremely varied, ranging from drafting a range of different legal documents to shadowing solicitors during hearings. A highlight for me was visiting The Centre for Indigenous Excellence’s NAIDOC Week celebrations with my fellow Aurora intern, Savanna, in order to gather information about any local services in the area that we could refer clients to. Though we couldn’t find many organisations that weren’t already known to ALS’s resident Field Officer, it was amazing to see the network of different services available for Indigenous clients and to gain a broader picture of the Indigenous affairs sector. Another job I particularly enjoyed doing was drafting a case outline for a family law case. This was a bit of a challenge for me as, though I had studied Family Law before, a lot of my studies had focused on property, and as any law student knows the theory of an area of law can often be very different in practice. In trying to formulate the submissions for the case, I looked through some decisions that judges had made on what were the best interests of a child, specifically on how to maintain a connection between the child and their culture, which was extremely interesting and helped reignite my passion for family law alongside my budding interest in care matters. Working in an area of Sydney I was unfamiliar with was also interesting, and through the course of the internship I learned more about regional NSW geography than I ever had in school!
Overall, I had a fantastic experience with ALS Care & Protection and would recommend it to anyone who is interested. Not only was it great to gain community legal centre experience and to learn about how care & protection and family law worked in practice, but the people I met there were kind, hard-working and truly committed to their cause.
You can find all the details on the Aurora Internship Program http://auroraproject.com.au/about-internship-program Applications for the winter 2020 round will be open from 2 through 27 March 2020.