Sarah Jane Lea

Aboriginal Legal Services
Winter 2019


The Aboriginal Legal Service and child protection

I completed my 20 days of PLT with the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA).  I am very grateful to ALSWA and the Aurora Internship Program for this internship.  I worked in the Family Law Unit in Perth where the team made me feel very welcome.  My work was interesting and varied and I had excellent supervision. 

The Family Law Unit focuses on child protection, serving the best interests of the child, with child protection and parenting disputes handled by the Perth Children’s Court and Family Court of WA.  The Unit’s lawyers often have to deal with the Department of Communities (Child Protection and Family Services) who are responsible for safeguarding children in WA.  This can mean removing children from their families and placing them into care.  That happens when the Department believes that a child is at risk of harm, including where there are allegations that a child’s parents are consistently unable to give suitable care.

The Unit’s work includes trying to ensure Aboriginal children are kept with their parents or other family, and their right culture whenever possible.  Much work and law is informed by the “Bringing Them Home” report.  That report came out of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

My work mainly included: reading client files and adding material to affidavits based on client instructions; attending client meetings and noting their instructions along with a lawyer; drafting a chronology of events for a trial; drafting letters for clients; drafting a memorandum on ways to overturn a Children’s Court Order; filing documents at court registries; adding to case summaries; observing client matters in the Children’s Court and Family Court; observing a discussion lead by a Family Court Officer on a matter before the Court, and; observing ALSWA’s duty criminal lawyers taking instructions from children about bail and representing them in Court.

My experience with ALSWA has given me some knowledge of how the legal system tries to protect Aboriginal children.  I have a better awareness of the many tough challenges facing many Aboriginal people.  I saw how loving parents will do the very best they can, in difficult circumstances, to have their children returned to them.  It was good to meet Aboriginal clients and hear of their experiences.

It is important that Aboriginal children are raised safely within their families, country and culture.  That is what the lawyers in the Family Law Unit work hard to do.