Advice Leaflet 7: Tips about completing application forms
Parents of children in the care of the Family and Community Services, Community Services division (formerly DoCS) sometimes need to write a letter to the FaCS, or complete application forms, as part of their efforts to get more favourable contact with their children or to explore the potential for restoration of their children.
FIN-NSW is aware that parents who have no legal representation are themselves completing an application for Legal Aid. There is also an awareness that parents who make an application for Legal Aid without the help of a lawyer are disadvantaged and often fail to meet the recently introduced Legal Aid care case 'merit test'. As a result they are unable to employ a lawyer to pursue matters further.
Sometimes the merit test is failed because the argument that is used in support of the application for Legal Aid is not well put. As a result this advice leaflet focuses on how to put together an argument to support an application for Legal Aid. In that respect this leaflet is about writing down and presenting the key issues in an orderly manner. FIN-NSW is not offering legal advice.
Parents sometimes want a Legal Aid grant so they can employ a lawyer to file a section 90 application in the Children's Court for rescission or variation of a care order.
In order to get a Legal Aid grant for this purpose parents must be able to show Legal Aid that a 'benefit or otherwise, will accrue to the applicant (the parent) as a result of the granting of Legal Aid'.
The information put forward in support of a Legal Aid application is in many ways a rehearsal of the argument that has to be put to a Magistrate when a section 90 application is being heard.
In a section 90 case the Magistrate has to be satisfied that there has been 'a significant change in any relevant circumstances' since the original care order was made. In other words the case has to have merit.
The question is how do you establish merit for Legal Aid and eventually for a Magistrate? This is where the careful listing of the facts and the orderly presentation of the issues is vital. You follow a similar process if you are preparing an affidavit.
Writing down the facts
1. Carefully examine all the original Court papers.
2. Identify and list all matters that were in the Court papers and that were said to be reasons why your child was 'at sihnificant risk of harm' i.e. drug or alcohol abuse, unhygenic and dirty house, convicted paedophile as a lodger, no parental awareness of the developmental needs of a growing child, child arriving at school hungry and dishevelled.
3. Then list these matters in their order of importance. That is the most important issues at the top of the list with the less important items at the end of the list.
Orderly presentation of the issues to support your application
4. Take each item that is on the list of facts and show how you have addressed and fully resolved this issue. Provide supporting evidence of your actions, if possible. Give precise dates of counselling, therapy, education and training programs.
Essentially, what you have to do is present evidence to the Court to show that you are a changed person who is now fully responsible for themselves and ready to be' fully' responsible for your child. Build the evidence, build the image.
5. If drug or alcohol use was an issue you will need to provide at least 6 months of clean urine analysis results.
6. If you now have a job and are no longer on Centrelink payments say so and give details of your job, work hours and income.
7. If domestic violence was involved show that you now have an AVO out against the perpetrator and that you no longer have any contact with that person. That means an absolute embargo on contact including telephone calls, occasional contact while out shopping, at a relative's house or at a birthday or holiday times.
8. If you have attended any training courses i.e. anger management, parenting or anxiety management provide details and any attendance certificates with dates of the courses.
9. If you have changed your address give details, together with your rental records to show that you have stable accommodation.
Benefit to your child and you of a successful section 90 application
This is a very important section of a Legal Aid application. Essentially, you have to show that your child will benefit by additional contact with yourself or by being restored to your care, dependent upon the kind of section 90 application you intend to make.
Make the following or similar points, if they are true.
10. That you will love and nuture your child and she/he will not be 'at risk of harm' from you when on an extended contact visit with you or in your full time care.
11. Emphasize the importance of the extended family and culture to your child as well as yourself and things such as religion if this is an important part of your life.
12. Make it clear that the benefit to yourself, as the parent, is that you want to be able to make a positive contribution to your child's life and be with him/her as he/she grows up.
13. Identify how you want your child to be a valued, loving, respectable, law abiding, hard working future citizen.
14. Remember you can file a section 90 application yourself. You do not have to have a lawyer. If you represent yourself you will be able to sit at the Bar table with the lawyers in the case. You have a right to argue your case yourself. To do this is very hard and should only be considered as a last resort. But it can done.
15. Finally, remember to always be moderate in the way you write or express yourself. Do not be loud, rude or angry. To do so will harm your case.
Forms must be kept clean and be neatly completed. How you present these forms helps to create your image as a responsible person.