Child protective services are state-based. The Family Court is federal and there are fears children are being lost in the gaps.
The ABC has seen an affidavit filed by FACS in James’ case that states it received 24 risk of harm reports from a number of sources in relation to James during the first six years he lived with his father.
The affidavit also notes FACS intervened in an earlier Family Court matter between the father and a different former partner after having substantiated he sexually abused a child from that relationship.
In total, three former partners had alleged child sexual assault against James’ father, but only one of those cases was substantiated by state authorities.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recently conducted a wide-ranging review of the federal family court system and found it posed an “unacceptable risk to children”.
In its first recommendation, delivered in March, the ALRC said the family law courts should be moved to the states and territories — the same jurisdiction as child protective services.
These gaps exist because federal family courts often hear allegations of family violence and child abuse, but they have limited powers to investigate them. They rely on state and territory courts and agencies to do that work and to share information about the risks to families and children, according to the ALRC report.
“There are, however, significant barriers to information sharing between the systems at present,” the report read.
In its recommendation, the ALRC noted the risk to children was “more than a hypothetical”.
“During this inquiry, the ALRC’s attention was drawn to numerous examples of the family law system placing children in unsafe situations,” the recommendation read.
“The fundamental structural difficulties of the family law system can be remedied only by enabling family law, family violence and child abuse matters to be dealt with in the same place at the same time. One court considering the best interests of the child in totality.”