Communities and Justice

If your child cannot come back to live with you

Every child deserves to live a happy and stable life with a home and family that makes them feel loved and safe. If DCJ thinks that your child cannot come home to live with you because they could be hurt, they will create a care plan with you to give to the Children’s Court.

The Children’s Court will ultimately make a decision about what sort of safe home will be best for your child to grow up in. This might be guardianship to a relative, open adoption or long-term foster care. When restoration is not possible, guardianship or open adoption are preferred options to foster care. However, if your child is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, open adoption is not preferred.

Each child’s circumstance is unique to their needs. This means different decisions may be made for each of your children.

Long-term foster care and family/kinship care

Your child may already be living with a foster carer or a family/kinship carer. If your child can’t come home safely, the Children’s Court may decide it is best for your child to stay in their new home. If your child’s foster carer or family member can’t give your child the love and home they need, the caseworker may need to find new carers who can.

Even if your child is in long-term foster or kinship care, you are still their parent. Your child has a right to have a happy and healthy relationship with you. In most foster or kinship care arrangements, you can spend time with your child and be told about decisions.

If your life changes and home becomes safe for your child, you may be able to begin the journey to bring them home after court has finished. If you want to see if this is possible, you must talk to your lawyer about a Section 90 application. Section 90 is the part of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 that deals with applying to change a care order that has been made by the Children’s Court.

Learn more about restoration.


The caseworker may begin looking for a guardian for your child. A guardian can be anyone over the age of 18 years old who can give a child a safe and loving home. A guardian must agree to keep your child in contact with you and support their cultural needs and connections.

When someone becomes your child’s guardian, they have full legal responsibility for your child and can make decisions about your child’s life. This includes decisions about your child’s health, education and daily care while also being responsible for what your child needs to feel loved, safe, active, healthy and to continue learning and growing.

Even if your child is taken care of by a guardian, you are still their parent. You can spend time with your child, speak with them and be involved in important days like birthdays. Your child’s guardian has parental responsibility of your child until your child turns 18.

DCJ may stop working with you and your child if they are cared for by a guardian. If your child has a guardian and things in your life change and life becomes safe, you may be able to try to bring your child home by making an application to the Children’s Court for the order to be changed. If you want to see if this is possible, you must seek legal advice.

Open adoption

If your child can’t come home to live with you, open adoption may be an option. Before that happens, DCJ must speak with you about what adoption means and give you information.

The Supreme Court makes decisions about whether a child can be adopted. If an adoption decision is made, the adoptive parents take full legal rights and responsibility for your child forever. This order cannot be changed and is permanent. However, the adoption is open. This means your child will know who their birth family is and have the right to get information about you and the life of your family as they grow up. You may be able to see your child, but you have no parental rights when your child is adopted.

If your child is under 12 years old, both parents are offered the opportunity to provide their consent for adoption to happen. A child over 12 can make the decision themselves. You will be asked if you want counselling from a registered counsellor. This can help you to feel supported to better understand this process to make an informed decision.

Some people choose adoption for their child. This may be to make sure their child is no longer in the child protection system.

When adoption is being considered, parents and a child’s extended family make an adoption plan. This plan can be registered as part of the adoption order. It is an agreement about family time and telephone, email or social media contact after an adoption. It includes how information will be shared about a child with their birth family.

When talking about the adoption plan, everyone needs to think about what is best for the child. This includes what they may need as they grow older.

Open adoption is the last placement preference if your child is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. This means that all other options must have been assessed before open adoption can be considered. The Secretary of DCJ must give their formal approval of any open adoption of Aboriginal children.

The pain when your child can’t come home

It is heartbreaking to hear your child can’t come home to live with you. It is normal to feel sadness and loss. You should get support from a friend or support person to help you cope. If you have negative thoughts or feelings about hurting yourself, talk to someone who can help. Regardless of the time of day or night, you can always find help, such as Lifeline on 13 11 14.

It is important to acknowledge your feelings but also to think about what your child is going through. Your child needs you in their life and no matter what happens, you will always be their parent. You are important to your child and they will always need you.

Last updated:

05 Jul 2024