At-risk kids spark stoush over welfare and parenting

Matthew Denholm; 11/2/10,

A constitutional stoush has been sparked by a Family Court ruling that it can compel state welfare agencies to take a role in the parenting of at-risk children. Judge Robert Benjamin ruled that he had the power to impose a parental responsibility order on a state agency when there were “no other alternatives” for at-risk children. The Tasmanian government has appealed against the judgment, which legal sources say could end up in the High Court, with the commonwealth backing the ruling and other states taking a keen interest. Tasmanian Solicitor-General Leigh Sealy SC told a full bench of the Family Court yesterday that Justice Benjamin’s ruling was “as startling as it is erroneous” and tantamount to “civil conscription”. Justice Benjamin’s landmark ruling came in a case involving two children – aged 15 and nine – whom he was concerned, after hearing evidence, were at risk of “emotional, physical and sexual abuse”.