Decision Making by Mature Minors

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA


Purpose of this policy

To provide guidance to principals on when and how to assess a student as being mature enough to make their own decision about a particular issue.

Throughout this policy, principal means the principal or a principal’s nominee, which  may include a Student Support Service Officer or other nominated staff member, depending on the decision to be made. Parent means person who has decision making responsibility for a child.

Prerequisite policy

Policy

The Department recognises that parents, guardians and carers play an invaluable role in boosting a child’s learning and wellbeing through being actively informed and involved from the early years through adolescence. For this reason, schools continue to engage parents in schooling matters even after the student has turned 18 and are legally recognised as adults.

Notwithstanding this, for a variety of reasons students under the age of 18 sometimes ask to make decisions on their own behalf, without involvement of their parents. Circumstances in which a principal should make an assessment as to whether a child is sufficiently mature to make their own decision about a particular issue include when:

  • there is dispute about a schooling matter between a student and their parents
  • there is a dispute about a schooling matter between the student’s parents
  • the school cannot contact the student’s parent about a decision to be made
  • a student is living independently from their parents
  • the principal considers that refusing a student’s request to make their own decision would have an adverse impact on the student.

Applying this policy is a balancing exercise between the evolving capacity of a child to make decisions in his or her own best interests and the Department’s strategy to encourage parents to be actively involved in their child’s learning.

This policy also reflects the Department’s obligations to act compatibly with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006 (Vic) to protect children and families. The Charter expressly provides that all children have the right to protection that is in his or her best interests and needed by them because they are a child.

The principles below guide principals to make a decision about whether or not a student should be considered a mature minor for a particular decision.

Guiding principles

The law recognises that as children become older and more mature, they are more capable of making their own decisions about a wide range of issues including decisions about their education, healthcare and wellbeing. The law recognises that a young person may reach this stage before they are 18 years old. These young people are referred to as ‘mature minors’.

The Department’s policy is to engage parents in schooling matters unless it is not objectively in the best interests of the student to do so. The best interests of the student must always govern a principal’s decision about whether a student should be deemed a mature minor.

Principals should consider whether a student is a mature minor based on these points;

  • the law recognises that a young person with sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand the nature and effect of a decision has the capacity to make that decision on their own behalf
  • there is no specific age when a young person may be deemed sufficiently mature and capable of making his or her own decision
  • the principal is responsible for determining whether a student is a mature minor for the purpose of making a particular decision about their education or welfare
  • the principal must be satisfied that the young person has sufficient maturity, understanding and intelligence to comprehend the nature and effect of the particular decision
  • a mature minor student’s consent must be informed, voluntary, specific and current. The principal is responsible for assessing and establishing this, based upon their interview/s and conversations with the student and the student’s:
    • age
    • level of maturity for their age
    • understanding of the issues and consequences
    • living arrangements (independence)
    • previous academic results/school reports
  • to reach this decision, principals may also consult other members of the leadership team, any relevant teaching staff, school welfare staff, SSS staff or any external health professionals treating the student with the consent of that student. Principals may also seek advice from the Legal Division. 
  • the principal should document their decision and the reasons for their decision.

A principal may deem a student to be a mature minor for some decisions and not for others. For example, a principal may deem a student to be a mature minor for the purpose of participating in a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) support group at school, or attend a sex education class. In these circumstances, the principal may decide that the student may choose to participate on their own behalf without parent consent. This does not automatically mean that the school would deem the student a mature minor for any other aspect of their education or welfare.

Students living independently

A student living independently means a student aged at least 15 years who is not living in the day to day care of a parent or carer pursuant to a court order.

Students sometimes choose to live separately from their parents. There are vastly different reasons why this occurs. Sometimes this is because the student no longer wishes to abide by their parents’ rules. This also occurs in situations of neglect, emotional abuse, family violence or where a parent is drug or alcohol affected. When a student is living independently, the student may ask that the school:

  • deem them a mature minor for all aspects of their education and welfare, so that the school no longer involves their parents in decisions about their education, and
  • no longer inform their parents about their schooling matters, including no longer providing school reports to the parent.

Making schooling decisions on their own behalf

In all circumstances when a student makes this request, the principal must first try to obtain confirmation from the parents or other responsible adult that the student is no longer living at home. If the school confirms that the student lives independently, the school must ask the student to nominate a suitable adult to be a point of contact for the student, to sign consent forms and for emergencies, etc. If the student nominates a suitable adult, the school can then allow that suitable adult to make decisions for the student.

If the student is living in the care of the nominated suitable adult, the school should ask the adult to provide an informal carer statutory declaration, confirming they have day to day care of the child, unless the adult can provide evidence of more formal carer status with a court order. See Commission for Children and Young People in Other resources for information on informal carers.

If the student is unable or unwilling to nominate a suitable adult to make decisions on their behalf, the school must make a record of this. The school can then determine whether the student is a mature minor having regard to all the student’s individual circumstances, including the principles set out above. Again, the best interest of the student is always the paramount consideration. Practically, if a school refuses a student’s request who is living independently, this may mean the student stops attending school. Principals should avoid this occurring as far as reasonably possible.

If the school then deems the student to be a mature minor for all schooling decisions, the school can then deal directly with the student for all decisions about schooling matters. This includes, for example, signing their own excursion forms.

If a parent then objects to the school allowing the student to make their own decisions about schooling matters, again the primary consideration is the best interests of the student. This includes what is in the best educational interests of the student. Unless there is a risk of harm, the school should always encourage the student and parents to resolve their differences.

If the school is concerned that the student is not sufficiently mature to make their own decision about any or all school matters, the school should report their concerns to an appropriate adult or care agency such as the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

School reports and general educational progress

Sometimes students ask the school to stop sharing their personal information with their parents. If the school deems the student to be a mature minor for this decision, or the student is living independently, the school should agree to this request other than with respect to general information about the student’s educational progress and school reports. Schools must continue to keep parents informed about the student’s general educational progress and provide them with school reports, unless the principal considers that doing so would adversely impact on the educational, social or emotional wellbeing of the child. Such circumstances might include:

  • concerns for the student’s safety, welfare or wellbeing due to allegations of family violence, emotional abuse or sexual abuse
  • entrenched/protracted parental conflict having an adverse impact on the student and their education outcomes
  • the student is estranged from the parent and the parent is not involved in supporting their child’s education.

If a principal or their nominee has any concerns about any aspect of this decision-making process, seek advice from the Legal Division (Services).

Related policies

Related legislation

Health Records Act 2001 (Vic)

Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic)

Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006 (Vic)

Department resources