‘Transgender Children and the Family Court’ – Associate Professor Fiona Kelly at 2015 LSAANZ Conference

La Trobe Law School academic, Associate Professor Fiona Kelly, presented a paper last week at the annual Australian and New Zealand Law and Society Association Conference at Flinders Law School in Adelaide.

The flyer for the conference can be accessed, here.


A rapidly growing number of Australian children and adolescents are identifying as transgender. Referrals of children and adolescents to the Gender Dysphoria Service at the RCH in Melbourne have increased from 1 in 2003 to over 200 in 2015. Medical treatment for transgender children is regulated by international consensus guidelines. Treatment occurs in two stages. Stage 1 comprises the administration of puberty-suppressant hormones or “blockers” and parents are able to consent to this treatment. Stage two treatment, which usually occurs when the child is around 15-16 years of age, involves the administration of cross-sex hormones that reflect the child’s chosen sex. To access Stage 2 treatment, parents must obtain Family Court approval. There is a growing body of academic literature challenging the correctness of the case law that dictates Family Court involvement in Stage 2 treatment. Far less attention, however, has been given to the impact of the Court process on the parents and young people who must endure it. This is particularly concerning in light of recent statements made by Dr Michelle Telfer, Lead Pediatrician at the Gender Dysphoria Service, that “the involvement of the Family Court in hormone treatment remains the single greatest barrier to adolescents, otherwise able to access medical services, receiving proper treatment. [The Family Court approval process] isone of the significant contributors to increased morbidity and mortality amongst transgender adolescents in Australia.

In this presentation, Dr Fiona Kelly will report on the preliminary findings of an interview-based study with 11 parents of transgender children who have either gone through the Court process or who anticipate going through it in the next 1-3 years. Overall, the parents were extremely dissatisfied with the Family Court process and believed it was harmful to their child and their family. The harms identified were multiple. However, three key themes emerged. First, that the process had a damaging psychological impact on the child, as well as on the wellbeing of family members. Second, that the court process caused serious delays in the child’s treatment, often jeopardizing their mental health and even compromising the efficacy of their medical care. And third, that the court process had placed an enormous financial burden on the family.


Dr Fiona Kelly is an Associate Professor in the Law School at La Trobe University. The primary focus of her research is the law’s response to non-normative families, particularly in the context of family law. Her publications address issues such as the judicial and legislative treatment of families created by lesbians and single mothers by choice, the legal regulation of parentage in the context of assisted reproduction, and the ethics of sperm donor anonymity. She has also published two monographs in the field: Transforming Law’s Family: The Legal Recognition of Planned Lesbian Families (2011) and AutonomousMotherhood? A Socio-Legal Study of Choice and Constraint (2015; co-authored with Susan Boyd, Dorothy Chunn and Wanda Wiegers). Supported by a Victorian Law Foundation grant, Dr Kelly’s recent research has considered the impact of Family Court proceedings on transgendered children.


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