Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Family Court and Child Protection

I have recently been working with a couple of cases which involved the family court and child protection issues. In one of those cases we pleaded with family to investigate the abuse we believed was being imposed on the daughter by the father who had access to the child. The history if this man was one of immense abuse and there was strong evidence that the abuse was continuing while the child was in his care.

From the time the case was first presented to me until the present has been ten months and it has only been in the past couple of days that the CPS has completed their report. The mother has asked for and was granted a safety plan thanks to some good social work by Families SA. This meant that the mother had to contravene an order of the the Family Court by refusing to hand over her daughter. On one hand we have a mother who is petrified every time that he child is on access, because she wonders if the child will be returned to her at all, or that the child will be harmed, or that the child may even be killed by the father. We can only imagine what that must be like for the mother. She has done everything humanly possible to protect her child from this abusive man. She recently was told that because she contravened the Family Court order she may be found in contempt of the court, be convicted and given a suspended sentence.

When the child was physically assaulted by the father and the child was taken to the local hospital to be assessed it took Families SA six weeks to visit the child and make and assessment. By this time the bruising and forensic evidence need was week if non existent.

So this mother who was, by anyone’s assessment, doing all that she could to protect her daughter may now be punished for doing what we expect any mother to do, protect her daughter.

When a case is before the Federal Court it appears that child protection services are reluctant to act. Why this is a so remains a mystery. If a child is at risk of harm it shouldn’t matter what the warring parties are doing in the Family Court. Nor is it up to the Social Workers to make a decision based on the punitive behaviours of both parents towards each other. What is important is what is in the best interest of the child. We agree that often parents don’t understand that concept and from some of the people that I work with appear to be more interested in the battle with the other party rather than focusing on the children.

Then there are the solicitors who are more interested in the parental battle than they are in the best interest of the child. I guess the child doesn’t pay them. It is interesting that in the matter I mentioned above it seemed more important for the solicitors of the parents to use every possible avenue to punish the mother for wanting to protect the child against the father. I understand the need to advocate for the father but at the expense of the mental and physical wellbeing of the child seems inhumane and disrespectful of the child. The appointing of a children’s lawyer in this instance seemed counter productive because he failed to see the abuse the father was causing.

There are so many competing ideas in these matters that it is almost understandable that there is not the space to compromise or put aside personal agendas for the sake of the child. It is sad though that the needs of individuals becomes what governs the outcome.

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