Save our kids

The Sunday Times
14 February 2016

Family Court of Australia CEO Richard Foster told Federal Parliament this week our family courts deal with 200,000 adults each year, but they have no idea of how many – or how badly – children are affected by their decisions. On February 2, the Senate was in no doubt – it took the extraordinary step of calling on the Government to acknowledge that thousands of children are being harmed by our family law system, and to implement a new, non- adversarial system.

This followed closely on the heels of news that the United Nations had censured the Family Court of WA for violations of human rights, and that a brave teenage girl – the survivor of a murder- suicide – had told the WA Coroner how “the Family Court completely failed us”. The Senate has called for simple, important things: child protection; gender equality; a new, non- adversarial system to resolve family separation.

Surely, for kids’ sake, it’s time?

For the children

The West Australian
2 February 2016

Why does Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe, on being made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) last week, suggest to ABC News that more judges and more money are the solution for a family court system that is causing immense harm to tens of thousands of children?

More judges won’t make family courts less adversarial. More money won’t make them affordable to the vast majority of Australian parents. And reducing court cases from three to two years won’t stop thousands of children from being harmed for life. The harm is done in the first few months, when children are wrongly left with abusive parents, or wrongfully removed from good ones — by a court trying to address matters in which it lacks expertise.

This week’s motion before the Australian Senate, calling for major family reform and a new, non-adversarial system, comes not a moment too soon.

Family Courts give kids Fatherless Christmas

And Motherless Christmases
Alice Springs News
16 December 2015

Sir – Tens of thousands of Australian children are being harmed, and many will spend this Christmas without one of their parents and other family members, as a direct result of our harmful, adversarial family court system.

This is one of the conclusions of the new “Children in Crisis” report just released by the Family Law Reform Coalition and backed by independent Senator for Victoria, John Madigan, who says too many families are being harmed by the current system.

Recent announcements reveal that Australia’s family courts are themselves in crisis: head of Australia’s Family Court, Chief Justice Bryant, who said on her 2004 appointment that “her top aim is to win public respect for the court”, recently took the unusual step of going public with her plea for an extra $17m.

The solution, though, is not to give our family courts more money. All that will do is ensure that our children are traumatised for perhaps 1½ years instead of two or three.

Many children will still be left in abusive environments for extended periods, and many more will still be wrongly forced to lose the genuine connection with a loving parent, often with half of their entire family, that’s so important to their well-being.

The current system is unsustainable; its financial, and human, costs are unacceptable. We need a new system, such as a national Family Commission, that’s not adversarial and that provides quick, affordable solutions for the majority of families – with a proper Court to back that up swiftly where there is genuine abuse or domestic violence or a failure to abide by its rulings.

Tragically for so many children, similar recommendations were made in a major government report back in 2003, but they’ve been ignored by successive governments.

New studies since then have consistently shown the critical importance of children being able to maintain proper relationships with both of their parents after separation in the vast majority of families.

Our family courts are supposed to be looking after ‘the best interests’ of children. But instead they’re leaving, in their wake, a trail of children and parents whose lives have been ruined; a litany of bankruptcies and suicides; and thousands of children who will not be sharing Christmas this year with a parent who loves them.

The Forgotten Victims of Domestic Violence

The Weekend Australian
26 September 2015

Violence against women is unacceptable and must be stopped. It is, by definition, a gender issue. But to make this synonymous with domestic violence is disrespecting to many. And I don’t just mean for men, real or otherwise. I am thinking of children who experience domestic violence, each and every day.

In Australia, tens of thousands of children in divided families experience one of the worst forms of child abuse and domestic violence. They are controlled and coerced by one of their parents into rejecting (and even made to feel fearful of) their other parent. Children are manipulated into hating their mother or father.

The harm to these children is lifelong. Many even attempt suicide as a direct consequence (as do many of their parents, having lost contact with children they love). Let’s not forget these vulnerable and voiceless victims of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence: Beyond a Gender Agenda

Alice Springs News
22 September 2015

Sir – In his first TV interview as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull defined “domestic violence” as “violence against women”. Understandable, perhaps. But where does that leave the rest of us? And I don’t just mean men, real or otherwise.

I’m thinking of Aussie kids who experience regimes of domestic violence, each and every day, according to the definition that should count, our Family Law Act: “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family, or causes the family member to be fearful”.

In Australia alone, tens of thousands of children of divided families experience one of the worst forms of child abuse and domestic violence – even if it doesn’t meet our PM’s more popular definition: they are controlled and coerced by one of their parents into rejecting (and are often made to feel fearful of) their other parent – and, usually, half of their extended family and friends too.

They are manipulated into hating their dad or their mum, so that their other parent doesn’t have to endure shared parenting with an ex they now despise. The harm to these children is life-long; many even attempt suicide as a direct consequence (as do many of their parents, having lost contact with kids they love).

Please, Prime Minister, don’t forget these even-more-vulnerable and voiceless victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence hurts us all. The time has come to transform how our society helps children, and their parents, when families separate. Our kids deserve better too.