National Council for Children Post-Separation
11 November 2010
Courts must put Children’s Safety First
The National Council for Children Post-Separation (NCCPS) gives a cautious welcome to the proposals by the Gillard government to bring in changes to the Family Law Act. The Act has been proved to be grossly dysfunctional by a number of research studies and government commissioned reviews and have indirectly led to the abuse of many hundreds of children across Australia, and even the deaths of some.
The previous law act saw the right for a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents given priority over the needs of the child and as a result has put many children in high risk and abusive custody arrangements. Children should not ever be ordered into a relationship with any parent who has been abusive toward the child or the other parent, which per se’ causes abuse to the child. The needs, wishes, and rights of the child should be of primary consideration in matters affecting parental custody and contact with the child, and to take precedence over parental rights.
The NCCPS would wish to see further reforms to include:
1)The custody and contact with children by parents to be determined by a tribunal of inquiry comprised of a judicial chairperson aided by professional advisers with specialist knowledge of child abuse and domestic violence, thereby removing high conflict encounters between parents engendered by an adversarial legal arena;
2)The pre-existing relationship between a parent and a child should be of paramount importance in such determinations, to prevent parents who have shown no prior interest in the child, or contributed to the child’s welfare and development, and seek contact and custody of a child merely as a means of evading child support and the opportunity to further abuse and intimidate the custodial parent;
3) An intensive training programme for Family Court judges and other judicial officers in domestic violence, the nature, extent, and effects of child abuse, and the rights of children;
4) In matters of re-location, to place the onus on the non-custodial parent to be available for agreed contact with the child, rather than the child be uprooted from familiar surroundings and friendships.
Child Protection Expert, Professor Freda Briggs said, said, “In view of the numbers of deaths of children and large numbers of reported abuse to voluntary agencies which are occurring after Court decisions regarding parental contact, then the right of each child to be protected from such events, must be the paramount consideration by Courts. As a civilised society we must no longer tolerate such a loss of the lives of small children. We can no longer tolerate situations where children are placed in the care of parents who are abusers”.
Child Protection Systems Expert, Charles Pragnell adds, “Children have been forced into distressing and dangerous situations for too long. The reforms to the current legislation are long overdue. If children’s rights had been of paramount concern previously, lives could have been saved and many children saved from emotional traumas of being ordered into the custody of, or contact with, parents who are toxic and dangerous to their health and well-being. Tragically those children will suffer throughout their lives for such ill-judgments regarding their best interests”.
The NCCPS will continue to press the government for these further changes to Family Laws.