A judge hearing a case in the family court recently has made scathing remarks about the state of the child protection and family court systems and reflected on the effect working on the harrowing cases can have on family law practitioners, after presiding over a parenting case involving five children who have had a “dreadful life”. The judge said: “There are times when the constant parade of misery in this Court threatens to take its toll on those charged with dispensing justice for children within the confines of applying the law pursuant to the Family Law Act”.
In the case heard in Brisbane under the pseudonyms Cannon & Wescott, Judge Carew handed sole parental responsibility and custody of the children to the mother and restrained the father from any time or communication with his children, but cautioned the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women that this was “not an endorsement of the mother’s capacity to provide a safe and stable environment for the children long term”. The judge however said, “I have no option but to make the order sought by the mother and leave the children in her care. There is no one else.”
Outlining the case in her judgment, Judge Carew said:
“The children have had to endure a most horrific lifestyle including exposure to significant violence between the parents, drug abuse by their mother, alcohol abuse by their father, likely sexual abuse (of the two female children) by their father, absence of their parents while in prison or otherwise, repeated changes to their residence and school and a failure to receive on occasions the basic necessities in life such as food and clothing.”
Sadly, this case is not unusual in the family courts.
“The children have had a dreadful life to date but they, like so many children seen in this Court and various other courts in Australia, are what I consider can aptly be described as ‘the forgotten ones’. I say this because, for some people, it seems easier to turn away than to confront some harsh realities about a society that not only permits but encourages children to be born into households where their parents are incapable of providing safe, stable and loving homes and where the children are frequently subjected to the most horrific abuse.“
The judge acknowledged that the mother, “like so many parents of children at risk”, has had a terrible life herself, including at one point being imprisoned and then “upon her release [continuing] to have children despite using methamphetamine, working in the sex industry and exposing her children to that lifestyle.”
In an attempt to ameliorate risk, the judge ordered that the mother engage with practical support services, as well as granting an order the mother herself requested prohibiting her current partner from attending her home, “because she considered it would make her better able to set boundaries involving [the partner]”. The judge accepted the mother had done “what she can to turn her life around over the last twelve months” but said “the journey ahead is likely to be very difficult for her and her many children”.
Judge Carew took the opportunity to criticise politicians and authorities, saying:
“The millions of dollars routinely wasted by governments of all persuasions on endless enquiries and royal commissions into child safety could actually make a real difference if redirected to the lives of these forgotten children. Children are this country’s most important asset yet the courts and front line services such as the variously named Departments of Child Safety and Police, charged with trying to protect them, are simply starved of sufficient funds to make a difference. Foster carers are few and far between and time and time again parents are afforded second chances at the expense of their children.”
The judge shed light on the fact that authorities had already failed the children on at least one occasion in the past, having urgently investigated the father but “extraordinarily a decision was made to leave [the children] with him”: “It was during this time that it appears highly likely that the two female children were sexually abused by their father. Hardly surprising one might have thought”. Yet “the children were placed in his care presumably because there was nowhere else for them to go.”
Clearly feeling powerless to impose orders that would guarantee the children in this case were properly cared for, the judge concluded: “All I can do is hope that the children remain safe.”
The case underscores how desperately family law reform is needed in Australia. Our child protection and legal systems must offer children more than mere “hope”.
You can read the whole case here.
If you need help with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.