We recently wrote an explainer about children’s contact centres and supervision services. But the theory on how they should work needs to be viewed in the context of how they actually work at present. And now, an article in The Guardian has taken a look at some of the critical problems in this area, that must be addressed by reform.
The number one issue here is that the publicly funded supervision services system is woefully overstretched and that waiting lists have blown out, so that parents are finding it tough to utilise a supervision service.
This is a parallel problem to the long wait times that exist in the family court system, where many families are left in limbo for years before obtaining a final judgment.
There seems to be simply not enough centres, with regional Australia worst affected. This chronic lack of publicly funded places is put down to a lack of sufficient funding for this aspect of the family law system.
A fundamental disconnect
It’s one thing for parties to seek orders for supervised contact between parents and their children in certain circumstances, but if those orders can’t be followed because there are simply no services available, the orders become useless. And yet it’s the case that even after an order is obtained by some parents, there is then difficulty in finding a place for their regular court-ordered visit.
“Court orders can’t be acted on, other orders are delayed and tense situations become tenser.”
The newspaper quotes Dr Jacoba Brasch QC, the president of the Law Council of Australia and family law senior barrister, as saying:
“You’ve got a judge who wants to make a supervised order but the children aren’t going to see the parent for three months, six months, because there’s no vacancies. Mum or dad was in their lives usually and suddenly is out, and … the children can never get that three months back, or six months back, that they missed out on.”
Haves and have-nots
The lack of places in publicly funded supervision centres then leads to parents searching for private operators of supervision services, but these often come at a significant cost to the parents and is not always an option. There are the parents who have the capacity to pay for private supervised visits and can therefore continue to see the kids, and those who can’t and are forced to wait in the queue for less expensive services. Those who can’t bring themselves to wait are reportedly travelling long distances to access free contact services, hardly an ideal situation.
Where to from here?
Is it too easy to blame the Government for the problems plaguing this sector? Well, who else could be to blame for the “indexation freeze in the sector”, for instance? As The Guardian reports:
“[Publicly funded service provider] Interrelate has presented a paper to the federal government flagging funding levels, which showed that an indexation freeze in the sector had created a significant cut in service delivery…Interrelate has been forced to cut service hours 26% since 2012. The pause in funding came at the same time as award rates increased, meaning the rate paid to casuals increased 143% on weekends.”
What the next phase of family law reform should do, now that the various inquiries are complete and recommendations are in, is deal with the issue of chronic underfunding of supervision services. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this directly leads to chronic delays and problems accessing the services. This is a problem that will not simply go away with a court merger—it’s a problem that needs urgent intervention.
Source: The Guardian
Do 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 Family Law 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 Family Law.