Soapbox Issues

Kids in distress

On Friday morning, one of the major routes in Sydney, the Harbour bridge came to a standstill. Thanks to one man.

Basically, this guy Mick scaled the Harbour Bridge and had two signs hanging from it: “Kids first” and “Plz help my kids”. It took a couple of hours of shutting the bridge and not permitting any road or rail transport and negotiating with Mick before things returned to normal. Apparently, from what I heard on the radio that morning when he called in, he was making a statement. He apparently was not permitted to see his kids based on family court orders and thought they were in danger with his ex-partner and had been trying different services to intervene for years to no avail. Podcasts here.

Now, I don’t know about the truth in terms of his kids being in danger. I did feel sorry for the man and thought he did make a statement if his story is true and if his kids really are in danger. The reason I don’t completely disbelieve him is because of what I see at work. Which is what I really want to talk about in this post. Not about Mick and his actions. But rather, when I see not much being done for the kids who are in the custody of a parent (mother or father) who are endangering the child.

I am not a fan of the family court system. Nor the child protection system here at times.

Family court works on the principle that a child is better off with contact with both parents. And while in most cases this may work, there are cases where this is the worst thing you could do to a child. For instance, I have seen children who are forced to visit a parent fortnightly when they are scared of them for various reasons — physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, threats. I do what I can in my power. Which is to make a report to the child protection authorities.

But do I see change?

Hah.

And then I feel helpless.

Some of these kids actually think I can help them not see the parent they don’t want to see. And I have to tell them that I have no power over the courts. Because I really don’t. All I can do is make a report. And that too, only to child protection services. That’s it. And then I see the disappointment written on their faces. Their faces say to me how the system is failing them. And I agree.

Why make it mandatory for a child to see both parents? A seven year old can tell you if their mum hits them on the head with a pan or broom. A nine year old can tell you if their dad threatens them and harrasses them to provide information about mum. A ten year old can tell you if their mum constantly criticises them about their weight and looks and locks them in the bedroom on weekend visits. A six year old can tell you that dad tells them they shouldn’t talk about what happened that weekend but they don’t want to go over anymore.

But who listens to them?

Apparently, nobody.

If the other parent, the one the child feels comfortable with, tries to give in to the child’s wishes of not seeing the problem parent, then they are the ones in trouble with the courts. So they too have to let their kids down and force them to visit the problem parent.

It’s about time family courts gave the kids a voice.

Because these kids have a lot to say. It’s not like they are complaining about getting bored at dad’s over the weekend or not liking mum’s food over the weekend.

It’s a lot worse than that in some cases.

If courts don’t listen to the kids, or for that matter professionals who work with them, what hope is there?

Kids can continue to feel helpless.

Continue to feel like the system fails them.

And continue to think that people like me who are supposed to help them are part and parcel of that system.

Making us feel helpless.

So yes, if Mick’s actions make the Family Court system take into account what kids have to say, then it’s worth 2 hours of a traffic standstill in Sydney.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

P.S. I have used ‘parent’ instead of mum or dad because in my experience, while most of the time custody is given to the mother and dads have been the ‘bad guy’, there have been instances where the father was given custody and the child has not wanted to visit mum because she is the abusive one. 

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  • Reply
    Venice
    May 16, 2011 at 9:57 am

     Hi PB… It was great getting to read about such a case. I’ve often wondered, mostly when I watch those movies where the kids get to spend every weekend with father or mother, about what the kids like… it’s difficult enough for them to stay with one parent and to add to this, to not be able to voice their side of their issue – it’s sad.

    I like your idea of the family courts giving a chance for the kids to say what they feel about the whole situation. It would probably work well, if the kids are taken seriously on this matter.

  • Reply
    bikram
    May 16, 2011 at 10:09 am

    not one but LOADS of them where the kids are given over to mother WHY..  the courts will have to change the way they think soon .. as here in UK too we have had some incidents where Fathers have done something like this.. last year a guy climbed the parliament house… 

    I am strgonly against this patronism of kids going ot mother .. BOTH have equal rights ..

    I can understand your problem , we face it too sometimes when  we know things are wrong and all we can d ois report to the socials which kills my heart…

    Bikram’s

  • Reply
    Jake
    May 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I read the article and I have to be honest, I probably would have done the same
    thing if I was in his shoes. That probably makes me sound like a screw ball that 
    listens to his heart more than his head, but sometimes you have to commit acts 
    which are irrational (with a limit ..not like go around killing people) because there are no doors left to knock on.

    As far the judiciary system is concerned, I sometimes wonder if its possible to 
    have a flawless one. Its not easy to carve out a system that will garuntee 
    justice to everyone, so what’s the point of having of having any at all ? ..
    well to prevent anarchy on the streets I guess. It is however possible to better 
    systems, I really hope the govmnt is doing more for that over there (cuz I don’t see a lot changing here). 

  • Reply
    Kim
    May 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    It breaks my heart when I see stories in the news of kids who were sent back to a neglectful parent (drugs, alcohol, abandonment, etc.) I think the courts and the system really needs to change and the counselors need to be able to help them get the best solution for them based on their case.  It’s so hard.  I feel for that Dad who just wanted to get things changed for his kids.  No one is listening.  

  • Reply
    Smitha
    May 16, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    It is so tricky, isn’t it, when the children have no voice in the matter.. Yes, you are right an 8,9, or 10 yr old should be able to tell, but I can’t wonder, what if the abusive parent tries to coerce them into saying what they want.. After all it can be easy to intimidate a young child..

  • Reply
    bluntedges
    May 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I do pity the kids who are caught in this turmoil. Unfortunately, I guess that’s all most of us can do.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    May 18, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Venice, in most cases if parents are rational and not constantly putting
    down the other parent or the child, the fortnightly visits to one parent is
    fine and works. But yes, when parents act worse than kids or when they are
    abusive, that’s when it’s a zillion times more stressful for the child. And
    of course, given my job, I see the ones that have got it bad! If noly courts
    listened to the kids or did something about such situations, things would be
    so much better…

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    May 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Well, here the focus seems to be on shared custody but it still ends up with
    the mother getting majority of the caring responsibility. However, what I’ve
    noticed is that dads bear the brunt of the system…more dads are not
    allowed to see their kids compared to mums for similar kinds of behaviours.
    For some reason courts seem to think mothers are incapable of harming their
    kids. Which as we all know is bullshit! I’m not surprised though to see
    parents react the way this guy Mick has. Frustration eventually gets to
    them….

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    May 18, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I think lots of people would have done the same Jake. Some callers to the
    radio station stuck in that traffic standstill were very supportive of the
    bloke. After all, it was a peaceful protest despite him leaving threats near
    his car. Oh and as for the justice system…while it’s not perfect, let’s
    not throw out the baby with the bath water! Yes, some of the criminals get
    away and not all is fair…but the ones that do get locked up, are there for
    a reason. But the family court system definitely needs improvement. Who
    knows when governments will look into that. They are too busy pushing their
    agendas.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    May 19, 2011 at 4:19 am

    Tell me about it Kim…it’s so hard seeing kids who don’t want to go back to
    abusive parents being sent back there…there are independent psychologists
    apparently who interview the kids but somehow the courts still don’t take
    everything into account it seems. And yet, on the other hand, they do deny
    rights to other parents who are loving and caring but may have some mental
    health concerns like this dad apparently does…

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    May 19, 2011 at 4:21 am

    True Smitha…some parents would definitely be able to coerce or rather
    threaten the child to not say anything against them. But kids still do
    disclose abuse even if they retract it out of fear of their parents. That’s
    where it’s important for the court to take into account what kids may have
    told their teachers or counsellors or another adult they trust…

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    May 19, 2011 at 4:22 am

    Yeah, unless we come to power in the political sphere and have an influence
    over the laws there!

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