Proposed Reforms To The Family Law System On Child Protection

Child Abuse, Divorce and Custody….What To Expect

Divorce_ChildProtectionThe importance of the desired effect of the Gillard government’s proposed reforms to the Family Law system on child protection have been highlighted by the release of a recent report.

The factors most commonly associated with the occurrence of child abuse and neglect, and identified in families involved with child protection services, are domestic violence, parental substance abuse and parental mental health problems (Cleaver, Nicholson, Tarr, & Cleaver, 2007; Cleaver, Unell, & Aldgate, 1999; Scott, 2009). The significance of parental substance misuse, mental health problems and domestic violence is made clear in the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, which states “A particular focus is sustained on key risk factors of mental health, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse” . Families in which parents present with these problems are often situated within a wider context of exclusion and disadvantage (e.g., housing instability, poverty, low education, social isolation and neighbourhood disadvantage). Parents may also be struggling to come to terms with their own experiences of trauma and victimisation. These types of problems are complex, often inter-related, and chronic in nature and rarely occur in isolation. Where these problems occur within families, the families are described as “families with multiple and complex problems”.

This paper investigates the separate impacts of parental substance misuse,domestic violence and parental mental health problems. It presents evidence regarding the extent to which these problems co-occur and a discussion of the wider context of exclusion and disadvantage, its causes and its consequences. Finally, it provides an overview of research and theory for working with families with multiple and complex problems.

The report by the Australian Institute of Criminology, released by Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and Minister for Justice, Brendan O’Connor, identifies a need to include witnessing domestic violence as part of the definition of child abuse.

The report further underlines the harm to children from growing up in a violent household and emphasises the need for the Gillard Government’s reforms to the family law system to protect children at risk of family violence and child abuse.

“The report shows that a substantial amount of domestic violence is witnessed by children, ranging from a child hearing violence or having to defend a parent against the violence, to “patching up” a parent after a violent incident,” Mr O’Connor said.

The report discusses other forms of witnessing domestic violence including being forced to watch or participate in the assault, being forced to spy on a parent and being informed that they are to blame for the violence because of their behaviour.

The author, Dr Kelly Richards, further discusses additional solutions seeking to address the impacts of domestic on children including early intervention and “holistic and multidisciplinary approaches that involve police, domestic violence workers, child protection workers and other relevant professionals…”

This article provides basic information only and is not a substitute for a professional or legal advice .

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