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Family court system is failing our children

IF the current Royal Commission into institutionalised sexual abuse has shown us anything, it’s that there are many, many children whose voices are desperately raised in a call for help that is all too often ignored.
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And just when it seemed we couldn’t, as a community, be shocked any more by the widespread whitewashing of abuse, comes a report by the Bravehearts organisation into the family court system.

According to Bravehearts, the Family Court has sent children to live with convicted sex offenders in Queensland.

The 277-page report, dubbed Abbey’s Project in memory of a young girl allegedly driven to suicide by the family court system failing to adequately deal with sexual abuse she suffered, examines 15 case studies and calls for a royal commission into the nation’s “dysfunctional” system of child protection.

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston has told the media that private funding had enabled the organisation to compile the report to highlight a system in crisis.

She told the ABC many lawyers were reluctant to raise issues of child sexual abuse, because the parent making accusations was viewed as vindictive by the Family Court.

“Children are being sent to live with convicted sex offenders,” she said.

“This is insane and this is unacceptable so our political leaders have to step up to the plate.

She is pleading with politicians of all persuasions to consider “doing the right thing by Australian children”.

“We’ve produced this report to demand that the Federal Government, no matter who is elected, conduct a royal commission into the family law court system,” she said.

“If they’re serious about children and they’re serious about protecting our families, then we need to have a federal royal commission and we need to unpick this system and find a better way to protect our kids.”

Bravehearts had actually tried to have these issues addressed by the current Royal Commission, but it was reportedly decided these issues would simply have overwhelmed an already heavy agenda.

“But that doesn’t make this problem go away,” Ms Johnston said.

“This is not anyone in particular’s fault, this is a system that is dysfunctional.”

She said the system could work so much better, but it needed to be reinvented.

I have no doubt there are parents who fling accusations at their partners when relationships are breaking down and acrimony is rising, but it is foolhardy in the extreme to assume this is always the case.

The Bravehearts report is utterly heartrending reading.

It is extremely difficult to read it through the case studies, particularly, without being distressed.

There is little doubt we need to see, in this country, a great many more resources allocated to our child protection system.

Child protection workers are as important to our community as police officers, firefighters, paramedics and medical staff, yet it’s a portfolio that never seems to get the same attention.

The NSW Government this week announced a $3.7 billion surplus.

Already, the government has asked to pony up for better health services.

Perhaps some pressure needs to be applied to the government, in a bid to have it MPs open the public purse a little wider and throw some additional funding towards frontline child protection personnel.

I cannot imagine it is a decision that would be regretted further down the track.

Jody Springett is a Fairfax writer

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