For Kids Sake
Children Beyond Separation: Executive Summary
RECOGNISE family breakdown as a child welfare issue
Family separation needs to be considered, first and foremost, a child welfare & health issue, not a legal issue; the latest and best scientific/medical evidence should play a larger and key role in determining what’s best for children’s long-term welfare.
This major, social issue is best suited to a Health, Family, or Children’s portfolio, and we recommend the creation of a dedicated Minister for Children & Young People to address, holistically and pro-actively, issues of critical importance to our youngest generation. Continuing to view family separation primarily as a legal issue, managed by the Department of the Attorney-General, will result in continuing, serious and avoidable harm to future generations of children.
EDUCATE & SUPPORT families better – especially during separation
Investment should be provided for education and earlier, more comprehensive, support for families. This should include a national educational campaign on managing relationships and better separation; on the potentially harmful consequences to children of family breakdown, including the extreme risks, consequences and prevalence of some forms of family violence and psychological child abuse; and on the availability and benefits of coaching, conciliation, family-friendly resolution services, and comprehensive, online resources for separating parents and their children.
INTRODUCE specialised training, accreditation & high levels of accountability for all professionals involved
All professionals involved in making decisions that profoundly affect the lives of children must be properly qualified in this specialisation. An accreditation system for the necessary skills should be implemented, new training courses developed, and a database of qualified specialists made publicly available. This should include, but not be limited to, social workers, counsellors, psychologists, family dispute resolution practitioners, family court report writers, lawyers and judges.
New standards of accountability should be introduced, guaranteeing routine and more open analysis of performance, conduct and outcomes – replacing the current culture where scrutiny is inhibited (even by legislation). When the lives of children are at stake, no health or legal professional should be immune from legitimate scrutiny and an independent review or complaints process.
INVEST in healthier, modern alternatives to legal procedures
Investing in our children is one of the most cost-effective investments of all. The government should prioritise investment in a diverse range of government and private sector initiatives that are less harmful and more cost-effective than family court proceedings. These should include programs such as: earlier education and health-focused support; high-quality coaching and counselling for parents and children; better conciliation, mediation and family dispute resolution services; Medicare-supported health/family care plans; the development of comprehensive, practical, family-friendly online resources; and online/smartphone apps that facilitate parental cooperation and provide ready-access to educational resources for families who need help and support more than they need lawyers and courts.
PRIORITISE non-adversarial conciliation & arbitration
When governments do intervene in matters that affect children, such interventions should be urgent, expertly managed, evidence-based and outcome-focused. Above all, they should “do no harm”. Family courts are slow, unaffordable, frightening and adversarial – and they neither monitor, nor obtain feedback from, the outcomes of their decisions. They are not fit-for-purpose and cannot ensure the best interests of children are achieved.
For most family separations (where there is no history of family violence, abuse or neglect), a streamlined, more cost-effective government intervention should be introduced nationally – and private sector equivalents supported – based on the most effective, existing models of conciliation and arbitration. Preliminary decisions about parental care arrangements should be made on an urgent basis and pro-actively and professionally monitored thereafter. Failures by parents to adhere to arbitration decisions should be referred automatically to local courts for expedited rulings and enforcement. Non-adversarial arbitration should be funded, promoted and marketed as a mainstream alternative to family courts.
MAKE family law – and its implementation – simpler, fair and focused on the long-term welfare of children
The Family Law Act – originally framed in the context of parental disputes, rather than children’s welfare – should be comprehensively revised, simplified, shortened, and based on the core principles of: the paramountcy of the long-term welfare of children; prevention of exposure of children to all forms of physical and psychological harm; the maintenance of a child’s pre-existing relationships with fit and willing parents, and other family members, that are central to children’s long-term well-being; gender equality and natural justice; and the rights of children and family members as stated, and internationally recognised, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.