“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something,
build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Creating a modern approach to family breakdown
Since 2015, For Kids Sake and the Two Wishes Foundation have been developing a safer, modern approach for dealing with family separation/divorce – one based on scientific evidence of what’s best for the long-term wellbeing of children and families, not on family law (which otherwise dominates this subject in many countries around the world).
We’ve travelled the globe in search of world’s best practices, and have trawled the academic literature, to find the best ideas, programs, practices and pilot schemes and to create evidence-based policies and recommendations for Australia and other countries that are best for children and their families. We are always open to input, debate and further evidence that will contribute towards enhancing these recommendations.
The current system is harming children every day. The implementation of this fresh approach to family breakdown is urgent if we’re to protect the next generation from the harm and trauma to which many children are exposed today.
“Family separation or divorce is one of the greatest, least-recognised health risks to our children.”
What type of changes, reforms or programs will lead to the greatest and most cost-effective improvements? This chart illustrates that educational programs and early interventions are likely to improve the wellbeing of separating families and children significantly more than changes to family law.
We have established six key principles fundamental to improving the current system – principles that will ensure that children are best protected from harm and that will create the best outcomes for children and families when parents split up.
We need to move beyond the presumption that family law is an appropriate tool for addressing either family breakdown or family violence. Although currently dealing with tens of thousands of Australian families every year, our law-based system is not fit for either purpose.
Our 6-point plan recognises that family breakdown must, first and foremost, be treated as a health issue for children and other family members, rather than as a question of law. And, like other potential or major health issues, it must be treated as urgent.
Family breakdown is a time of great vulnerability and risk for both children and parents. Our priority should be to provide essential support, when it’s most needed, that protects children and empowers parents to make the best choices for their family’s wellbeing.
How should these key principles be implemented? What does our fresh, health-focused approach to family breakdown look like?
Our 6-step program aims to ensure that few families get involved in the protracted, unaffordable and frightening court proceedings that so many experience today. Instead, through the provision of support, education and much earlier interventions for children and parents, families will, in future, be better equipped, supported and empowered to make better choices.
Many of the tools, programs or resources that would help children, parents and families better are already available, somewhere around the globe, and one of our aims is to share or replicate such programs and make them more readily accessible. Other elements of our 6-step program will take some years to develop and implement fully.
Some of these steps will also take years to bear fruit, but the results will be all the more enduring as a result. Children will learn, early on, how to form better relationships and how to deal with power imbalances and conflict. Parents will learn of the extreme risks to children of acrimonious family break-ups and will be better prepared and empowered to avoid them. Families will become more resilient.
The impact of implementing some of our other steps, though, would be almost immediate. Many families could, today, be spared harmful court proceedings through the introduction of mandatory arbitration or carefully managed conciliation that gives families a chance – and the best of incentives – to reach good decisions for their children in a non-adversarial environment. Online resources, smartphone apps and other tools made possible by technological advances can also play an increasingly important role and are integral to the development of safer, swifter ways of supporting families.
With the right investment, promotion and incentives, each of our six steps for safer, healthier children and families could be filled with so wide a range of private sector and government initiatives that, within 20 years, we will look back in disbelief at what we once thought to be an appropriate way to deal with the most deeply personal issue of family break-up and the associated risks to the health and wellbeing of our children and families.
At the same time, we will see how we have helped break the cycle of inter-generational trauma that plays such a key role in so many other social issues today.
Every two years, For Kids Sake produces a major policy report on how we should best protect children and families from harm and trauma associated with family separation or divorce. Our reports and papers can be accessed or downloaded below and we welcome any additional evidence or feedback. Our last and most comprehensive paper to date was launched in August 2021.
In addition to our biennial policy reports, we produce position statements or papers on key issues of the day, such as if/how children should be involved or interviewed in family law proceedings and whether or not the expertise, training and accountability of family law professionals is adequate. These shorter papers target specific issues where some of the most urgent changes are needed.
We also contribute to government policy both through direct representations to politicians and appropriate departments, and through submissions that address the specific terms of reference of parliamentary or independent inquiries.
There have been at least three formal inquiries into Australia’s family law system in the period 2017-20. Despite increasing recognition that Australia’s family court system is not fit-for-purpose and that a public health approach is needed to address the issue of family separation – as well as the often-conflated issue of family violence – these inquiries continue to be constrained by narrow terms of reference and by a legal focus, thereby limiting exploration and analysis of the safer, healthier alternatives to current systems that we advocate.
Family Law Amendment Bill 2023: Consultation
Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System, 2019-21
Review of Children (Scotland) Act (1995), 2018-20
Australian Law Reform Commission Family Law System Review, 2019
For Kids Sake Submission, Jun 2018 [available on request]
Australian Government Inquiry: Family Law & Family Violence, 2017
For Kids Sake Submission, May 2017
For Kids Sake
Childhood Matters: Beyond 2020
Towards a Universal Child Allowance
Child and Family Wellbeing Plan