A recent article published in The Monthly, an excellent Australian politics, society and culture magazine describes the complexities of domestic violence cases involving children, which bear many of the same hallmarks as the UK’s child protection system.

The article explains how one mother, who had left her violent husband and later on fled with her children after her lawyers pressured her into agreeing to a contact arrangement with the children’s father, was later arrested by police. The children had seen their father attack their mother and were subjected to physical assault and abuse by their father as well. Despite trying to tell the courts that they were terrified of their father and did not want contact, they were routinely ignored.

There are several worrying similarities in our own family courts. Lawyers now routinely tell mothers that if they allege domestic violence they are likely to lose all contact with their children and sole custody rights given to the father. That stark choice leaves the mother no option but to agree and to try to protect her children within the limited window she has during contact.

Mothers who allege violence are often considered to be lying. Father-focused policies, though implemented with good intention continue to ignore the realities of divorce and the need to focus on the best interests of the child or children in question. They also inadvertently create bias when looking at allegations of abuse.

And most importantly, the voice of the child continues to be shunned. This is due to a family law judiciary which is in the main outdated and child un-friendly, as well as a lack of proper training and understanding when it comes to child development and incorporating children’s genuine needs within the process.

So what can we do? The article goes on to explain that social work in this field is incredibly complex and requires a highly sophisticated level of training. It is an incredibly difficult job to work out who is telling the truth, which allegations are real and what children really need during this time.

That job becomes even more difficult when violence or child sexual abuse is involved, and all too often signs of unwilling by a child to be with the abusive parent are seen as responses to pressure from the parent alleging the abuse. How can we expect professionals to get to the heart of these issues without rigorous training?

Whilst the article in The Monthly focuses on mothers and violent fathers, largely due to the fact that in Australia these cases are far more common than those involving violent mothers, we would say the same rules apply to each gender. Whoever is causing harm, whether physical or emotional will often be affecting any children involved as well, and so the answer must surely be excellence in social work training, along with strong guidance and support from teams in-house.

There’s a lot to do, but it can be achieved, even with austerity measures in place, and we can start by re-assessing the training curriculum and methods used for social care professionals, developing a body of work on the voice of the child and teaching skills that allow for the efficient detection of evidence in cases of abuse.

Thank you to the National Child Protection Alliance for sharing this news item with us.