No Way to Live report   



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Added 24 June, 2010, 04:57 PM
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No Way to Live report

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Minister for Women, Jodi McKay, today launched the No Way to Live report at NSW Parliament House.

The report by senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, Dr Lesley Laing, looks at how Australias family law system responds to victims of domestic violence, Ms McKay said.

Importantly the research and resulting report moves beyond an analysis of the law itself and analyses the way the law supports victims, many of who we know are women.

As well as being informative, the report is a testament to the courage, resilience and great dignity of the 22 women whose experiences are told in the report.

Ms McKay said building a well informed evidence base is critical to reducing domestic violence and that is why this report is so important. The No Way to Live report provides first hand experiences of how the Family Law System has assisted and responded to victims of domestic violence, Ms McKay said.

It also highlights the key role support services play in the family law system and that workers need comprehensive and ongoing training to ensure they provide the best response to victims.

Minister for Women, Jodi McKay said

Family law is a federal responsibility; however there is much that can be done at State level.

The Commonwealth and the NSW Government are working together on a comprehensive review of the way that family law, sexual assault, domestic violence and child protection law interact at both state and federal levels
The review will ensure that the victims of violence are properly cared for by the courts and do not fall through the cracks between State and Commonwealth agencies.

Ms McKay said the NSW Government is committed to reducing the occurrence of domestic violence in NSW.
We are investing $50 million in our Stop the Violence End the Silence Domestic and Family Violence Action Plan, Ms McKay said.

The Plan has a strong focus on training the domestic violence workforce, community education and awareness as well as better coordinating government and non-government services.

We know that one in three women are physically assaulted in their lifetime and 42 per cent of homicides are a result of domestic and family violence - this is intolerable and unacceptable.

Stop the Violence End the Silence aims to help women break the cycle of violence and make the necessary changes in their lives to protect themselves and their children.

The plan provides more resources to address domestic violence, including for specialist domestic violence support workers to work closely with police, accessible legal advice and appropriate accommodation, especially for remote and isolated women.

Ms McKay acknowledged Dr Laings role in helping tackle and raise awareness of domestic violence in NSW.

Attachment
No Way to Live by Dr Lesley Laing University of Sydney
» Download: No way to live final report.pdf (646 Kb, 9020 downloads so far)

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Contact the researcher  Dr Lesley Laing University of Sydney

Professional biography
Prior to joining the Faculty, Lesley practised social work in the fields of community health, child and family mental health and child protection. She was Director of the Education Centre Against Violence, where she was responsible for the development of statewide training programs for health workers in responding to adult and child sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and neglect. In 2000, she established the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse at the University of New South Wales.

Current projects
    * A study of women's experiences in obtaining an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order, funded by the NSW Law and Justice Foundation
    * Towards Better Practice: an ARC funded study aimed at enhancing collaboration between domestic violence and mental health services. Co-researchers Jude Irwin,Lindsey Napier & Cherie Toivonen
    * A study of women's experiences of navigating the Family Law system in the context of domestic violence.



The Sydney Morning Herald
24 June 2010

Law fails children exposed to harm
By Adele Horin

The Family Law Act is failing to protect children from ongoing trauma at the hands of abusive and violent fathers, a new study has found.

The act's aims of protecting children from violence and giving them "meaningful involvement" with both parents was being resolved in favour of contact even in cases of severe domestic violence, the study reveals.

Lesley Laing, senior lecturer in the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, and author of the report, said more thought needed to be given to what formed a "meaningful relationship" when a parent had traumatised a child through exposure to domestic violence.

"At the present there is no requirement that a parent who has harmed a child in this way must demonstrate they can offer a safe and meaningful relationship," she said.

The report is based on interviews with 22 women, contacted through domestic violence services, who were negotiating parenting arrangements in the family law system. It is the first study that has allowed women experiencing domestic violence to speak about the impact of the 2006 legal changes that put greater emphasis on shared parenting while still maintaining protection in cases of violence.

While the sample is small, Dr Laing said the women were those whose children were supposed to be protected by the law.

The women describe a situation where they are discouraged by legal advisers and others from raising issues of violence in the Family Court for fear of being labelled as an "unfriendly" or "alienating" parent unwilling to support contact with the father.

"Anything that you do to try and advocate for your children is somehow twisted into being high conflict and parental alienation," one woman said.
"So you are basically silenced. And the children are silenced."

Another said she had agreed to the children having sleepovers at their father's place because she felt she had no choice. Her lawyer had convinced her that if she objected the judge would give him even more contact.

Dr Laing said some women felt guilty they had escaped violent men but their children had not. "Forty years ago some women could only escape domestic violence by leaving the children behind, and they were pilloried," she said. "Now there is a new form of child abandonment, at least part-time.
It's a terrible thing we are asking women to do."

The report shows the women are battling a complex and uncoordinated system that often saw state child protection services shunting matters to the Family Court but the court having no powers of investigation.

As well, the women battled community attitudes that regarded them as liars who misused the system. Professionals stressed the importance of fathering, without regard to its quality, while mothering was taken for granted. And it was commonly assumed that at least some contact was inevitable, no matter what violence had occurred, and that supervised contact would eventually move to unsupervised contact.

The study, No Way to Live, will add pressure to the federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, to amend the Family Law Act. An earlier review he commissioned from the former Family Court judge, Richard Chisholm, recommended amendments to provide greater protection. A much larger study he also commissioned on violence and family law is due to be released soon.

Dr Laing said the emphasis on children's contact with abusive fathers, even if supervised, showed an "unsophisticated" understanding of ongoing trauma.
"Spending time with the person who is the cause of the trauma will not fix things," she said. "The men need to acknowledge and take responsibility for the harm and get help."

Noted Health Researcher Mr Micheal Woods, Adjunct Fellow University of Western Sydney said

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The research reported by Adele Horin in the Sydney Morning Herald (Law Fails Children Exposed to Harm - 24th June 2010) implies that the only perpetrators of violence against children in Family Law cases are fathers. Yet research in Australia and overseas consistently shows that mothers are the predominant abusers of children, both physically and mentally. In fact, Australian homicide data shows that mothers are twice as likely to kill their children as fathers.

On this basis, it would have seemed sensible for Lesley Laings research to consider experiences of fathers as well as mothers in negotiating the tricky path of Family Law when there is violence against children. Her decision to seek out only mothers suggests less concern with the well-being of children following family breakdown than a desire to reinforce gendered prejudice.

Adele Horins willingness to report on such a limited and overtly biased study does not reflect well on her journalistic integrity.


The Age Melbourne
24 June 2010

Act aids abusive fathers, imperils children By Adele Horin

The Family Law Act is failing to protect children from ongoing trauma at the hands of abusive and violent fathers, a study has found.

The act's aims of protecting children from violence and giving them "meaningful involvement" with both parents was being resolved in favour of contact even in cases of severe domestic violence, the study reveals.

Sydney University education and social work senior lecturer Lesley Laing, the report's author, said more thought needed to be given to what formed a "meaningful relationship" when a parent had traumatised a child through domestic violence. "There is no requirement that a parent who has harmed a child in this way must demonstrate they can offer a safe and meaningful relationship," she said.

The report is based on interviews with 22 women, contacted through domestic violence services, who were negotiating parenting arrangements in the family law system. It is the first study that has allowed women experiencing domestic violence to speak about the impact of the 2006 legal changes that put greater emphasis on shared parenting while still maintaining protection in cases of violence.

The women describe a situation where they are discouraged by legal advisers and others from raising violence issues in the Family Court for fear of being seen as an "unfriendly" or "alienating" parent unwilling to support contact with the father.

"Anything that you do to try and advocate for your children is somehow twisted into being high conflict and parental alienation," one woman said.
"So you are basically silenced. And the children are silenced."

Another said she had agreed to the children having sleepovers at their father's place because she felt she had no choice. Her lawyer had convinced her that if she objected the judge would give the father even more contact.

Dr Laing said some women felt guilty they had escaped violent men but their children had not. "Forty years ago some women could only escape domestic violence by leaving the children behind, and they were pilloried," she said. "Now there is a new form of child abandonment, at least part time.
It's a terrible thing we are asking women to do."

The report shows the women are battling a complex and uncoordinated system that often sees state child protection services shunting matters to the Family Court though the court with no powers of investigation.

As well, the women battled community attitudes that regarded them as liars who misused the system. Professionals constantly stressed to the women the importance of fathering, without regard to its quality. It was commonly assumed that at least some contact was inevitable, no matter what violence had occurred, and that supervised contact would eventually move to unsupervised contact.

The study, No Way to Live, will put further pressure on federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland to amend the Family Law Act. An earlier review he commissioned recommended amendments to provide greater protection


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