Monday, November 8, 2010

Keeping abused mothers safe is best for kids, conference hears (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)

This Canada conference on family courts, domestic violence, child custody, and child abuse/murders during visitation seems to have brought up some excellent points.

However, it's very interesting that this reporter saves the last word for a proclaimed fathers rights guy who didn't even attend the conference, much less hear any of the evidence or presentations.

This is an excellent example of false journalistic balance, that real information has to be countered with specious nonsense in order to provide "equal" attention to all sides. It really isn't necessary to interview a screwball in order to "counter" a more solid and documented position.

Carmela Fragomeni Fri Nov 5 2010
Keeping abused mothers safe is best for kids, conference hears

Family courts put women fleeing abusive relationships, and their children, at further risk of violence, according to a provincewide conference in Hamilton on the legal system's failings.

Studies show 70 per cent of Ontario women in court fear for their lives because of ongoing abuse even after separation, said researcher Pamela Cross, a keynote speaker at Friday's event.

To make matters worse, the increased difficulty of getting legal aid has also resulted in 60 per cent of abused women going to court without a lawyer, said Cross, who is legal director of Luke's Place Support and Resource Centre in Oshawa.

But the main problem abused women face is the widespread acceptance by family courts of “parent alienation syndrome” — brainwashing a child to hate a parent — as a reason for dismissing arguments against joint custody, when in fact many women are just trying to protect their children, Cross said.

“We need to help judges to understand better the appropriate way to consider it. A mother will have serious concerns for the safety of their children (if their partner is given access). But those abusive fathers will often claim parent alienation when it's not that at all.”

Sadly, “it happens a lot” that children are killed by abusive partners, she added.

It happened to the son of Julie Craven, co-founder of Jared's Place, a legal advocacy and resource centre in Hamilton, named in honour of her son. Jared was eight when he was killed by his father during a court-ordered unsupervised visit in Brantford in 2006.

During that visit, Jared had jumped in to save his father's girlfriend and her daughter during a violent domestic assault.

In the year Jared was killed, 13 children in Ontario were killed by their dads.” All happened in separation cases. “It's the best way a man can abuse his wife, by killing her child.”

In many cases, abused women “have legitimate reason to be concerned about handing their child to their fathers for visits.”

Education and awareness are the only way to change things, Cross said. “Then we can get better court orders to keep everybody safe.” Family courts “desperately need to be educated” because women are not believed when they talk about abuse.

“I think the real answer is courts, like people, don't want to believe that a man can treat his wife and children in such an abusive fashion. It's much easier not to believe it … because it goes to the heart of what we think of men and women.

“Thinking about violence against women is hard work, sad work, and some people avoid it as much as they can … we don't want to face it.”

But change is slowly coming, she said. Until 2006 for example, there was no legal requirement for a judge to consider violence in the family when making a custody decision.

The two-day Best Interest of the Child conference attracted 135 people from as far away as North Bay, Windsor and Ottawa. The main goal, said Clare Freeman, executive director of Interval House, is to raise some of the issues and problems with family courts and to point out the lack of legal aid for abused women.

“People minimize it when a woman says she is afraid. Even when there is documented violence, there is still a push to grant access, Freeman said. “We've seen in Hamilton a number of disconcerting decisions, especially with the application of parent alienation, both from judges and assessors.

“There is such a dismissal of women's fears and lack of training for judges, lawyers and assessors, around the complexity of family violence.”

Death review reports from inquests always identify custody and access issues as the risk factors the murdered women and children faced, she said.

“Keeping the mother safe is in the best interests of the child.”

But “genderized solutions” create “screwed-up kids,” and only deal with half the domestic violence problem, said Brian Jenkins, a director with Fathers Are Capable Too (FACT), a non-custodial parents and children's rights organization. Jenkins was not at the conference.

FACT helps upward of 900 people across Canada and internationally online and holds twice monthly meetings in Toronto.

“In about 60 per cent of (abuse) cases both parties are abusive,” Jenkins said, adding that in the remaining 40 per cent of cases about half have exclusively abusive mother and half have exclusively abusive fathers.

“Kids should not be subjected to parental abuse no matter what the situation … but just by putting your child with one gender of parent or the other is not a solution to abuse,” he said.

Children need both of their parents intellectually and emotionally, Jenkins said, adding that taking any parent out of a child's life can stunt their development and cause problems.

“It's about having both parents there, having support for them and making sure that whatever abuse is in the relationship is kept out of the children's lives,” he said.