Child Abuse in Family Court

child-abuse-large Expert Opinion Panel


Child Abuse In Family Court Exclusive!

Freda Briggs – Emeritus Professor in Child Development
for | 06 February 2012


When a young child discloses that she has been sexually abused by a parent or parent-figure

the protective parent (usually the mother) is in a dilemma.

Police and child protection services will advise her to leave the family home to protect the child. If she does nothing, state services can remove the child as in need of care and protection. If the child is too young to face rigorous cross-examination in an adult criminal court, police are unlike to prosecute the abuser. When the abuser realises that the child has disclosed abuse, he will be advised to turn to the Family Court to seek shared parenting or even residence of his victim.

State child protection services have a long history of avoiding the investigation of cases involved in federal Family Court orders or proceedings and, therefore, when the case goes to that court, the allegations may not have been substantiated. The focus then changes from the abuse of the child to the mental health of the mother. She is at risk of being labelled as delusional, suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder or some other mental illness… usually by a court adviser who is not a psychiatrist or 6 year trained clinical psychologist and, therefore, lacks the qualifications necessary to make such a diagnosis. The mother is then presented as the dangerous parent from whom the children should be removed and handed over to the parent they accused of abusing them. She may be granted occasional supervised contact, ordered to have psychiatric treatment to change her view that the child was abused, banned from making reports of further evidence of child abuse and banned from seeking medical assistance for the child without permission of the accused abuser – surely contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a serious matter when this happens so frequently that Family Lawyers and Women’s legal Services advise mothers not to mention family violence or child sexual abuse in Family Court cases. Dr. Wendy Foote drew attention to this pattern in her PhD research and the Family Court’s own website revealed that about a third of mothers who lost residence of their children were deemed to be mentally ill compared with only about 3% of fathers.

Child sex offenders are choosing younger and younger victims because they know that they are unlikely to be apprehended and punished; to the contrary, if they abuse their own children, they are likely to be awarded residence. In the UK recently, Human Rights Judges ordered that convicted child sex offenders should not be deprived of their right to foster or adopt children or parent their own. Significantly, the rights of children to be safe were not mentioned.

It is absolutely vital that children are taught personal safety skills to enable them to recognise, stop and report child sexual abuse in its early stages.
The National Child Protection Alliance – which is an alliance of child protection non-government agencies – is also interested in hearing from parents or young people who have experienced this situation (

Freda Briggs
Emeritus Professor in Child Development


Dr Freda Briggs AO is Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia and author of “Smart Parenting for Safer Kids”. “Smart Parenting for Safer Kids”, reviewed by here, gives tips on keeping children safe in a wide range of situations from cyber space and sexual abuse to bullying. The book is available in all good bookstores and can be ordered by phone on 03 9681 7275 or online at JoJo Publishing
You can read more of Freda Briggs’s Profile here.

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