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Jul 302009
 

Dads not the Demons

Recent data from the Department of Child Protection in Western Australia has debunked a common misconception about fathers and violence. The data shows that natural mothers are far more likely to abuse children than their natural fathers, other than in sexual abuse, where mothers were responsible for only 13% of cases. The past practice of lumping together de factos, live-in boyfriends and overnight male guests together with fathers as “male carers” has led to skewed beliefs about who abuses children. In releasing these recent figures that identify natural fathers separately, the DCP has provided a clearer picture of who is likely to abuse children.

The figures – obtained under Freedom of Information provisions – provide a clearer picture of who is likely to abuse children in families. The data show that there were 1505 substantiations of child abuse in WA during 2007-8. Natural parents were responsible for 37% of total cases. Of these, mothers are identified as the perpetrator of neglect or abuse in 73% of cases, including over 50% of cases of physical abuse. The accompanying graph shows the breakdown of parents responsible for each form of abuse.

Image:Dads not the Demons

Micheal Woods, an academic from the University of Western Sydney, said:

“The data is not surprising – it is in line with international findings regarding perpetrators of child abuse. And the figures do undermine the myth that fathers are the major risk for their children’s well-being”.

The release of this data is timely, and shows the need for solid evidence in developing legislation and policies affecting families. Recently, some radical groups have attacked the Family Court for its role in encouraging shared parenting after separation, claiming that this placed children at risk from violent fathers. Selected instances where fathers have harmed children were used to suggest that this is a common occurrence, and that shared parenting legislation placed children at increased risk.

However, this newly available information demonstrates that while there are some abusive fathers, there are in fact a larger proportion of violent and abusive mothers. This should not mean that children are automatically placed into the care of fathers to reduce risks of abuse, but rather that unrepresentative anecdotes of violent fathers should not influence legislation and policies designed to protect children. The difficult task faced by the Family Court in trying to ensure the best interests of children should not be compounded by irrational fear mongering, but rather by a considered examination of the evidence. Shared parenting may be inconvenient for one parent, or even unwanted, but with changing social roles many more men after separation want to be actively involved in their children’s lives. And in the vast majority of cases, their children will be very safe in their care.

Prof Micheal Woods, University of Western Sydney

Jul 252009
 

Michael B is one of a small number of Australian fathers who has a 50-50 shared parenting arrangement with his six-year-old son after divorce.

It did not come easy.

“I had to fight for every bit of time we spend together,” Mr B said yesterday.

“I had to pay a lawyer $400 an hour. In all, it cost $10,000. But if I hadn’t fought, I would have ended up with one weekend a fortnight, and I was so close to my son I couldn’t let that happen.”

Mr B, who cannot be identified because his son is subject to Family Court orders, said he met his former wife in a South American country while he was working as an engineer there and earning good money.

“She was from the slums,” he said. “She had nothing, but that didn’t matter to me.”

Before long, she was pregnant. The couple’s son was born abroad.

“I brought her back to Australia when he was six months old, and we went through the whole thing of getting her a visa,” Mr B said.

“For the first year we lived with my parents, my boy’s grandparents, in their luxury home.

“Then we got our own place. I had by then assets of nearly a million dollars, and then when my boy was nearly three years old I came home, and the place was empty.

“She’d gone, and taken him with her, and there was a lawyer’s letter on the table saying she can’t live with me any more, and she’s the primary carer, so she’s taken my son.”

Mr B believes he was a good husband and father, and that his relationship with his son was strong, loving and important.

He said his ex-wife during their marriage had taken up Latin American dancing, and was tutoring and dancing at a salsa school three nights a week, “so I was working full-time and coming home at night and caring for our son, while she was dancing”.

He said she also took English lessons and a TAFE course, during which time their son was in childcare. “I couldn’t believe that her lawyer was saying that I wasn’t an equal parent,” he said.

“I believe I did all the right things.”

Mr B said he was accused in court of being “a bad husband, a bad father” and he believes that were it not for the Howard government’s shared parenting laws, which require the Family Court to presume that a child’s best interests are served by having a “meaningful” relationship with both parents after separation, he would not have been given any responsibility for his son, let alone equal time.

“He (the boy) spends Monday and Tuesday with his mum, and Wednesdays and Thursdays with me, and weekends we swap,” Mr B said. “We’re incredibly close and it has got to the point where I can communicate with (his ex) about him in a good way.

“When I think that we could go back to the old days, where fathers just got screwed, the more I can’t believe it.”

The Australian was not able to reach Mr B’s former wife for comment.

By Caroline Overington

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25832216-5013404,00.html