Calls for stronger safeguards regarding child living & care arrangements to keep women and children safe

Women’s Safety NSW is calling for stronger safeguards regarding child living and care arrangements in response to evidence that domestic abusers are using their shared care rights as a tool for further abuse during COVID-19.

The state-wide peak body has surveyed its members who are specialist domestic violence workers in NSW about the impact of COVID-19 on child contact, shared care and family law arrangements in the context of domestic and family violence and found what the chief executive, Hayley Foster, describes as “worrying” results….

Nearly four out of five of the 56 domestic violence workers who responded to the state-wide survey reported they had already seen an increase in clients who were experiencing issues in relation to child contact, shared care and family law since the outbreak of COVID-19, whilst two in three of these workers reported they were seeing an increase in the complexity of such cases.

“Some fathers are using the lock down to refuse to hand over children and some are demanding the children come to their home when the father has flu-like symptoms,” says one Safety Action Meeting Coordinator from a Regional Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service.

“Mothers are forced to send children to violent fathers due to family law orders and are unable to vary the orders due to court/legal representative restrictions,” says another Regional Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service worker.

Over three-quarters (77.3%) of domestic violence workers surveyed reported that safe places for child handovers with their abusive ex-partners no longer being open or available was a serious issue of concern for clients in the context of COVID-19, with many women having to compromise their personal safety through makeshift, informal handover arrangements….

Foster said these findings were alarming against the backdrop of a reduction of community and social supports which women and children experiencing violence usually rely upon to keep them safe….

“For example, in NSW we have seen what can only be described as a frightening reduction in reports to our state-wide child protection helpline of 70%”…

Women’s Safety NSW is calling for …”children being specifically included as protected persons on ADVOs regardless of whether there are family law proceedings or orders in place” and for such matters to be “triaged in the family law court for relisting so that interim child living and care arrangements can be made with an explicit focus on safety”.

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