Monday, May 21, 2007

Draft: Family Relationship Centres policy recommendations

Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) Policy Recommendations

Of course people will say it is too early to say if the Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) are going to work in the sense of reducing the number of cases that go to the Family Court system.

They will need to do a review in a year or two, and then hold conferences to discuss the results of the review (another year or two), and then discuss policy recommendations (another year or two). We shouldn't wait six years before action is taken to reform the FRCs. We should start lobbying NOW !

The success of the FRCs must be measured in terms of
- the percentage of cases they have prevented from going to the Family Court system, and
- the percentage of cases which result in Equal Parenting Time, because equal parenting is best for kids !

While the FRCs are a good idea in the main, one of the worrying aspects is that mediation will be private - unlike the Family Court system where members of the public can witness proceedings.

Below I have drafted 12 policy recommendations, which I would like people to comment on, and perhaps suggest others. Then after debate and review, we could submit them to government.

Cheers, Geoff


FRCs are unlikely to be effective until there is a Presumption of Equal Parenting Time incorporated into the Family Law Act because there will be no incentive to mediate if the either parent (usually the mum) believes they can get majority residency in the Family Court system.

Support person

No solicitor can be present at the mediation sessions. However, either parent can bring along a support person who is a close friend or relative (but not a professional).

Public access to proceedings

Mediation sessions should be recorded and made publically available on podcasts, so that public scrutiny is not lost.

Sounds like a radical suggestion ? Well I am just trying to preserve the status quo in terms of public accountability. Remember that organisations who run the FRCs such as Relationships Australia and CentaCare, are staffed 70% or more by women. Also, both these organisations and others involved in running FRCs made submissions to the Inquiry into Child Custody 2004 AGAINST a Presumption of Equal Parenting Time.

Exclusivity of FRCs

Every couple should be obliged to attend an FRC, and no other mediation service (especially those run by Family Law solicitors), because we need to do precise studies on the effectiveness of policies, and we cannot do these studies if mediation is being carried out by a huge variety of organisations. Limiting mandatory mediation to the FRCs gives far better prospects for QUALITY CONTROL

Mandatory mediation

Neither parent can use the excuse that they wish to be exempt from mediation on the basis that the other partner is too violent or has been abusive to the children. The issue of child abuse needs to be taken up with Child Protection who need to ensure child safety - by restricting access if necessary. If required, mediation can take place via an online video-conference with parents in separate locations.

Transparency in evaluation

The FRCs need to present statistics and evaluation of outcomes on a regular basis and these need to be made available to the public.


FRCs need to be adequately funded to run courses in Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention, Advanced Parenting, The Harm of Parental Alienation, Anger Management. (Participants can pay part of the cost, say $15 per session).

Case workers

FRCs need to be adequately funded to assign qualified case workers to couples where there are accusations of violence or sex abuse, to acertain the veracity, and to trigger remedial action where cases are verified, ranging from attending courses, for mild instances, to removal of the child in serious cases. Case workers should be able to interact regularly with children where there is suspicion of parental abuse, but case workers should scrutinise both parents even-handedly. Courses should be available for groups of children to teach them about signs of physical or sexual abuse, and how to alert the case-worker, or school counsellor, as well as teach them how abusive parents might ask them to keep a secret, and why it is important not to keep such a secret.

Attending courses - authority

FRCs need to be given the authority to oblige parents to attend courses (Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention, Advanced Parenting, The Harm of Parental Alienation, Anger Management) and to make recommendations to a court to impose penalties (community service, fines, daytime jail, extended jail) for chronic antisocial behaviour including lack of cooperation, communication, and consultation regarding parenting, violent attitudes, physical or emotional/psychological violent behaviour, parental alienation, sexual abuse.

Process Parental Agreements

FRCs need the authority to fully process Parental Agreements which would have the legal strength of court orders, and the authority to lodge them with the Family Court to help minimise parents’ contact with the court.

Opportunity for review

Either parent should be able to review Parental Agreements by calling for a mediation session at an FRC. Mediators and case workers who see a parent acting vexaciously by calling for excessive mediation sessions can refer the case to the Family Court system.

FRC Complaints Investigation Service (CIS)

That an independent FRC Complaints Investigation Service be established to investigate claims of bias, non-professionalism, or mistakes etc for clients of the FRCs. This CIS should also be transparent and accountable to prevent it from being captured by the FRC industry.

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