Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Polygraphs to fast-track

My letter to The Age:

Polygraphs to fast-track
So child abuse claims (Oct 19) are being fast-tracked by the (dinosaur) Family Court system ? I don't call a six-month wait "fast". We are talking about child abuse here. And in many cases we are also talking about parental alienation.

A judge anonymously admits cutting contact between the child and accused parent damages their relationship. Why didn't this judge speak up earlier, and why don't they have the courage to identify themselves ?

In my experience, that only 1-2% of claims are deliberately false is hard to believe. Maybe there is a large percentage of "mistakenly false" ?

Why not offer polygraph testing for those accused so the matter can be potentially dealt with in a matter of days, not months !

Geoff Holland


The Age (Melbourne)
19 October 2007

Child abuse claims get fairer look
By Karen Kissane

The Family Court's new system for dealing with claims of physical or sexual abuse of children is faster and fairer than the previous one but still needs improvement, according to research released today by the court and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Previously, such cases often took more than 12 months, and it was up to the parent making the allegations to try to prove the case. Often the court's decisions were made in a "factual vacuum" because no independent investigation was made into the claims and judges simply had to decide which parent to believe, the research reported.

But a new system introduced in most parts of Australia from 2003 has led to most cases being decided in just over six months.

Decisions are also better-informed because child-protection agencies now investigate and assess the claims, according to the report Co-operation and Co-ordination: An evaluation of the Family Court of Australia's Magellan case-management model.

The report's author, AIFS researcher Dr Daryl Higgins, said yesterday that protective services now reported to the court on their investigation within six weeks of the allegations being filed. This gave both parents an early sense of the strength of the evidence.

He said the Magellan system was a world-first in terms of the way the court and protective services worked together. This was needed because "it's the court's job to decide parenting matters, not conduct investigations".

Disputes involving child abuse claims are estimated to make up only 2 to 6 per cent of Family Court cases overall but about 23 per cent of hotly contested cases. Earlier research found that allegations considered to be deliberately false were not common (1 to 2 per cent).

This study compared 80 families who went through the new system with 80 families under the old system. The largest group of alleged perpetrators in both was fathers (65 per cent of the new group and 59 per cent of the old), followed by mothers (19 per cent of the new and 26 per cent of the old).

A judge quoted anonymously in the report said that under the old system, cases had always taken a long time to get to hearing and judges had had to err on the side of caution in the meantime, restricting the accused parent's relationship with the child. "The interruption to the relationship … would go on for many, many months or years … In many cases it was found that those allegations were without basis, and the families were left trying to restore a relationship … that had probably been damaged."

The report said earlier research had found that many professionals believed that child-abuse allegations made during family breakdown were not to be taken seriously because they were just another weapon manufactured for use in the marital dispute. Dr Higgins said his study found no such attitude among those working with the Magellan system. His report recommended more training on the system for court staff, lawyers, protective services workers and police, and that the system's approach be applied more consistently.


Cooperation and coordination: An evaluation of the Family Court ofAustralia's Magellan case-management modelBy Daryl Higgins (author)Full Report (1.5MB PDF)http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/magellan/magellan.pdf


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Geoff Holland
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