Court's injustices `fail kids'

IN a suburban Brisbane home, a Christmas tree stands over an array of unopened presents.
They bear the names of two children who were supposed to be there at Christmas to share the joy with their mother.
But their father refused to obey a Family Court order and has kept the children for three months -- and there is nothing the mother can do about it.
He knows she cannot afford the cost of lawyers to go back to the court, so he thumbs his nose at it and its orders.
Leading child abuse campaigner David Wood cited the case yesterday as one of ``dozens'' in which he said the Family Court was unwilling or unable to enforce its orders.
``In this case, the mother has written more than 20 letters to the court-appointed counsellor seeking a resolution and he has not even replied,'' Dr Wood said.
``And the highly paid, court-appointed mediator has stood by and done nothing. The Family Court fails children because it sets out just to appease adults.''
Dr Wood -- who is director of pediatric health services at Brisbane's Mater Children's Hospital, and chairman of the Abused Child Trust (Queensland) and Kids First Australia -- is among a group of medical and legal professionals and parents meeting in Brisbane tomorrow to form an organisation that will lobby for reform of the Family Court ``for the sake of children''.
Also at the meeting will be Brisbane child psychiatrist Brian Ross, who said an immediate issue to be addressed was parental alienation syndrome, in which one parent is alleged to influence a child against the other. Those found guilty of PAS immediately lose custody rights.
Dr Ross said PAS was ``a bogus construct used by the courts to legitimise handing children over to abusers''.
``There are concerns among medical professionals about the court's ability to hear evidence of abuse and make decisions in the children's interests, and concerns also about the court's ability to act in a partisan manner to protect the rights of children,'' Dr Ross said.
``There is no medical or scientific basis for PAS to even call it a syndrome. Parental arguments do not make syndromes.''
The ``syndrome'' was embraced yesterday in the Family Court in Sydney where a schoolteacher mother, who had no legal representation, had her eight-year-old daughter taken from her after she reported that her daughter had complained of sexual abuse by the estranged father.
She lost custody, which passed to the father's parents, because the complaint could not be substantiated, leading to the accusation she had PAS. ``I was told by the court I had a mental illness,'' the mother said.
She has never had psychiatric treatment, has never been on medication and has never been psychiatrically assessed, yet the court made that determination, and took her child from her.