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April 1999 MENZ Issues Volume 4 Issue 3

Positive Partners, Strong Families Course Launch in Wellington Our new Positive Partners, Strong Families course will be the launched in Wellington at the Fathers Families and the Future day, 17th April. ‘Positive Partners, Strong Families’ is a two-hour course, one evening weekly for 8 weeks, teaching communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills for couples.

New Zealand Family Court Fails Fathers Men’s Hour interview with Barrister SP Singh: "Now, you see more than 90% of these [domestic protection order] applications are made by woman. These applications are mostly made on legal aid. The lawyers who do the family work have all got word processors. They simply add a few personal bits and pieces, print it out, sign the affidavit and file it in court. But for a lot of men, if they’re working, on say about $400 a week income, they will have to go and instruct their own lawyer to defend and the average cost of defending … you’re looking at $1500 to $2500. Now who can say in his right mind a person on $400 or $500 a week income is going to throw an average of two grand to defend that order."

What if Mum is Mentally Unwell? "Although mental illness is an issue for a number of families, the workers responding to reports of abuse have minimal, if any training in or understanding of psychiatric illness. In contrast, mental health workers (such as those in crisis teams) may have little if any training in assessing parenting and child safety." Specific problems relating to parental mental illness include: Incorporation of child into the illness pathology, Impairment of parenting through poor concentration, lack of motivation, impulsivity.Medication side effects may affect attention and concentration. Increased likelihood of other psychosocial problems.

Desperate Fathers Under Stress In the final weeks of 1998 Men’s Centre North Shore received a series of calls from men (identifying details changed) who were concerned about the safety of their children because of the mother’s mental illness.

Mentors Patch-up Solution Reading so many references to mentoring of young men in one form or another in the November 1998 "MENZ Issues" makes me feel sad. Sad about the fact that in our society men have been almost completely removed from the business of raising children and young adults, so that now government-sponsored programmes are needed to find a mentor for some young adults who have gone off the rails.

Regular Chats With Dad Turn Boys Into Better Men More than 1,500 boys aged 13 to 19 were surveyed. "High-level fathering", it found, was much the most important factor in success. More than 90 per cent of boys who felt that their fathers spent time with them and took an active interest in their progress emerged in the "can-do" category. By contrast, 72 per cent of those who felt that their fathers rarely or never did these things fell into the group with the lowest levels of self-esteem and confidence, and were more likely to be depressed, to dislike school and to get into trouble with the police.

"SHORE FATHERS" Mentoring Great Dads The mentoring of men to overcome their disempowerment and to regain the latent but almost lost ability to be fathers is the responsibility of all mature males. I see it as a major task for "SHORE FATHERS" to re-empower men so that they can become great fathers. Most men probably need to learn to value their maleness and gain a degree of wholeness before they can start to become great dads.

Fathers – Myths and Realities about Child Maltreatment This article is a summary of Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith’s chapter entitled ‘Fathers – Myths and realities about child maltreatment’, in Perspectives on Fathering, edited by S Birks & P Callister. Children are at the greatest risk of all forms of child abuse when they are being raised by solo mothers without input from the fathers. It is ironic that so often current child protection policies result in the removal of children from father’s care. Children are at far greater risk of abuse from step-parents than from natural parents. Biological fathers who form strong early attachments with their children and who are actively involved in their children’s nurturing are far less likely to abuse them. Paternal support in the form of affection, promotion of independence, and positive modelling / fairness reduces the likelihood of abuse. Furthermore, a strong father / child bond acts as a mitigating effect, reducing the chance of children developing ongoing problems should they suffer maltreatment in the future.

Fatherless Boys Grow Up Into Dangerous Men Researchers found that boys raised outside of intact marriages are, on average, more than twice as likely as other boys to end up jailed, even after controlling for other demographic factors. Each year spent without a dad in the home increases the odds of future incarceration by about five percent. The study also confirmed the findings of other researchers: Boys living with just their single fathers do not exhibit this increased rate of criminal behavior.

The Second Wife "I am now in a relationship with a man who has two children from his previous marriage. He is a great father, loving, caring and involved. Well, at least he was involved, until we came head on with the Child Support Act, the inequities of the Family Court and the laws that seemingly punish liable, non-custodial parents."

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Positive Partners, Strong Families Course To Launch in Wellington

Our new Positive Partners, Strong Families course will be the launched in Wellington at the Fathers Families and the Future day, 17th April. To celebrate, Men’s Centre North Shore will offer the first 60 adults to register at their stall a free introductory workshop on problem solving and setting goals in relationships.

‘Positive Partners, Strong Families’ is a two-hour course, one evening weekly for 8 weeks, teaching communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills for couples. The course will be administered by the Men’s Centre North Shore and is an active, participatory programme. Participants practise and master the required skills using small group dynamics and regular homework exercises. Design of this course draws on other programs based on an ecological system pro-family model and makes use of the well-established Integrated Mental Health Care System developed by Professor Ian Falloon.

The course is facilitated by an experienced male / female team who have been trained in the ‘Positive Partners, Strong Families’ method. One of the goals of the ‘Positive Partners, Strong Families’ programme is for couples to see their relationship as a partnership. From this perspective, they are both ‘on the same side’. The aim therefore is for the partnership to find solutions to conflicts and problems that give a win-win outcome. Such a partnership has a number of goals which will be common to many families. These include a happy, secure family life with adequate resources to meet the family’s needs. Parents generally both want their children to be happy, healthy, and to have access to a good education.

The ‘Positive Partners, Strong Families’ course equips parents with the knowledge and skill to develop a win-win partnership; to be able to identify their common goals and put into place strategies to achieve these family goals. The final session of the course includes the participants’ family and friends (whom they select as potential support people) as invited guests. A ‘Positive Partners, Strong Families’ support network is set up among the participants, who are encouraged to continue meeting regularly as an unfacilitated group.

The first few courses of this programme will be run as research pilots. The course will be evaluated, in regard to its process (such as how it was organised, whether the timing or venue could be improved, etc) and its outcome (whether the people who did the course derived any benefit from it). Participants will be asked to complete several questionnaires at the start and end of the course, and at a 6 month follow-up. Questionnaires consist of demographic details, alcohol consumption estimation, and established psychometric scales which measure aspects such as general health; the extent of agreement and disagreement in the subject’s relationship and ways in which partners conduct their arguments. Course content and process feedback will also be obtained. All participation in the research is voluntary, and subjects may withdraw themselves or any information they have provided (before data collection is completed), without having to give reasons and without penalty of any sort. In recognition to the contribution subjects will make in completing these questionnaires, participation in the pilot courses will be available at a discounted fee including complimentary course manuals.

Felicity Goodyear-Smith.

New Zealand Family Court Fails Fathers

Auckland Barrister SP Singh interviewed by Peter Manning on The Men’s Hour, Access Community Radio 810 AM 7th December 1998

PM: Of all the issues facing men today one of the most contentious is the way fathers are treated in the Family Court. At a Men’s Health Day run by the Men’s Centre North Shore in 1996, some of the talks on heath issues were sparsely attended, but the two sessions run by family court lawyers were packed with concerned men and some second wives.

They all seemed to have genuine, often heart-rending stories to tell with the common thread, ‘a denial of natural justice’. Many had suffered severe personal and financial penalties, without ever having been found guilty of anything. The most common issue was one of unsubstantiated and unwarranted accusations of domestic violence, and in some cases sexual abuse. These accusations, however groundless, saw the family court issuing protection orders against the man, effectively denying him access to his home and to his children. Some men had spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to obtain justice. These men were bewildered by their treatment in the NZ Family Court.

We welcome here tonight Mr SP Singh, who is now a criminal barrister but is also experienced in the area of the Family Court. Firstly SP, are you aware of men being served ‘Protection Orders’ and suffering the loss of access and use of their home on the basis of unproved allegations of domestic violence?

SPS: The use of the Domestic Violence Protection Order is quite common. The way it works is that a judge makes an ex-parte order (without notification to the accused) which is served on the respondent who can then file for his defence. Quite often, with a lot of men, they look at the order and they put it aside. They don’t realise the consequences if they breach it, that they can be sent to a prison for up to six months. The worst feature of the order is when for some reason the man gets a call from his ex partner to come over, "a kid is not too well" or "let’s go for a drink or something". Then they have an argument. As soon as this happens, the woman will pick up the phone and phone the police and say: "I’ve got this order against this man. Come here and arrest him because I fear for my safety."

The man is taken away by the police pretty quickly. He is held in custody overnight, and next day there is the question of bail. With bail, comes the issue of where is he going to live, because he would seem to have breached the order. There is the question of how many times he has to report to the police and all the other things that go with it. In the meantime, if he wants to see his children, he can’t. Because he can’t go to his home, he can’t telephone. These orders are in the widest form that you can dream of.

PM: So if a protection order is issued against a man, he should be very very careful about meetings with his wife.

SPS: He has to very careful of any form of contact. There should be no physical getting together, getting in the same room of the same house together. Anything can be accused. All he can say is "I didn’t do it" but usually there is no way to prove it. The burden shifts on to the man to prove his innocence, basically.

If your partner, girlfriend or wife says "I want you back" you should say "OK, let’s go through some form of counselling or therapy or whatever it be, and if things are going to work out then you withdraw the order and then we can live together." Otherwise that order is like a noose around your neck that can be pulled tight any time with a jerk of the rope.

PM: So really it’s critical if there is to be any sort of reconciliation that the order should be removed?

SPS: Yes, because in the event of any small argument the woman can just pick up the phone and call the police and you’re history.

PM: How does the order get removed?

SPS: The person who makes the application is the one who goes to the court to get the order removed.

Once the order is made against the man, the man has to go to anger management for counselling and it’s an offence if you don’t carry on with that. Now, it’s not true that every man out there who has had a small domestic dispute and argument has got an anger problem. There are those who have, but quite often it’s a two-way thing. Maybe it’s stress, one provokes and the other reacts.

PM: What about the burden of proof? Because it seems that once an accusation is made, even though there is no substantive evidence, the court will react as if the man is guilty.

SPS: That’s how it works. That’s the Family Court.

PM: So the family court does not require any particular proof of violence.

SPS: The woman goes to the lawyer,does an affidavit, says: "This is the violence, these are my fears". She applies for the court to make an order. The court will make that order.

PM: We will come back to that, because that’s a point we will raise again in the context of some recent comments by Judge Peter Boshier.

Secondly, there does seem to be gender bias. I mean, clearly the orders made by the court are very freely made against men. About 90% of these protection orders are made against men, and yet we know from independent studies done both in NZ and overseas that in fact domestic violence is committed almost equally between men and woman. There are a number of very good studies done on that subject. So we know woman are participating in family violence and some cases initiating it But the court does not seem to recognise that.

SPS: Yes that is correct. It takes two hands to clap. If you’re going to have an argument, you’ve got to have another person to argue with. If you argue only with yourself then there’s something wrong with you. Now, you see more than 90% of these applications are made by woman. These applications are mostly made on legal aid. The lawyers who do the family work have all got word processors. They simply add a few personal bits and pieces, print it out, sign the affidavit and file it in court. But for a lot of men, if they’re working, on say about $400 a week income, they will have to go and instruct their own lawyer to defend and the average cost of defending … you’re looking at $1500 to $2500. Now who can say in his right mind a person on $400 or $500 a week income is going to throw an average of two grand to defend that order.

PM: So, does that mean they’re not often defended?

SPS: No, they are usually not.

PM: What do you see as a useful reform to help this situation?

SPS: Early difficulties in a relationship cannot be solved in an artificial form by issuing orders Before the matter goes before the court, the couple should go through counselling. They should sit before two experienced people, and discuss what is causing the problems and how they can resolve them. That will help keep families together and save costs in the long run.

If the police are to administer enforcement of Domestic Violence Protection orders, it may be better to have specially trained officers. The police have first level experience in the violence that goes on in the community. They can be a better judge of whether any orders need to be made than a mass-produced affidavit. There could be interim orders from the court to get the people to counselling or whatever and you go from there. A person should not be able to go straight to the family court on the basis of an uncorroborated affidavit and get an order. After all, that order will be hanging on a man’s neck for the rest of his life. The current system is not answering the problem that’s there. The legislators should think about why there are problems in relationships and how people can resolve them. More laws and more punishments historically have shown not to be the answer.

PM: I guess for any man that has been through separation the legal system does appear adversarial and there seems to be very little scope for mediation, arbitration and sorting out problems. Protection Orders will tend to divide a household rather than bring it back together again.

SPS: One of the other issues which is very common is that separating husbands often feel they have to leave the family home.

PM: Do they?

SPS: Yes, if they have children. Normally it’s the man who leaves, because the woman can get an occupation order from the family court to stay in the house,. The man has to move out and then comes the question of when is the house going to be sold. The court says "yes, they are separated, the house can be sold". Then the woman comes up with an unrealistic figure that the market will not provide, so she stays in the house which is not sold and the man does not get his share.

PM: Is the man having to leave a by-product of the fact that because the wife gets custody of the children she also gets the family home?

SPS: When the act came out in the early 80’s, it had all good intentions. Even though society was quite different then to what it is now, the act goes still further back to the early part of the century. When the wife raised the family at home, cooked the breakfast, the lunch, was the one at home when the kids came back from school, and put them to bed. The husband was always the breadwinner.

However, those things have changed a lot. Now, you can’t live in a modern world and yet apply principles going back 60 or 70 years. That’s the unfair part, why should it be assumed that in 90% of the cases children almost automatically go to the mother? Why should it be?

PM: Yes, I’ve heard it said actually that part of the problems men face in the family court is that a lethal mixture of Victorian paternalism on behalf of male judges towards woman and the pressure of feminist groups pushing for more and more property rights. In the terms of custody of the child there is a saying that: "men don’t win custody – just some woman loose it".

SPS: Very true.

PM: What can a man do to keep his children after separation?

SPS: He can do nothing, because once the man has gone to court, and been accused of being physically violent, abusive, manipulative, psychologically violent, having an alcohol problem by way of affidavit his chance of winning custody is zero. To fight in the family court for shared custody will cost at least $10,000 to $15,000.

PM: Which is prohibitive and out of reach of most men.

SPS: The reason for this cost is that it is a very long process. It takes about 18 months to two years and a large number of appearances before matters are finalised. If all her money is from legal aid it is easy for her to give new instructions to her counsel to make a new affidavit and accuse the man of something more. What do you do? You go to your own lawyer, give him instructions, he files the papers and you pay the bill. That’s what happens, even after spending $10,000 to $15,000. I think the statistics are that no more than 10% of men have been able to get custody. That 10% is mostly where the woman left the children, or neglected them and where the man has fought a major battle in court. Only a very small percentage of men ever get custody or shared custody. Shared custody is something the court is not promoting.

PM: That’s strange is it not? The logic of the court is that it is working for the benefit of the children and I have heard it said by Family Court lawyers that the judges err on the side of protecting the children by enforcing these protection orders. Yet we know that from your extensive experience in the criminal court SP, that so much of criminal background comes down to lack of parental care and indeed the lack of the support of the father. Can you comment on this?

SPS: Well, I’ve practised in the criminal jurisdiction for about 12 years now and I’ve seen a lot of reports prepared by probation officers, now called community correction officers. Ninety to 95% the continual offenders start from the youth court, come to the district court and then go on to the high court. As for their family background – in a lot of cases they don’t know about the family at all. They don’t know where their mother is; they don’t know where their father is. Sometimes they will have connections with the mother but don’t know anything about the father.

Years ago when I used to appear in the Youth Court, we would see children of around 16 years of age who had sneaked out of the house at 3 o’clock in the morning, burgled somebody’s house or torched someone’s car. The mother would say "He’s a very good lad, he’s a teenager, his father has never taken any interest." Nobody ever asked why the father didn’t take any interest. Often the reason was that 10 years previously the young kid of 5 or 6 years old was sentenced to grow up into a teenager without the full support of their father because of a family court decision which in most cases automatically said that the mother was to have custody. The father (if he was lucky) got two nights every second weekend.

If you only see your child every second weekend how much time are you going to spend with them? That creates a dangerous situation, particularly with young boys, because the father is no longer the role model. This is why our society is cracking up. There is more and more violence coming on and this will continue unless the issue is addressed at the source – when the courts break up the future of the children. They are not the property of either parent. The way it is seen at the moment, one must have control of the children; the other has token access. Now that has to change if the whole society is to raise children that grow up abiding by the law, respecting other people’s property and wanting to work. Unless this is addressed with more effective family court intervention there will be more violence in society, when the father is no longer there as a role model. Most fathers are not violent. Most fathers love their children, and love to take their sons out for cricket or soccer or rugby or whatever. The child grows up properly that way, but increasingly that’s not happening.

PM: One of the issues of course is that of privacy. What goes on in the Family Court stays in the Family Court. Nothing is allowed to be published. I wonder if that’s an inhibiting influence in terms of getting some of these reforms dealt with.

SPS: The only people who know what goes on in the Family Court are basically the judge, the lawyers and the parties who have appeared. No one else in the whole country knows what goes on. Now I can’t see any reason why in this day and age the Family Court should be closed to the media. It should not be open to the public because there is a lot of personal matters, but I can see no reason why a reporter can not follow a particular case through without disclosing the names or any identification of the parties. We do have a few Family Court decisions reported through law reports on legal issues where they use names like party A & A or B & C. I can’t see why the media can’t also have access to what’s going on. Unless the court is exposed to scrutiny you’re not going to see any reforms. If it’s always secret people can not speak out about it. If people know what’s going on they could talk to their MP’s, radio stations, the news media, and television, whatever it takes. Only then politicians will say, "OK, we need to bring in some reforms in that area."

PM: Now into this minefield has blundered senior Family Court Judge Peter Boshier. The NZ Herald wrote on the front page "Judge said wallop wife bashers, hit them when marital assets split" I quote from the Herald: "A senior family court judge wants battered wives to get more than half the family assets in divorce settlements. Judge Boshier said that judges should treat domestic violence as a special circumstance allowing unequal division of matrimonial property." Now we’ve talked about the lack of evidential requirements where men have suffered severe penalties in the family court based purely on the unsubstantiated accusations of domestic violence. This idea of Judge Boshier seems potty to say the least. Unfortunately several politicians, including Clem Simich and Patricia Schnauer have jumped on the bandwagon and tried to further this idea.

Fortunately, most of the newspaper editorials I have read treated this proposal of Judge Boshier with the disrespect that it deserves. I quote from the editorial from one of them, November 20th National Business Review, "Matrimonial property legislation designed to treat marriage partnerships like commercial partnerships is being corrupted by in-judicial comments suggesting matrimonial law should be dishing out penalties like a criminal court. The end of a marriage is expected to be a civil affair dealt with by civil law, not a substitute for criminal prosecutions following domestic violence. Using family law as a substitute for criminal law is like using net-ball rules to play a rugby test. The rules are different and the objectives have little in common."

I would like to bring you in there SP and ask for your comments.

SPS: Well, like the editorial said if the Family Court is to decide to give an increased share of the property to the woman, if there was any violence, what standard of proof are they going to use? Violence can take many forms and one of those can be psychological violence. Constant bickering about things and degrading a person without lifting a finger. Now that is a form of violence that both sexes perpetrate, but is so easy to accuse a man of doing it even though there is no physical scars to prove it. Now how is a judge going to decide what really happened in the matrimonial home? The situation can be easily set up by a person in a bitter break up of the marriage. Where, for instance, a man finds a younger woman and the wife is very angry, she might decide to get revenge. How is she going to get that? She can just say "he’s been abusing me for years," and instead of 50%, she gets 70% of the matrimonial property. What mechanisms would be able to ensure that does not happen? Or are we getting to the stage where we should say the Family Court should be called "The Woman’s Court’? We should forget about calling it the Family Court because of the gender bias.

PM: Yes, the commentary by The NZ Herald also shows an obvious gender bias. The heading "Wallop wife bashers" clearly only recognises the violence committed by the man. Judge Boshier talks about ‘battered wives’. There is no question about husbands being on the receiving end.

Carrying on with this National Business Review editorial, they raise this issue of rules of procedure. The rules of procedure are stricter and the standard of proof is much higher in a criminal trial compared to matrimonial property hearings. The editorial says: "Judges and politicians who profess to support property rights and the rule of law should not be hijacking matrimonial property law as a vehicle to deal with criminal offending." I think they said it very well.

SPS: I can give you one example where a husband was living with the parents in the same house and his wife moved out with a young child of about 3½ years. The mother stopped the child from ever going back to that home and spending time with his father. She did this by accusing the child’s grandfather of sexually violating the child. Once an allegation like this is made all access to that house stops. There is no way of proving that anything happened. But the grandfather was accused, so the father does not have any access to the child in his home. He is told "if you want to see your child one Sunday a week or one in two Sundays you’ve got to do it away from home." We know what the NZ weather is like in the winter. Where are you going to take a 4-year-old child for eight hours?

PM: So, the accusation against the grandfather was used to penalise the father.

SPS: Yes, that’s right.

PM: Well, I think we had better round it off now. I would like to thank you very much SP for coming in today and talking with us.

What if Mum is Mentally Unwell?

Deranged woman

The April 1998 Australian Family Physician featured an article "Mentally ill families -when are the children unsafe?" by Anne Buist, Director of Psychiatry at the Mercy Hospital for Women in Melbourne from 1993 to 1997. She is now Associate Professor, Dept of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne.

Buist reveals that thirty in every 1000 families were reported to Human Services Victoria in 1994-95, and 44% of these cases were substantiated. However, she points out that these cases represent the severe end of the child abuse spectrum. Inadequate parenting may not be reportable, but is nethertheless potentially harmful.

She says "Although mental illness is an issue for a number of families, the workers responding to reports of abuse have minimal, if any training in or understanding of psychiatric illness. In contrast, mental health workers (such as those in crisis teams) may have little if any training in assessing parenting and child safety."

One in 600 women develops psychosis following childbirth. Relapses of bipolar disorder are common; schizophrenic illness may deteriorate; and 14% of women develop a depressive disorder. For women from dysfunctional backgrounds this depression may become chronic. When there is a family history of mental illness, support options are reduced. Partners of these woman will also be at a higher risk of psychiatric disorders themselves.

Buist discusses a number of studies which examine the effects of parental mental illness on the child. Most of these studies have been done on women, because men with chronic mental illness are less likely to form partnerships.

Specific problems relating to parental mental illness include:

  • Incorporation of child into the illness pathology
  • Impairment of parenting through poor concentration, lack of motivation, impulsivity.
  • Medication side effects may affect attention and concentration.
  • Increased likelihood of other psychosocial problems.

Buist describes the case of ‘Kelly’ where a schizophrenic woman was awarded custody of her infant daughter, despite a negative report following a six week impatient stay at a mother/baby unit which felt the child was at risk. Two weeks after her discharge, her voices told her to harm the child, but fortunately she was able to take the child to a mental health clinic and ask them to care for her.

‘Margaret’ a 38 year old mother of three, had a 10 year history of depression, and spent most of the day in bed with the curtains drawn. She fed the children on jam sandwiches. Her partner spent long hours at work, and appeared largely unaware of the problem. The mother-in-law did the shopping, and other family members took the children to the doctor when they were unwell. The younger children did not leave the house on weekdays, and the older child was a year behind in school.

  • Infants with depressed mothers may show a depressed mood style as young as three months.
  • Older children show reduced cognitive scores and increased behavioural difficulties.
  • Children have an increased risk of mental illness themselves when their mother suffers from a chronic disorder.
  • Many studies have found that children of depressed mothers are as impaired, emotionally and behaviourally as children of women with psychotic illness, and in some studies, more than those of mothers with bi-polar disorders.

‘Sandy’ at 28 years had a five year history of obsessive compulsive disorder, which often involves excessive hygiene and hand washing. At first she managed well, but when the child became a toddler, she found she was unable to tolerate his attempts at independence. She restricted him to one room of the house, and involved him in a prolonged ritual of changing clothes whenever they left the house. Her partner insisted she seek treatment.

Buist points out that: "A non affected parent will be invaluable in normalising the world for the child, however if the main caregiver is affected, and if the non affected parent is uninvolved in child care, the world as seen by the child may be very distorted, making adjustment to a very different reality at school even harder."

Personality disorders include the sociopath (often men), where little regard is held for others, and the child may be regarded as little more than a pawn to be used. These people are often charming and plausible, and their tendency to lie makes assessment particularly difficult. The other potentially damaging disorder is the borderline personality, which is more often found in women. They often come from abused backgrounds with poor role models, and have little sense of self. In both these situations, the child may be at significant risk of abuse, particularly when the parent is under stress.

Assessing parenting involves observing how the parent holds the child, how much eye contact there is. If the child is mobile, the parent should be watched to see how they ‘track’ the child to see if they notice when they are straying into danger. Is the parent tuned into the child’s needs, do they pick up when the child is tired or hungry? Buist suggests that listening to parents talk about their children will give valuable information. She says that abusive parents often exhibit a negative attitude towards their child, and unrealistic expectations and perceptions. They are likely to use ineffective parenting strategies characterised by higher aggression, control, inconsistent and intrusive behaviours, and have poor coping and problem solving abilities.

J.P.

Desperate Fathers Under Stress

In the final weeks of 1998 Men’s Centre North Shore received a series of calls from men (identifying details changed) who were concerned about the safety of their children because of the mother’s mental illness.

Doug Jones, who has his two boys from Friday to Sunday every week, told us that his ex wife had been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. In the past she had made suicide attempts, and had episodes of self-mutilation. When his 7 year old son told him that his mother had put her hands around his throat so that he couldn’t breath, Doug became concerned and contacted the Children, Young Persons & their Families Service. They told him that without hard evidence no action was possible. It is interesting to compare CYPFS’ evidential requirements in this case with the bogus ‘disclosures’ that put creche worker Peter Ellis in prison.

However, a worker did go to visit Doug’s ex-wife and informed her of his complaint. Her response was to reduce his access to the boys.

A few days later, Stephen Perkins rang with concerns about his ex-wife Mary. She had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (manic depression), and he wanted to find out if his children were in danger. He was worried because 95% of the time Mary appears perfectly well, and only "flips out" when stressed. A social worker had visited her, but noticed nothing unusual. Stephen wanted to know how to bring her situation to the attention of the authorities. We had to warn him that mentioning the possibility of a wife’s mental illness in a family court can ‘backfire’ for some men, as happened for Jeremy, whose case we reported in the August 98 MENZ Issues.

Soon after that Ralph Gillies rang to say that he too was worried about his two children. His ex-wife Sue had a long history of psychiatric illness, with several past breakdowns requiring hospitalisations. Many of Sue’s friends said they were worried about the kids, and an ex-boarder had filed an affidavit stating that Sue had confessed to strangling the older child, and trying to smother the baby with a pillow. Social workers from their country town who knew the family were also worried, and they encouraged Ralph to try and get custody. Unfortunately, because Sue was hiding in an Auckland Woman’s Refuge, he was unable to serve the papers before she took out a Domestic Violence Protection Order. First she falsely accused him of biting her, and punching her in the stomach, then later; of rape. Once labelled as an abuser, Ralph was unable to get CYPFS to take action, despite the affidavit from the boarder.

The New Zealand Herald 24th Feb 1999 reported assurances from Government officials that child safety would not be compromised because of financial difficulties at the South Auckland offices of CYPFS, which blamed its recent budget blowout on a heavy workload. Restrictions have been placed on the use of certain services because of a forecast $440,000 deficit. There has recently been a widely publicised case where a sexually abused six-year-old child was not removed from her home for some days. Labour’s welfare spokesman Steve Maharey, produced internal reports released under the Official Information Act, which indicated that in South Auckland only 89% of the critical abuse cases were responded to on the day they were reported.

Reports from Men’s Centre North Shore members suggest that the quality of service that can be expected in CYPFS branches is extremely variable throughout the country. Some offices appear to be professionally managed, workers are well trained, and few of their clients complain to organisations like ours. In other branches however, management is clearly deficient, and procedures are unable to prevent the kind of problems being experienced in South Auckland. It is also obvious that some branches have been subject to "ideological capture" by radical feminists, and we receive a disproportionate number of complaints from these areas. Last year a senior manager of an out-of-Auckland CYPFS office confirmed this in an off-the-record conversation with one of our members. Steve Maharey might find it very enlightening to closely compare the performance of different branches of the service.

John La Roach, who is currently serving a jail sentence for stabbing his wife to death in the foyer of the Palmerston North courthouse, claims that he did so to prevent his children being abused in her new family. Although it does not diminish his personal responsibility for his actions in any way, it can be argued his perception that the authorities were unwilling or unable to act contributed to his unfortunate decision. While it is obvious that any rational person would not believe that killing their mother and spending the next decade or so in prison is going to assist their children’s development, when human beings are faced with intolerable stress we know that they often make irrational decisions. Dozens of men have told the Men’s Centre how when stressed they "just couldn’t think straight" or that "my brain wasn’t working properly". More disturbingly, several have said that in the past they have fantasised about killing their ex-partners, or themselves; "taking the children with me".

New Zealand men have a long tradition of sorting out their own problems. Men’s and Father’s support groups throughout the country now encourage men in crisis to reach out for assistance, but if social services will not respond our efforts are undermined. The long term welfare of children will be better served by policies that provide positive support for families at an early stage instead of punitive reaction against men when things have spun out of control.

J.P.

Mentors Patch-up Solution

Reading so many references to mentoring of young men in one form or another in the November 1998 MENZ Issues (here) makes me feel sad. Sad about the fact that in our society men have been almost completely removed from the business of raising children and young adults, so that now government-sponsored programmes are needed to find a mentor for some young adults who have gone off the rails.

This is odd. Male unemployment has become a permanent reality and there is also an increasing number of men working fewer hours. Add to that that working hours in many occupations become increasingly odd, with night- and weekend shifts a reality for more and more people, and the availability of men as natural mentors for children and young adults during their waking time should actually be better than it has been in a long time.

And yet you won’t find a lot of men in schools – let alone preschools – or men who take an active interest in what’s going on in their neighbourhood, beyond calling the City Council if someone parks on the green strip in front of their house. Men no longer get hands-on when they witness unacceptable behaviour by kids other than their own. Kids no longer get the message directly, every day, what is and isn’t acceptable from adult males. Why?

Because in our society the definition of a proper man has collapsed and been reduced to his achievements at the workplace. Our white culture has become unique in this respect, that a man is not defined in his role in relation to his (and other) children. Indeed, for the social status of a white male, it is totally irrelevant whether or not he has children, and for children it is increasingly considered irrelevant whether or not they have access to adult men. If "under"-employed males wouldn’t be made to feel so bad about themselves, they could actually be the ones who could fill the gap that has made mentoring programmes necessary.

Unfortunately, male involvement with children has come to be seen as something suspicious. In its most extreme form, a male preschool teacher will always be suspected to be a paedophile in the closet, but we also have come to see men as being unsafe around children in other respects: that their supervision is insufficient and puts children at risk. Our society’s obsession with safety is not very male-friendly in general, and is certainly a big put-off for male involvement with children of any age.

The lack of male involvement with children also puts a lot of pressure on fathers, as they have become the ONLY adult males with any significant impact on their children. That probably explains why it can have so grave consequences for children if the fathers fail. Perhaps the government’s money for mentoring programs would be better spent on initiatives that bring men back into the community and encourage them to take responsibility, while at the same time removing the barriers to such involvement. But perhaps the myth of the male who gives his life to his work is too precious in making current economic policies work and we’d rather suffice ourselves with patch-up solutions.

Harald Brieding-Buss.

Christchurch Father & Child Trust .

Regular Chats With Dad Turn Boys Into Better Men

This article appeared in The Times (UK) on 28 January 1999.

Fathers who devote time to their sons – even as little as five minutes a day – are giving them a far greater chance to grow up as confident adults, a parenting research project has found. Boys who feel that their fathers devote time especially to them and talk about their worries, schoolwork and social lives almost all emerge as motivated and optimistic young men full of confidence and hope, according to results to be published next month.

The study, the latest from the Tomorrow’s Men project supported by Oxford University and funded by Top Man, picked out youngsters with high self-esteem, happiness and confidence as successful "can-do kids", and looked in depth at their parental and social backgrounds. More than 1,500 boys aged 13 to 19 were surveyed.

"High-level fathering", it found, was much the most important factor in success. More than 90 per cent of boys who felt that their fathers spent time with them and took an active interest in their progress emerged in the "can-do" category.

By contrast, 72 per cent of those who felt that their fathers rarely or never did these things fell into the group with the lowest levels of self-esteem and confidence, and were more likely to be depressed, to dislike school and to get into trouble with the police.

The raw amount of time spent with sons was not significant. What was important was the boy’s perception. Adrienne Katz, of the Tomorrow’s Men project, said: "With some children, a five-minute chat at the end of a busy day can be terrific, and with others that’s not enough. It is all about making the child feel wanted, loved and listened to."

The study found little difference between the positive effects of a good relationship with a father in a standard two-parent family, and with an absent father who nevertheless made the effort to make time for the family. "Whatever the shape or form of a family, if you can get it together it makes a difference."

Among the "can-do" group, three-quarters said that they felt their parents listened to them, compared with 27 per cent in the low-esteem group; 83 per cent said that their parents were helpful; and 70 per cent said they were allowed to make their own decisions.

Families who spent significant amounts of time together as a unit were also more likely to turn out confident children.

Mark Henderson. (abridged)

SHORE FATHERS – Mentoring Great Dads

This article is by one of the organisers of the "SHORE FATHERS" meetings. If you support Jim’s ideas about mentoring fathers, you can contact him on (09) 480 4373.

Currently, NZ law, the Family Court, Social Welfare services and child support blatantly discourage dads from being involved with their children. They all promote female gatekeeping. The laws and state policies must be changed as soon as possible for the sake of our children, and male mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Only Parliament can change laws and regulations that govern our society. Our local MPs will be asked to consider men’s issues and what they consider to be our best approach to gaining equal rights with women in all things concerning children and families.

The mentoring of men to overcome their disempowerment and to regain the latent but almost lost ability to be fathers is the responsibility of all mature males. I see it as a major task for "SHORE FATHERS" to re-empower men so that they can become great fathers. Most men probably need to learn to value their maleness and gain a degree of wholeness before they can start to become great dads.

The impact of a dedicated dad provides male influence and is far reaching in its effect on the life of a child. It is dad’s responsibility to make sure his influence is healthy. The value of contact with dad outweighs all obstacles. "SHORE FATHERS" believes that all dads must endorse this message. All dads, from happy family hands-on grandads to those physically out of the family in high security prison, will rise to the occasion given the opportunity, even though it may only be by letter.

All men need to stop referring to women about fatherhood. Let the women get on with being healthy mothers and grandmothers. Men need to find their precious and nearly lost value as fathers and grandfathers for themselves. Don’t even try to nurture your kids as a woman would – that is their job and only they can do it. Dig deep within yourself and nurture your kids as a male, a man and a dad; women can’t do your job.

Many of our society’s problems are caused by lack of fathering. Fathers can’t take all the blame for this. I believe NZ dads are suffering nationwide depression, and have lost their way, their value, and their task. We are fighting against the barrage of anti-male stuff everywhere. Men have been devalued and disempowered because of a delinquent few. When many of these were in desperate need of real help and understanding, it was not offered.

I believe in men. My recent years have taught me much about their compassion, their nurture, their latent goodness, their frustrations, their love for children and their loneliness.

Men, dads, we need to dig deep within ourselves to discover our rich maleness, to know our value, to find better ways, to set our sights higher and adjust our tasks to suit. To value and stand beside each other and our women as equals, separate and powerful. We need to get it right. MENTOR means MEN – THINK.

To be a genuine mentor one has to get his own act together. I doubt if much good thinking happens without a together life. Sadly, it seems to take absolutely bottoming in life to see that one might not have had it right. Then the real work starts. Much is now available for those who seek to change and grow. Open your eyes ears, minds and spirits.

I believe we owe it to our grandfathers, our fathers, ourselves and our children to mentor each other so that our society progresses.

Jim Bailey.

Fathers – Myths and Realities about Child Maltreatment

This article is a summary of Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith’s chapter entitled ‘Fathers – Myths and realities about child maltreatment’, in Perspectives on Fathering, edited by S Birks & P Callister (in press, 1999).

UPDATE: Download ‘Fathers – Myths and realities about child maltreatment’ [76 KB pdf]

Over the past decade or so, there has been frequent media reference to fathers mistreating their children. This paper tries to establish the nature of this mistreatment, and the extent to which it really happens in our society. It looks at the different forms of child maltreatment; when these are likely to occur and by whom; how to recognise whether a child is being abused or neglected; and the likely consequences of this. It moves from a discussion of child maltreatment in general to a focus on situations where the father is the accused perpetrator.

It is necessary to define the term ‘father’. Although some reports and studies tend to label as ‘father’ any man in the fathering role, including step-fathers and mother’s boy-friends, in general ‘father’ in this paper refers to the natural or biological father of a child. Children in stepfather households do much worse in a variety of parameters than children in original, two-parent households. For example, a recent United States study of 6,000 young men found that boys who grew up with absent fathers had twice the chance of ending up in jail as young men than those who remained with both their natural parents, and those who grew up with a step-father in their home had an even increased risk for incarceration (three times that of boys growing up with both their original parents).

Neglect is by far the most common form of child mistreatment. In 1994 about one million cases of child maltreatment were substantiated in the United States. Nearly half of these were cases of neglect; over a quarter were physical abuse; about 10% were sexual abuse and the remainder were cases of emotional or other unspecified abuse.

Who maltreats children?

Men perpetrate the majority of sexual abuse of children. Women, on the other hand, are responsible for the majority of non-sexual child maltreatment. This is not surprising, given that women are the predominant care-givers of children and hence spend much more time caring for children than men.

Children are at the greatest risk of all forms of child abuse when they are being raised by solo mothers without input from the fathers. It is ironic that so often current child protection policies result in the removal of children from father’s care. Children from single family homes (which are predominantly solo-mother households) are also much more likely to develop a wide range of social and health problems than children from two parent homes. This includes conduct disorders, juvenile offending and substance abuse, criminal offending, and adolescent attempted suicide.

Children are at far greater risk of abuse from step-parents than from natural parents.

Biological fathers who form strong early attachments with their children and who are actively involved in their children’s nurturing are far less likely to abuse them. Paternal support in the form of affection, promotion of independence, and positive modelling / fairness reduces the likelihood of abuse. Furthermore, a strong father / child bond acts as a mitigating effect, reducing the chance of children developing ongoing problems should they suffer maltreatment in the future.

How do we know if a child is being maltreated?

Whenever a suspicion of child maltreatment occurs, there are four possibilities with respect to its detection. Firstly there is a true positive: an abused or neglected child is accurately detected and appropriate management is instigated. There are also true negatives: the suspicion is shown to be unfounded, and the problem which alerted the suspicion is shown to be caused by something other than child abuse (for example, an accident; illness or misinterpretation). However sometimes there will be errors: either of omission (false negatives) or commission (false positives). In a false negative, a maltreated child is not identified and hence remains in a potentially harmful situation. This situation may also leave other children at risk. There are a number of reasons that under-reporting might occur on occasions.

To avoid this possibility, there has been a tendency for health and social services to over-report and over-diagnose child maltreatment, to err on the side of caution. Often the adverse consequence of a false positive, where a non-abused child is wrongly assumed to have been abused, is not considered or is given inadequate consideration. Even if abuse is later shown to be unfounded, the investigation process shakes the foundation of secure family life at best, and is undoubtedly traumatic for children and their families.

Once an accusation has been voiced, there is no going back. Even an acquittal in a subsequent court case may not restore normal parent-child relationships or even access for the acquitted parent, since Family Courts operate on a lower standard of proof than Criminal Courts and often deny access on the less rigorous evidence that a child may still be in danger. When sexual abuse is alleged, children are frequently referred to counsellors at the onset, and the negative effects of receiving months or years of counselling for a trauma that never occurred are unknown but potentially extensive.

Over-reporting of a mixture of true and false incidents can also swamp available services and resources. It is difficult to know how many accusations are considered to be unfounded, although the problem appears to be mounting. In the United States in 1975, 35% of all child abuse allegations nation-wide were unsubstantiated. A decade later in 1985, that figure had risen to 65%, an increase attributed to excessive concern about the problem.

Where parents are separating, children commonly manifest behavioural, emotional or somatic reactions, hence these signs of stress do not necessarily indicate that a child is being maltreated.

Consequences of Abuse.

In a recent survey, five different forms of maltreatment of children and adolescents (physical abuse; physical neglect; verbal abuse; emotional neglect and sexual abuse) were rated for their effect on psychopathology. Neglect was found to have the greatest ill-effect, and sexual abuse, if it occurred in isolation from other forms of child maltreatment, the least ill-effect. Physical and verbal abuse accompanying neglect caused the greatest long-term damage. The current over-emphasis by agencies such as CYPFS and Rape Crisis with child sexual abuse, which probably represents only about 10% of all cases of child maltreatment and is less likely to have long-term ill effects than child neglect, means that detection and management of other forms of child maltreatment may be relatively neglected.

Data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study found that children who suffered physical abuse had an increased risk of violent offending, suicide attempts, being a victim of violence and alcohol abuse.

Currently, there is no way to identify those children who will develop problems, although those with poor child/parent relationships and who form friendships with delinquent peers are at higher risk.

Adequate parental support is a protective factor. The Otago Women’s Health Survey study of women sexually abused as children found that those women who had had a good relationship with their fathers as teenagers did much better psychologically as adults than would be statistically expected. Similarly the Christchurch Health and Development Study found that good father/child bonding and a supportive affectionate father reduces the chance of adult psychological problems developing when sexually abused children become adults. Other studies have also found that childhood social support, especially father support, is inversely associated with the potential for abuse to cause adult difficulties. Close parent/child relationships appears to be a protective factor generally against the effects of exposure to adversity.

Fathers and false allegations of maltreatment

A growing number of non-custodial parents (mainly fathers) are unable to maintain contact with their children after separation. A recent NZ survey found that 18% of custodial parents (mostly mothers) and 15% of non-custodial parents (usually fathers) reported that the non-custodial parent had no contact with their children six months after the couple had separated. While some of these may be the so-called ‘dead-beat dads’, who walk away from their children and do not want to see them any more, there are many loving fathers denied or restricted access to their children by our social and legislative services. The most serious impediment to a father continuing to parent his children after separation is often the Family Court.

If the mother makes any allegation that the father has displayed violence (physical, sexual or psychological) the Court is likely to limit him to supervised access even if there is no substantiation that he has ever been guilty of what he is accused. This might be an allegation that he has been violent towards his child in the past, or it might be that the child has witnessed him being verbally or physically abusive towards the child’s mother in the past (given that the law includes a child witnessing violence by one person towards another as abuse). The Court operates on the suspicion that his child might have been abused in the past or might be abused in the future and denies that child free access to the father.

In may cases these actions have been taken without any corroborative evidence that the father has ever maltreated his child, often based solely on the testimony of the child’s mother, who is feeling angry and bitter towards her ex-partner; wishes to have no further contact with him (therefore wants to prevent his access to their children) or uses the allegations as a weapon to hurt him. Despite the fact that research indicates that women are at least as likely to engage in physical violence against their partner or child, similar accusations against her will seldom result in these actions by the Court, and in some cases can count against the accusing father.

When allegations of sexual abuse are made during a custody dispute between separated parents (and the accusing parent has considerable motive to hurt or exclude a hated ex-spouse) there is a greatly increased likelihood that the allegations are false. Some studies have found that 50% or more of allegations arising in the context of custody access disputes were false.

Conclusions

Most fathers (like most mothers) love and care for their children and wish the best for them. It is internationally recognised that children have a right to maintain contact with both parents if separated from one or both. This is reflected in many western jurisdictions where shared or joint custody is the norm. A large body of research indicates that children do best if they are co-parented by both mothers and fathers. Support and affection from fathers is a protective factor against children developing later psychological and social difficulties. Natural fathers who have a strong and early parent/child bond and who have actively participated in nurturant child care are very unlikely to abuse their children.

A minority of father and mothers abuse and /or neglect their children. While this can occur in any social group, child maltreatment is highly associated with poverty; single parenting; alcoholism and drug abuse; psychiatric illness; poorly educated parents; unemployment; poor housing; and welfare dependence (although of course many such families do not maltreat their children).

Where couples do separate, it must be recognised that children are much less likely to come to harm if they can maintain ongoing relationships with both parents. Regular contact between children and their fathers should be actively encouraged and supported by our social service and the courts. The sexually discriminatory practice of giving ‘custody’ to the mother and ‘access’ to the father should cease. The Family Court should have a presumption of joint or shared custody in the interest of children’s welfare and to the benefit of our society. This should not be undermined or restricted unless there is compelling evidence that the father has abused or neglected the child in the past, and is likely to continue to do so in the future. Supervised access significantly reduces the quality of father / child interaction, and therefore is only indicated in those instances where clear evidence of past child maltreatment has been demonstrated. The courts should firmly reprimand any mother who makes false maltreatment allegations in order to restrict a father’s access to his child.

Children need and deserve both their parents. Overwhelmingly, research shows that their chance of happy, healthy and successful adulthood is greatly enhanced when they have love and support from both mothers and fathers. Common sense gives us the same conclusion. Policies, practices and legislation should award mothers and fathers equal rights and equal responsibilities. It should be presumed that parents love and care for their children, and have their best interests at heart, unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary.

F. G.-S.

Fatherless Boys Grow Up Into Dangerous Men

There is another new study which confirms the importance of fathers in children’s lives. In the December 1, 1998 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Maggie Gallagher’s article Fatherless Boys Grow Up Into Dangerous Men reports on a study by the University of California’s Cynthia Harper and Princeton’s Sara McLanahan.

Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth database, the records of more than 6,400 boys were studied over a period of approximately 20 years of their development. According to Gallagher, the study controlled for family background variables such as mother’s educational level, race, family income and number of siblings, as well as neighborhood variables like the proportion of female-headed families in the neighborhood, unemployment rates, median income and even cognitive ability. The researchers found that boys raised outside of intact marriages are, on average, more than twice as likely as other boys to end up jailed, even after controlling for other demographic factors. Each year spent without a dad in the home increases the odds of future incarceration by about five percent.

The study also confirmed the findings of other researchers: Boys living with just their single fathers do not exhibit this increased rate of criminal behavior.

Gallagher thinks that though Ms. Harper and Ms. McLanahan’s data don’t prove this, their evidence suggests that while the structural advantages of marriage (more time, more supervision and more money) help, the attachment between father and son may be the key. Fathers teach their sons lessons, directly and indirectly, about what it means to be a man. When boys identify with fathers who are loving and available, the likelihood lessens that they will define their masculinity in terms of rebellion and antisocial aggression.

J.P.

The Second Wife

I grew up in a one-parent family. My mother struggled to raise three kids in a country where she had no family to help her. She worked full time, gave up her own life for her kids and produced three adults who hold down jobs, who have no criminal records, who pay taxes and who are useful members of society.

My father remarried – a woman with no children of her own – and had overseas holidays, updated his car every year and lived a pretty good life. He paid the required child support and saw us whenever it suited us (and him). He wasn’t a bad father, just an absent one.

I am now in a relationship with a man who has two children from his previous marriage. He is a great father, loving, caring and involved. Well, at least he was involved, until we came head on with the Child Support Act, the inequities of the Family Court and the laws that seemingly punish liable, non-custodial parents.

You can imagine what a learning curve it has been for me. From seeing the struggles of a woman left alone to care for her kids (which I am sure still happens today), to now witnessing the pain of a father who wants to be a father but who is blocked at every turn.

I have seen articles in the papers about the effects of divorce on children, but I have never seen one on the effects of divorce on the non-custodial parent (men and women).

I am a free lance journalist and with my own experiences in this area, combined with what I am living with now, I want to write that story. I need to hear from non-custodial parents about their experiences with the Child Support Agency, the Review procedure and the Family Court. I want to be able to show people that many parents don’t walk away, but are pushed. I want to publish the other side of the equation.

I guarantee complete confidentiality – I won’t print names, only experiences. If you are interested in sharing your experience, please write to:

"Equal Parenting"

P0 Box 224, Whitianga

and include contact phone numbers.

Leigh Maddison.

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