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Failures in Family Court - NZ's worst kept secret

Failures in NZ Family Court – New Zealand’s worst kept secret

Everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room

For years those in power have known about the problems in the Family Court but have done nothing

Today the NZ public have seen and heard stories of traumatic Court ordered uplifts of children by police. The public is responding with horror and disbelief and rightly so. Those who are in a position to change things have either remained ominously silent or they have tried to justify the state treating NZ children in this way.

Ruth Herbert, Co-founder of Backbone says: “Shame on us as a country. Today we say: ‘this is terrible, shocking and shouldn’t be happening’. Tomorrow we will dust ourselves off, sweep it under the carpet – again – and carry on as if everything is all good in god’s own.”

Deborah Mackenzie explains “Backbone knows that all of those in charge know about the uplifts and other practices harming children in the Family Court. For years women have been writing to Ministers, the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and the Law Society about the dangerous practices happening in the Family Court which are harming children. Everyone who has the authority and responsibility to keep children safe knows about the ways the court is failing to respond safely to women and children when they have experienced violence and abuse. They have chosen to turn a blind eye.”

Deborah adds: “Everyone knows that children’s voices are not being listened to and yet no one has stepped up and tried to investigate further or do anything to make the practices stop. Women have shown us their letters back from politicians and they always say the same thing – sorry to hear your story but we can’t get involved in individual cases. How on Earth is that approach going to help children being traumatized by Family Court decisions and orders?”

The Government has funded $1.2 million to help set up VOYCE – a new independent advocacy service for children and young people in state care. Government will provide an additional $6.9 million to build and expand the service over the next four years.

Backbone asks who is advocating for children who are subject to Family Court orders? Not Voyce and not the Children’s Commissioner.

Ruth Herbert states “Women have been contacting the Children’s Commissioner for years. They are told that the Children’s Commissioner can’t get involved in cases where children are involved in Family Court proceedings. Backbone would love to know who is responsible for the safety of children living under Family Court orders? If it’s not the Children’s Commissioner then who? Backbone is seriously concerned that it appears no one is overseeing the Family Court and no one is looking out for the children who pass through it. There is no accountability and no transparency because if there was someone would be putting their hand up today and commenting on the uplift story. “

Ruth Herbert adds: “We accept that Government is responsible for making the laws and the judiciary is responsible for implementing those laws. We therefore take the complete silence from Government to mean this is how they intended the law to be implemented – that they are comfortable that their laws result in children being forcibly uplifted in their pyjamas by a band of Police without warning and carried out into the dark night. They are by default sanctioning this abuse of children.”

In the past two months Backbone has written formally to the Government three times, advising that they have evidence of systemic failure in the Family Court, offering to meet and share the information Backbone has, and urging Government to establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate. The Government have not bothered to answer any of those letters.

Backbone asks:
• Who is the watch dog of the Family Court?
• Who is responsible for the safety of children who are subject to Family Court orders?
• Who is responsible for the harm being done to children because of Family Court orders?
Deborah states “It is time for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Family Court – New Zealanders really need to demand that a high level independent investigation is undertaken to determine the extent of these barbaric, unsafe and harmful practices. “

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