Court Support 4 Kids

Many women coming to court to get intervention orders against a violent partner have no alternative but to bring their children along, according to a report launched by Ms Felicity Broughton, Deputy Chief Magistrate. She was joined by Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan.

The report, by RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ), says the presence of children in the unsuitable court environment risks exposing them to trauma. The stress of caring for children can also lead to mothers abandoning their attempts to get legal help.

CIJ has evaluated Court Support 4 Kids – a program initiated 2014 years ago by McAuley Community Services for Women to respond to this issue. The program provides support, play and distraction for children, while their mothers focus on getting legal protections in place.

‘Courts are completely unsuitable environments for children,’ says Jocelyn Bignold, McAuley’s Chief Executive Officer. ‘They are crowded, tense, noisy and intimidating places.

‘There are police with their weapons, security checks, lawyers rushing around, people who can be upset and aggressive; sometimes leading to children thinking that they’ve done something wrong.

‘As well, mothers who have to bring their children along face long and boring waits. They are told to come attend court 9.30 and, thinking they have an appointment that will only take an hour or two, haven’t brought along the toys, nappies and snacks that their children need. There are no playrooms or child-friendly places.

‘And when a hearing does get underway, often many hours after the mother and children first arrive, it is far from ideal if mothers, lawyers and magistrates are all distracted by crying infants or irritable toddlers.’

Ms Bignold says McAuley developed Court Support 4 Kids following feedback from staff in the family violence program that they were seeing many women, who had no alternative child care options, being deterred from following through with their essential legal protections because the children were not allowed in the court room.

‘As the report says, many women find it all “too damn hard” and may not come back. If this is their first attempt to get help, they might well conclude that the system is just too difficult to navigate, and a vital opportunity to intervene early has been lost.

‘We were also concerned that being present at court means children may hear details of the violence, reliving or aggravating their trauma. The offender may also be present and waiting separately for the hearing, adding to a child’s confusion and distress,’ Ms Bignold says.

These evaluation reports were possible due to funding from the Campbell Edwards Trust.

McAuley has secured funding up until June 30, 2020, from Court Services Victoria to continue the program in Sunshine and expand it to Ballarat Magistrates’ Court and Melbourne Magistrates’ court. The funding has also enabled the continuation of the program in Geelong Magistrates’ Court by our partner Bethany Community Support.