The Devastating Impact of Unsafe Contact: Children’s Voices Week
Friday 17th June 2016
A survivor blogs on the damaging impact that unsafe, family court-ordered contact with an abusive father has had on her children.
I’ve just settled my oldest child into bed. She’s had an anxiety attack: panicking, shaking, crying. She still doesn’t feel safe in her own home – six years after we left my ex-husband.
When my two children were very small, from the outside you’d think they lucky. A lovely home, parents who doted on them.
But if you looked closer you’d see the cracks. My kids didn’t like being picked up by their dad. They couldn’t understand why the daddy they saw when people came to visit was completely different to the one they feared when the door closed.
The children were terrified of him. Food was forced down my son’s throat as he “wasn’t eating fast enough”; their potty was taken away whilst I was potty-training them because “they should be using a toilet now.” My youngest son was pushed into walls when his father walked past. My daughter was threatened with a knife because she cried when she hurt her toe. My children witnessed his severe abuse of me too.
After separation, we had years of broken contact and the children saying how scared they were. I thought the family court would solve this. After several failed meetings with my ex-husband, it was the only option.
My daughter wrote a letter to the judge. It read, “Dear Your Honour, please don’t make me go to daddy’s. He scares me. I do not like it when he yells or says mummy is a liar. I am scared and I want to go home but daddy will not let me.”
The judge wouldn’t read it – in case I had forced my daughter to write it.
My children were interviewed by Cafcass. They told the officer in no uncertain terms about their dad. She concluded that she wasn’t sure who to believe as I was “unnaturally close” to my children.
After the second court hearing, my children’s behaviour deteriorated further. The judge had ordered contact “by any means” – which concluded with a horrendous stand-off between the children and their father. I tried for three and a half hours to get them into their father’s car. My ex-husband stood watching, almost amused. My son, sobbing, climbed up a tree. My daughter, sobbing, locked herself in the bathroom. Their father threatened to get me prosecuted and told the children they were selfish.
They were devastated. My daughter started to retreat into her own world, writing stories of how a child could defeat an evil controlling boss of the world. My son developed OCD and was obsessed about the doors being locked.
Then, the court ordered that the children were seen by psychologists. I thought this was positive – until I saw these professionals had no experience with domestic abuse. They ordered us into a room with my ex, demanded to know why my children were hurting their dad by not wanting contact. They even asked how my daughter would get her dad out of a burning building. Through tearful eyes, my daughter replied, “I wouldn’t. I’d let him burn.”
The report concluded that the children must be anxious because of the divorce and I must control myself emotionally. My ex-husband’s behaviour was swept under the carpet, my children dismissed.
My daughter started flying into rages: “Why doesn’t anyone LISTEN to us, Mummy?”
By the final court hearing, my children were on a waiting list to start therapy. Thankfully, after years of torment, the judge agreed that they could decide on whether they wanted to see their dad. Over this past year they have given their dad many chances – but now say that if he won’t change his behaviour, they won’t see him. Things are settling now. My daughter’s therapy is helping with the rages and anxiety, and my son is sleeping in his own bed again.
The family court system and Cafcass let down my children terribly, thanks to their utter failure to understand domestic abuse. The long-term effects on my children are devastating, and will affect them as they grow up. It is very worrying.
I am now volunteering to help other survivors through the family court system. I hold little hope for the next generation of survivors, struggling to protect their children from a dangerous system that is unwilling to put children’s safety and wellbeing at the heart of their decisions. The family courts must change – urgently.