September 10, 2010
SMH - Sydney Morning Herald
Abducted boy Andrew Thompson may have been located but that won't be the end of his family's torment, writes Joel Gibson.
Finding a lost boy should be an occasion for joy, but this was not necessarily the result that anyone wanted: not Ken Thompson, not his estranged wife Melinda, and certainly not their six-year-old boy Andrew.
Since Melinda Stratton disappeared 2 years ago and Thompson began a campaign to find her, the South Australian child protection expert Professor Freda Briggs has spoken to both parents about Andrew's abduction, and how it might end.
In the past 48 hours, since a Dutch school principal noticed Andrew's expired passport and reported it to police, Briggs has watched as the case unravelled in the dreaded fashion, with all parties powerless to prevent it.
South Australian child protection proponent, Professor Freda Briggs saidThompson, a former NSW deputy fire chief who has spent the entire time searching for his son, had assured me he did not want a climax involving foreign police, child protection officers and sudden, possibly violent, intervention.
As for Stratton, she rang me from Frankfurt and didn't know anything about the Hague Convention and my advice to her was 'come back because if you are caught the effect on your child will be devastating','' Briggs said. ''But she obviously ignored me.''
Andrew's mother is now arrested and he is with foster carers who may not even speak his language.
Thompson has in the past strenuously denied serious allegations of abuse made against him by Melinda Stratton, and produced a letter from the NSW Department of Community Services' joint investigation response team saying they had interviewed Andrew and closed the case.
Professor Freda Briggs saidIf it follows the usual pattern, he will be sent back here accompanied by strangers without a stopover.
Previous children in this situation, have reportedly cried all the way home. He will probably be placed in foster care here until the judge makes a decision about where he will live.
If his mother is jailed in Australia for contravening the Family Law Act, or found to be mentally ill as one psychiatrist has assessed her, he might see her hardly, if at all, for some years.
For a child to be subjected to such trauma can be devastating. The previous children have suffered from mental illness that the psychiatrists thought could be lifelong.
Unfortunately the system in my experience doesn't put the children's needs first. It's about the parents.
He has revealed that a psychiatrist diagnosed Stratton in a court-ordered report with a paranoid disorder that impaired her ability as a parent.
Andrew's sad case, with its allegations of abuse and counter-allegations of mental illness, has become a flashpoint for emotional debates about the justice meted out by the Family Court and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which creates a system for the return of children located in 79 signatory countries.
Briggs believes that Andrew may never have been abducted if the Family Court did not have a history of declaring mothers to be ''mad or bad'' when they made serious allegations against fathers.
Professor Freda Briggs saidIt happens,to the extent that solicitors now advise mothers not to mention abuse in the court because of the risk they will lose contact or at best have occasional contact that is supervised
Charles Pragnell, from the National Council for Children Post Separation saidThe Family Court lacks the expertise to investigate serious allegations.
In our experience with many hundreds of similar cases, psychiatrists and psychologists merely label the mother as borderline personality disorder without conducting a professional assessment as they are required to do under their professional standards of practice.
It is absolutely certain that if Melinda and Andrew are forced to return to Australia they will not receive justice in the Family Courts which operate according to the provisions of the Family Law Act 2006, which Family Courts interpret as giving inalienable paramountcy to the rights of fathers and little regard is given to the needs, wishes, and rights of children.
Unlike in Britain, Canada, the US, Belgium and Singapore, abductions in Australia are treated only as breaches of Family Court orders, attracting penalties including up to three years' jail.
Coral Slattery, Vice President of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, and President of the Family Law Reform Association saidAustralian and international laws do too little to prevent children being whisked away, which amounts to a severe form of child abuse.
The Hague Convention is little comfort for those who do not know where their child is.
Even if found in a Hague Convention country, abductors go before foreign courts first, which can refuse to send a child back to their ''habitual residence'' or can do so only after years and thousands of dollars in legal and travel costs.
The association has lobbied the federal government to increase the deterrent by making international child abductions a crime punishable by five years' jail.
A spokesman for the federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, made comment
Coral Slattery saidI imagine there would be other parents all over the world who would be inspired to do the same thing as Ken Thompson. Some of them get found but if they go to the Middle Eastern countries it's difficult
My grandson was abducted 20 years ago and we knew where he was and nothing has changed since then. It needs to be taken further to bring abducters to account.
Briggs and others believe criminal penalties would be pointless, as most abducters are desperate and do not stop to check the law first.
The Attorney Generals department spokesman saidwarned that ''calls to create a general criminal offence of parental child abduction" need to be carefully considered as they could have negative consequences including a greater likelihood that an abducting parent will take the child into hiding if they know they are to face criminal charges. There may also be a reluctance in some Hague Convention countries to order that a child be returned to Australia if a parent faces criminal charges and possible imprisonment.
Barbara Briggs saidI think the situation's bad enough as it is. For the children, that is.
I'm not worried about the parents.
Warwick Marsh, Fatherhood Foundation saidThe whole nation has been moved by the story of a brave and resolute father who set out to find his little boy lost, or should I say, abducted? This same father cycled 6,500 kilometres through eight different countries throughout Europe to find his son. His son, who had been secretly abducted by his mother on April 24, 2008, and removed from Australia under false pretences. For two and a half years Ken Thompson, a former deputy fire commissioner, looked in vain for his long lost son and set up a media and web trail that encompassed the world.
Kens dreams came true this week in Amsterdam when young Thompson met his father for the first time in almost three years. Ken told me on the phone what happened. My six-year-old came over to me and asked for help with this puzzle he was playing with. I was overjoyed because even though he had forgotten what I looked like, he remembered who I was. This will be slow work. I am letting him lead me because its all about building my relationship with him again. I am very emotional, but Andrew is being looked after well and I am confident things will work out alright.
Ken Thompson is reported as saying in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that, he bears no malice towards his wife and while deeply anguished by the events of the past two and a half years, simply wants to be a dad to Andrew, to begin his life to love him and to give him back the human rights that were taken away from him".
Speaking about human rights for fathers and their children seems to be a lost cause in modern media with the prevalent anti-male views.
ERROR: A link was posted here (url) but it appears to be a broken link.Robin Bowles, Ken Thompson's media contact, is on the ball. This is what she had to say about an earlier Sydney Morning Herald article:
Robin Bowles, Author saidI have just phoned to complain about the story by Joel Gibson in the SMH today headlined Found, but will he be a little boy lost in the court system?
This story shows the reporter made no attempt to check the sweeping comments made by Ms Freda Briggs in regard to the mother's attitude and the jurisdiction of the Family Court. No attempt appears to have been made by Gibson to check with Dutch or Australian consular authorities here or in Holland about whether Ms Briggs's suppositions/predictions are correct. In fact I can tell you from discussions I have had with Melinda Thompson's sister in law and her mother during which I was told that Melinda was very aware of the Hague Convention and its ramifications and had done quite a bit of research to ascertain which countries she might flee to that were NOT signatories to the Hague Convention, where she might be safe from having Andrew returned to his home and family. In addition I am aware of a phone call, made by Melinda Thompson to Ms Briggs, after her flight from Australia, which Ms Briggs received while in the company of another person, seeking advice about what steps Melinda might take to avoid being repatriated under the Hague Convention. I have been told that Ms Briggs has told Ms Thompson and Caroline Overington of The Australian Newspaper that there was a possibility that Japan might be a safe haven.
If Gibson had picked up a phone and contacted the Dutch authorities, the Attorney General's Department in Canberra, Ken Thompson, myself (as Ken's contact for the media), checked the find Andrew website or done any proper journalistic research at all he would have found that Ms Briggs knew NOTHING about what is happening in Amsterdam.
It is articles like this, written as you told me, 'in a hurry' that give journalists the bad name some of them absolutely deserve. The whole article is crap. The carers DO speak Andrew's language, (which language anyway? he's been living overseas for two and a half years at pre-school, his grandmother told me, and school). Every second person (including police) speaks English in Holland.
And ''For a child to be subjected to such trauma can be devastating. The previous children have suffered from mental illness that the psychiatrists thought could be lifelong,'' Briggs says.
Who brought this 'trauma' on Andrew? His mother, by taking him from all he knew and loved. By enrolling him in a school under a false name. By lying to him about his father. By trying to enlist the help of people like Ms Briggs, who gives her opinion 'Unfortunately the system in my experience' without ANY knowledge of this particular situation except for the phone call and letter she received from Melinda, after Melinda abducted Ken's son. (The letter, by the way, ended up in the hands of the media and was extensively reported).
Finally I would like Mr Gibson to contact me for the real story, if he'd like to report facts instead of suppositions and speculations. My number is 0394156396 or 0418102732. If he's going to be a proper reporter when he grows up, he should learn how to properly research a story that has such impact on the people he is writing about instead of writing it 'in a hurry'. Deadlines are not more important than the truth.
Warwick Marsh saidRobin Bowles rightfully poses the question, Who brought this trauma on Andrew in the first place? Trauma is the correct name for it. That is what artificially induced fatherlessness causes.
Its effects are well documented by the social sciences. Let me repeat these pertinent statistics from a previous On Line Opinion article:
Since writing that article I came across an erudite article called "Feminism and the Family" by Dr Janice Crouse. This is what she had to say:
- 63 per cent of teen suicides come from fatherless homes. Thats five times the national average. Source: US Dept of Justice;
- 80 per cent of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes. Fourteen times the national average. Source: Justice and Behaviour;
- 85 per cent of children with behavioural problems come from fatherless homes. Twenty times the national average. Source: Centre for Disease Control;
- 71 per cent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. Nine times the national average. Source: National Principals Association Report;
- 75 per cent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centres come from fatherless homes. Ten times the national average. Source: Rainbows for all Gods Children;
- 85 per cent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes. Twenty times the national average. Source: US Dept of Justice.
When there is no father in the home, there's trouble. Often there is a boyfriend or a series of boyfriends, but even when there is not, regardless how heroic that mother is - and many are struggling heroically and try their best for their children - the absence of the father in the home is a loss that has dramatic and serious impact on both boys and girls. Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania conducted a longitudinal study of the impact on boys ages 12-22 when there is no father living in the home with the boy. What they found is astounding. When boys that age grow up without a father in the home, they are 300 times more likely to get into trouble with the law than are boys whose fathers are in the home. Not having a father in the home is the single most important variable when it comes to a boy getting into trouble with the law. Father absence is a more significant predictor of outcome than ethnicity, poverty, religion, or socio-economic group.
It would seem that government departments are equally complicit in spreading lies and anti-male propaganda.
Thankfully as detailed in a recent Herald Sun article, the South Australian Ombudsman is also on the ball. Journalist Laurie Nowell reported in an article called "Feminists 'Tilt' Figures":
The issues of child protection and domestic violence have been hijacked by politically motivated feminist cliques, according to a coalition of men's groups.
The claim came after an ombudsman's report found bureaucrats guilty of "unreasonable and wrong administrative action" after failing to correct false and misleading information that promoted the idea men were overwhelmingly responsible for domestic violence.
South Australia's Office for Women presented erroneous statistics, such as 95 per cent of domestic violence involves a male perpetrator and a female victim, the ombudsman found. Raw data show that, overall, at least one in three victims is male http://www.oneinthree.com.au/.
Men's Health Australia spokesman Greg Andresen saidThe SA Ombudsman's report should make the Gillard Government think twice about rolling back the shared parenting reforms introduced to family law by the Howard government - which effectively guarantee fathers some level of access to their children in the event of marital breakdown.
The picture seems to be emerging of offices of women around the country - who advise state and federal ministers - having taken deeply feminist lines on domestic abuse and child protection.
These bureaucrats have a strong feminist perspective - and that's probably appropriate for people concerned with women's issues.
But the problem is that when governments roll out programs relating to children, what gets rolled out is a program for women, not one that has equal regard for men and women.
The conventional wisdom among these people is that the only perpetrators of domestic violence are men and the only perpetrators of violence against children are men.
There is a wealth of research that shows that men are almost as likely to suffer domestic violence or abuse.
Warwick Marsh saidSpace does not allow me to tell the stories of the father who was put in gaol for sending a birthday card to his daughter, or the father of good character who was banned from seeing his daughter for five years. Tragically most of these recent stories have taken place under the 2006 changes to Family Law which were supposed to bring equity for fathers and families. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Yes, this nation has been moved by the story of Ken Thompson and his heart warming reunion with his son. Unfortunately not everyone's heart has been affected. It would seem that our feminist friends in the media, the legal system and the commentariat are still in need of a heart transplant.
Secretary of the Shared Parenting Council saidComments made by some of the so called professionals in this case have been sheer nonsense. We saw a similar debacle unfold in a case in WA a few years ago. For Charles Pragnell, from the National Council for Children Post Separation to say that the Family Court lacks the expertise to investigate serious allegations is highly misleading. The Family Court has all the power it requires under legislation to request and or require additional interventions and reports from such practitioners as it deems appropriate that will enable it to make a proper decision.
So why blame the Family Court!! It wasn't the Family Court that "unlawfully" removed the child from Australia. The Family Court made a publication order as soon as it was asked to do so. Look to the parent who perpetrated this heinous action.
We will wait with great anticipation for next developments, but, based on past experiences, one thing is certain, unless the Australian authorities intervene to have the parties brought back to Australia, nothing may happen quickly