Forum: Mental Illness and Children in Family Law

February 18, 2016

The forum was focused around key note speaker Professor Louise Newman who framed the topic, followed by representatives of the Federal Court and Victoria Police who were invited to provide a perspective on the issues raised by Professor Newman. 

Professor Louise Newman, a noted psychiatrist with expertise in disorders of early parenting and attachment difficulties in infants, presented on parenting capacity and the impact mental illness can have. She spoke about the common mental disorders disruptive to parenting and the impact on the children within these circumstances. The Professor noted that mental illness can result in disrupted care and neglect of children, as well as long term separation of children from their parents. She spoke of the need to communicate and inform children of what’s going on with their parents and to find the appropriate support to promote attachment between child and parent. The lack of programs designed to support people with cases of severe mental illness and the need for intervention as early as possible were noted issues Professor Newman highlighted in the conclusion of her speech.

Sergeant Natasha Powles, a family violence advisor to Victoria Police, provided thoughtful commentary on how police cope with mental illness by describing the role of a family violence adviser and a PACER Unit.

Sergeant Powles spoke about the need to develop a strategy to draw information from the Court and the best ways to integrate services in order to support a family and those suffering from mental illness. 

The final speaker for the event, Judge Ron Curtain, provided commentary on the implications of mental illness on the courts. He discussed the difficulties the court had understanding and interacting with persons suffering from mental illness, in particular the implications of what mental illness that person was facing and the effect it had on the litigant. 

The event was very well received.

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