Reports of parenting experts

Reports of parenting experts

Edmonson & Edmonson [2016] FCCA 1377 (17 June 2016)

The Family Report of Mr N dated 3 March 2011 (annexure E-4 to affidavit filed 4 March 2015)

  1. The significance of this document created during proceedings between the mother and A’s father lies in the positive matters asserted by the mother at that time in early 2011 about the father. At paragraph 11, Mr N recorded:
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    “Ms Edmonson described a very positive relationship with Mr Edmonson. They met in 2005, commenced cohabitation in 2005, and married in 2007. Both she and Mr Edmonson were complimentary of each other and believed they share similar values and aspirations and have a very close relationship. Ms Edmonson was clear there has not been any violence in their relationship and that she feels respected and well supported, [both physically and emotionally] by her husband. She further regards her husband as having played a very positive paternal role in her daughter’s life. Their descriptions of how they managed the care arrangements for the 2 children clearly suggest that both parties are actively involved in the day-to-day care of A and X. During the joint interview, Mr Edmonson was particularly supportive and complimentary of Ms Edmonson. At no stage did he dominant the discussion or place any overt or implicit pressure on his wife. It was apparent to the writer that theirs is a relationship based on mutual respect and support.

  2. I note that at that time Mr N recorded at paragraph 28 “A shares a very positive and nurturing relationship with both her mother and step-father … A refers to her step-father as “dad” and appeared comfortable in doing so.”

The DHHS Section 67Z and Section 67ZA Response

  1. The DHHS forwarded an undated report to the Court on 4 March 2015. This noted a report received by Child Protection on 24 December 2014 relating to the children in the care of their parents and noted that the mother had sought refuge for ongoing significant family violence perpetrated by the father. The matter proceeded for investigation. On 15 January 2015, Child Protection attended the mother’s new residence and the children were also present. No contact had taken place since the mother left the family home. The mother disclosed that the father used physical discipline towards both girls but that X was the primary target. She disclosed threats of harm made by the father to the effect that“I’ll kill your children and you if you divorce me”. The mother advised that she wanted to separate from the father from approximately 2012 due to ongoing family violence but had been discouraged by such threats.
  2. A and X were interviewed by Child Protection on 18 February 2015 and disclosed family violence perpetrated by the father. Both said they did not wish to resume contact with him as a result. X reported that she was smacked “all the time” by the father and that this made her sad. A reported an occasion when the father slapped her on the face resulting in her having a swollen cheek.
  3. The Department concluded that the children were not at risk owing to the mother’s protective conduct but went on to note the father’s application to spend time with the children and recommended that this not be permitted.

The Section 11F Report (11 March 2015)

  1. The parties saw Ms P on 11 March 2015. The mother alleged a history of family violence that began prior to the family immigrating to Australia in 2007. She recorded the separation and the lack of time with the father since. She also recorded the father’s denials of family violence and his reference to the earlier family report. The mother reported concerns that the father frequently slapped X for minor misdemeanours and had threatened to kill X if the mother left him. X, at interview, confirmed that her father frequently slapped her and she had witnessed further violence between her parents. The father denied all physical discipline of the children. The parties’ accounts of events well commensurate with the affidavit material they have filed. I note that when the father saw X, she was reluctant to see him and told him that she did not wish to spend time with him because he had repeatedly slapped her. The reporter noted, however, that when the mother collected X at the end of the conference, she was similarly anxious and reluctant in her demeanour. Ms P recommended supervised contact and various other interim measures.

The Report of Ms M (2 October 2015)

      1. Ms M’s report runs to 41 pages. It is not appropriate to set it out in any detail. It records an unsurprising initial hesitance on X’s part when she first met Ms G, but a rapid relaxation. Likewise, it reports considerable tension on X’s part when she first met the father but it is clear that within 40 minutes she relaxed.
      2. The last occasion of supervised time was on 27 September 2015 when the (omitted) incident took place. The time itself appears to have taken place unexceptionally. The child was handed back to the mother without incident. On 28 September 2015, Ms G informed the Independent Children’s Lawyer about the (omitted) incident and paragraphs 38 to 40 record Ms G’s notes of what happened thereafter.
      3. It is clear from those notes that both X and the mother were crying when Ms G arrived. X stated with a sad expression on her face, “[h]e was here … he came over to me and called me to come to him.” She confirmed that this was her father. She said, “[h]e was walking and walked over to us. He wanted me to go to him, but I didn’t.” X was visibly upset with tears running down her face and was shaking. The mother told Ms G that the father had driven around and passed her twice. Once he got back into his car he put his hand up to his throat and ran his hand across his throat. X did not see this gesture. The mother was clearly deeply distressed.
      4. Ms G then noticed that she had a number of calls from the father on her phone but she did not answer.
      5. Slightly later X told Ms G that the father had asked her, “[w]ho is living at your house?” but she did not feel okay to answer him and did not do so. This was said to have occurred during the supervised time and Ms G had not noticed it.
      6. The mother told Ms G relevantly that she had told the father “not to approach as her she did not want to have to report him”.
      7. Ms G subsequently noted that she had received numerous missed phone calls and texts from the father. They were still coming in at
        2:50 pm. She responded that she was not able to speak to the father at that time.
      8. By way of final summary, Ms G noted at page 40:
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        “Time Spent between the father Mr Edmonson and the child X, has progressed positively.

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All interaction has been caring, playful and appropriate.

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X was a little anxious at the beginning of the 1st Period to Supervised Time; however, within 20 to 30 minutes appeared to relax and be more comfortable chatting and engaging with her father.

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X always waits expectantly for her father to arrive, and is often reluctant for their time together to finish.”

  1. The report generally concluded very favourably in respect of the interrelationship between X and her father.

The Report of Ms C (30 March 2016)

      1. Ms C’s report, once again, is relatively lengthy and it is inappropriate to try and paraphrase it in full. I have already dealt with some of the matters the mother asserted to Ms C at the intake interview above. At page 8 of 38, Ms C recorded about X:
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        “X has appeared anxious when there has been a change in arrangements or where change is expected. As well as this, during the last supervised session (13th March 2016), it seemed that the release of the Family Report and recent media coverage of the father has heightened anxieties amongst family members.

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For example, X was understandably nervous at the commencement of the first supervised session with the Togetherness Agency (19th December 2015); which marked a transition from no time with Mr Edmonson for a period of around three months to supervised time with a new Family Supervisor.

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Having said this, X has settled into time arrangements with Mr Edmonson well (until recently). This has been noticeable by the way in which X separates from the mother easily. X comfortably approaches Mr Edmonson at the commencement of each session and exchanges affectionate cuddles with the father when departing.”

  1. The report noted the, in my view, unsurprising awkwardness when X met her paternal grandmother (to whom she is unable to speak because they do not share a language). On 13 March 2016, X reported to the supervisor a number of times that she was scared about time progressing to unsupervised (this, of course, was at or about the time of the release of the family report).
  2. The mother drew the supervisor’s attention to the father’s appearance on the A Current Affair television program where he was exposed for Centrelink fraud (something I have no doubt the mother was complicit even if she did not initiate it).
  3. I note that at pages 36 to 37 of 38 the supervisor relayed concerns to the mother that X had raised about spending unsupervised time with the father and queried whether she had told X to share this information with the supervisor. I note, and this is telling, that the mother confirmed that she had done this. She explained that X had become quite distressed about the family report writer’s recommendations for unsupervised time. Nonetheless, the mother had acknowledged that supervised time had progressed well, but believed that the father was behaving appropriately because he was being watched.

The Family Report of Ms S (11 March 2016)

      1. The report sets out the background to the dispute including the unremarkable conclusions of Dr P, unremarkable in the sense that he did not identify any concerning psychopathology or mental illness that would impact on either parent’s functioning and no imminent or foreseeable risk to the child or mother by the father. Indeed, I have not traversed Dr P’s reports at all as these conclusions are so straightforward. Ms S noted the history in the matter before the courts and DHHS involvement. She then turned to her interviews with the parties. At paragraph 18, Ms S observed:
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        “With regards to the allegations of family violence made by the mother, Mr Edmonson was dismissive but concerned about this portrayal of him. Mr Edmonson described an early history of him actively involved in X’s and A’s care. He maintained that he formed a close bond with both children. Mr Edmonson was adamant that the allegations of family violence commenced “after we separated … I suspect she became involved in a new relationship and she made false allegations to put me out”.”

      2. At the conclusion of the interview, the father confirmed that he had been told he would be charged with a breach of the Intervention Order, but Ms S noted it would be a matter for the criminal court to determine the extent and consequences of the breach.
      3. The mother attended with the children and a male friend (unidentified) for support. The mother shared a negative appraisal of the father and continually referred to her experience of family violence and abuse.
      4. At paragraph 23, Ms S recorded:
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        “Ms Edmonson acknowledged the finding of the psychiatric assessment but suggested that Mr Edmonson had the capacity to present well but still pose a risk “even when he was abusing us, he can be a perfect person”. She was aware of the positive report about supervised time from (omitted) Services, but seemingly dismissed the strength of this report, referring to the need to change the supervision service, “now, Ms C from Togetherness … resumed in December 2015.” Ms Edmonson was unconcerned about feedback from a new supervisor and anticipated that this would be positive “she (X) mentions a good time and she is happy to go”. Ms Edmonson attributed X’s enjoyment of this time to the presence of a trusted adult. With regards to future arrangements, Ms Edmonson offered unconvincing support for the continuation of the father/child relationship.”

      5. The mother was opposed to unsupervised time and proposed ongoing supervised time by a private professional supervisor.
      6. X was interviewed by Ms S and remembered her father and mother arguing during the relationship albeit that they did so in (language omitted). She spoke of life at home “with mum and A and Mr J”. At paragraph 29, Ms S recorded:
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        “X acknowledged enjoying time with her father, supervised by Ms C. X suggested with dad alone it is a little bit scary. X said, “Mum’s a bit scared of me being with dad alone.” X reported having adopted some strategies to manage time with her father learned at counselling, “Tell myself it’s going to be okay … take a deep breath.” X wanted the judge to know, “I love my mum and I love my dad.” X wished “this never happened” … “Wish we were a good family … I wish we were really close.” Observations of X with her father revealed they have formed a close and loving bond. X’s initial reluctance to see her father seemed forced. Within minutes of coming into contact with her father, X relaxed and became talkative and chatty with Mr Edmonson. There was no evidence of fear or anxiety in his presence. Mr Edmonson was energetic and loving towards X and she was responsive in kind. Mr Edmonson’s jovial manner assisted X to settle easily.”

      7. A was also interviewed and, at paragraph 34, Ms S recorded:
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        “While A seemed eager to engage at interview, her reports concerning Mr Edmonson lacked spontaneity and seemed rehearsed. At the conclusion of her interview, A wanted to impress her fear of Mr Edmonson by sharing, “Did you see when I nearly started to cry?”

      8. At paragraph 36, Ms S recorded:
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        “More recently, A remembered conflict between her mother and stepfather. She shared, “Mum is scared to buy things and she didn’t go out much with me.” A said, “Me, I was scared of him … (but) … I don’t remember him hitting me … if I broke something, he would threaten to burn my arm or something.”

      9. At paragraph 37, Ms S recorded:
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        “When asked, A shared, “I don’t think he (Mr Edmonson) should see her … he might hurt her … he says he loves her … but he said he loved me.” In a non-convincing manner, A offered, “he left bruises on my back and everywhere”. A said, “I’m scared he will kidnap her or kill her is the worst”. Her expressed view seemed tainted with an element of catastrophising.”

      10. Under her heading “Evaluation”, Ms S referred to the supervised time following psychiatric assessment and that consistently no concerns had arisen with regards to the relationship between the father and X. Ms S went on at paragraph 39 to say:
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        “If X’s relationship with her father is to continue and to develop and extend then they need opportunities to spend time together in a naturally occurring manner. Unsupervised time is recommended. While Ms Edmonson’s concerns are noted, X did not present as fearful of her father and there is no clear evidence to suggest that X is at an unacceptable risk of harm in her father’s unsupervised care. In the absence of clearly identifiable risk, there is no benefit of supporting a continuation of supervised time. A resumption of time that occurs in a graduated manner is supported. This will assist X to develop increasing trust while spending time with her father.

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An immediate introduction of unsupervised time with X that increases over a period of perhaps six months is supported. X would likely manage time with her father for four to six hours one day on the weekend each week for one month. Time could increase to six to eight hours on alternate weekends on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am till 4 – 6 pm for one month and then introduce overnight time on alternate weekends. X should continue to attend counselling to assist her to manage the changed arrangements.”

  1. I note that Ms S referred to the ongoing criminal proceedings and the fact that the outcome might require a review of the recommendations made. Ms S also said at paragraph 42:
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    “It is preferable that the parents share parental responsibilities and that X experiences both of them seeking to be involved in her future care and upbringing. However, it is suggested that caution be exercised before supporting Mr Edmonson’s involvement in X’s schooling and education. A review of X’s experience and assessment of the parents’ compliance and the appropriateness of the arrangements may be required in six to eight months. Changes relating to an increase in time and parental responsibilities could then be made to take into account X’s needs and interests.”

  2. Ms S went on to recommend that the issue of parental responsibility should be deferred, that X live with her mother and that an immediate introduction of unsupervised time occur (a regime for this was set out).


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