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Families and the law – Multicultural Parent Easy Guide (English)

Most families are loving and caring and the home is a safe place. However, in some families there is violence and abuse. This is not allowed in Australia. There are laws to protect family members, and services in the community that can help. If your culture conflicts with Australian law, the law comes first.

Family violence is not acceptable in Australia. There are laws that protect family members from violence.1

Family violence

Families may argue when they don’t agree about things. However, if someone tries to scare, control, hurt or bully others, this is more than arguing. It is about power and control and is called ‘Family Violence’. Family violence can be:

  • physical - when someone hits, kicks, pushes, chokes, burns, shakes you or throws things at you or your children. They might also harm your pets
  • verbal - when they threaten, yell or swear at you, call you names or ‘put you down’
  • emotional - when they do things to scare, worry or upset you. They might drive badly when you’re in the car, follow you, break things, or come into your house when you don’t want them to
  • social - when they stop you having contact with people outside the home such as friends and family
  • financial - when they do not give you enough money to run the house, or stop you from having your own income
  • technological - when they use mobile phones, email or the Internet to harass or stalk you
  • Sexual - when you are raped or have any sexual behaviour forced on you against your will.

When people are violent in families they often blame others. Victims often blame themselves. Family violence often gets worse over time. It doesn’t go away unless the person using violence changes how they think and behave.

You need to get help if there is violence in your home.

Effects of violence on children

Babies and children are harmed by violence, even if they are not the victim. The stress affects their growing brain. Even before a baby is born, it can be affected by the mother’s stress during violence.

Violence can make children anxious. It can affect how they think and learn, and how they relate to others. They can learn that violence is how to deal with problems, or that it is normal in families.

Ways children can be affected include:

  • signs of stress such as headaches or stomach aches
  • sleeping problems, nightmares or wetting the bed
  • missing school to stay near a parent or family member who is hurt or at risk
  • not having friends or becoming withdrawn
  • being a bully at school or at home
  • not doing well at school
  • using drugs or alcohol.

Note: There may be other reasons that children behave in these ways.

Getting help if there is violence

If you are being abused

If you are scared for yourself or your children:

  • talk to someone who knows about family violence
  • talk to the Police about getting an Intervention Order. This is a legal order that stops someone from contacting you or coming near your home or work
  • contact a service that can help.

If you or your children are in immediate danger call the Police on 000.

Call the Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 800 098 for information and support.

You don’t have to be injured to get help.

If you abuse others

  • You can learn other ways to deal with your feelings. Not everyone gets violent when they are angry
  • There is never an excuse. You are the only one who can stop it
  • Talk to someone who knows about family violence
  • Contact a service that can help.

If you think you might hurt your family, leave until you are calm. Make sure children are safe first.

Call the Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 800 098 about where to get help.

Protecting children from abuse and neglect

Children have a legal right in South Australia to be cared for and protected until they are 18 years old.2 This means parents need to make sure children are safe and have:

  • a place to live
  • food and clothes
  • support and supervision
  • financial support
  • medical care when they need it.

Families SA and the Police will become involved if children are at risk of serious harm or neglect. Families SA will try to help families to care for their children. If a child is still at serious risk they can be removed from the home to keep them safe.

Leaving children home alone

Parents can be taken to court if a child is harmed from being left alone or not well supervised. The Police or Families SA can remove children from the home or other places where they are in serious danger.3

In some cultures children are cared for by older brothers and sisters. If you leave children with others, you must be sure they know what to do in a crisis.

They need to know:

  • where you are going, when you will be back and how to contact you
  • the address and phone number of your house in case they need to get help
  • to call 000 for police, fire or ambulance in an emergency.

Protecting girls from genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation is against the law.4 It is also against the law to take a child out of the country to have this done. If a girl has been harmed or is at risk it must be reported to the Child Abuse Report Line on 13 14 78.

Disciplining children

Some families hit children if they don’t behave well. Hitting children teaches them to fear you. It doesn’t help them to learn what you expect. It’s best if children are helped to learn self-discipline. You need to:

  • be a good role model. Children learn most from what they see you doing
  • show children what you want, and then praise them when they do it. It takes time for children to learn things so be patient. Repeat lessons calmly let them help to make family rules. Children as young as three can make sense of rules and have a say in making them
  • let older children help decide what will happen if they break a rule. This helps them think about consequences.

Harsh or extreme physical punishment is child abuse. It is against the law.5

Teaching children to keep safe

Parents often teach their children to be scared of strangers. While strangers can sexually abuse children, most sexual abuse is by someone the child knows and trusts.

It is important to teach children that bad behaviour from anyone is not OK. Let them know:

  • it is not OK for anyone to show them things that make them feel scared, confused, sad or angry
  • it is not OK to let people touch them in places that are covered by their underclothes, or to touch others there
  • they don’t have to keep secrets that worry them. Let them know they can talk to you at any time.

Help them to make a list of trusted adults they could tell if they are worried and you aren’t there. Tell them:

  • they won’t get into trouble for saying something is wrong
  • to stay close to friends or family when they are out, and to not go off alone
  • to not give out their details to people they don’t know. If they use the Internet or mobile phones, make sure they know how to keep safe.

Children’s education

Parents also need to make sure children get an education. The law says children must go to school from 6 years of age.6 They can start at a government school from age 5.

If parents want to, they can take children to a preschool (some with child care) from birth right up until they start school. These are good places for children to learn through play groups and early learning programs. They can get special support if they need it. Parents can get lots of information and support, meet other parents and learn about their child’s development. Talk to your local preschool, school or Children’s Centre to find out more.

Some Children’s Centres have programs for children and parents from other cultures and those who don’t speak English. They may include English lessons, play groups and cooking classes.

Children must remain in full-time education or training from 6 to 17 years of age.

Separation and divorce

The law says that a wife and husband are separated when they are living separate lives. They might still share a house if they can’t afford to live apart, or for child care reasons.

If you separate you don’t need to fill in any forms. If you get payments from Centrelink you will need to tell them.

When you’ve been apart for 12 months you can apply for a divorce. Divorce is the legal end of a marriage. The court may need a friend or relative to confirm that you have been apart for 12 months.

The Legal Services Commission can provide advice and help you fill in divorce forms.

Effects of separation on children

Separation is hard for everyone, including children. How children cope depends on their age and how parents handle it. Children need the love and support of both parents, even if they are apart. The law says:

  • both parents have a shared duty to care for their children
  • children have the right to know and be cared for by both parents
  • children have the right to spend time with parents and other people important to them.

If parents can’t agree on things like where children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent, a Family Dispute Resolution provider can help. Contact the Legal Services Commission to find one near you.

If parents still can’t agree, the Family Court can make an Order. It will decide what is in the child’s best interest. Keeping the child safe will be a top priority.7

Getting help

There are many services that can help families deal with problems, and with parenting children. Talking with a migrant service could be a good place to start. You could also talk with your local doctor.

References

1. Family Violence Act 2011; Intervention Orders (Prevent of Abuse) Act 1995; Children’s Protection Act 1993; Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935
2. Children’s Protection Act 1993
3. Children’s Protection Act 1993
4. Children’s Protection Act 1993; Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935
5. Children’s Protection Act 1993
6. Education Act 1972
7. Family Violence Act 2011

Contact

See parent information and support.