Smack, and lose your child

By TAMARA KEMP

A 39-YEAR-old man sits in his Rockhampton unit with his head buried in his hands.

It has been 10 months since he lost custody of his 12-year-old son.

He is allowed to visit him once a week ? and only in the company of a Department of Child Safety officer.

Photographs of his son collaged on his fridge remind him of the relationship they had.

With no secure job, the man, whose name has been suppressed to conceal the boy's identity, waits for the day he and his son will be reunited.

"Since my son has been with the department, he has gone out of control,'' he said.

"Now the department is asking me for parenting tips.

"I tried to stop all this before it happened, I was only doing what any parent would do.''

The father pleaded guilty to smacking the boy with a belt in Rockhampton Magistrates Court in September last year.

He said he had lost his son for at least two years and there were no guarantees he would get him back from Family Services foster care.

He was placed on 12 months' probation under which he was to attend an anger management and parenting course.

But he said yesterday he had not done this because the courses were not available.

He said he would gladly meet all the probation requirements if he was able to do so.

In the meantime he said he had heard stories that his son had threatened carers, been suspended from school and damaged property.

"What can you do when you have no control? You're banging your head up against a brick wall.

"We both want to end this,'' he said.

"Every time I see him, all I can think is 'I love him'.''

The son's paternal grandmother, whose name has also been suppressed to conceal the identity of the child, said the system had failed them.

"I thought welfare were here to help people and children,'' she said in anger.

"As grandparents, we miss him. I'd like to see him back with his father, if that's what he wants.''

She said there was a "huge'' difference between a smack and assault.

A Department of Child Safety spokesman said yesterday the de- partment did not take children into care lightly.

"The way a child has been treated often means they already have behaviour problems prior to the department's involvement,'' he said. "Children in care with behaviour problems have access to a number of therapeutic programs and support services.

"In taking a child into care, the department has to seek a Children's Court order at a hearing at which all parties can present information.



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