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Wolffe warns about breakdown of family unit

Senior Magistrate Juan Wolffe has expressed serious concern at the rising levels of domestic violence and child care orders being dealt with in the islands courts.

Civil cases involving child supervision and care orders rose by 26 per cent in 2016 compared to the previous year, while applications for Domestic Violence Protection Orders increased by nearly 14 per cent last year.

Mr Wolffe told The Royal Gazette the latest figures painted a worrying picture about the breakdown of the family unit in Bermuda. He also noted a rise in the number of men seeking DVPOs.

“Historically, persons who have been abused or assaulted suffer in silence,” Mr Wolffe said. “But we are seeing this trend change as more and more people are exercising their right to come to court and apply for Domestic Violence Protection Orders.

“The first part of this process requires an individual to outline their circumstances and the court will determine whether to grant an interim order if it is satisfied there is a risk of harm.

“The second hearing involves both parties. Sworn statements are taken and the parties give evidence to the court, which decides whether the order should remain in place for up to 12 months.

“We have also noticed a steady increase over the last three or four years in the number of men looking to obtain these orders against women.

“This trend is also reflected in the number of men coming forward to complain about sexual abuse, some of which may be historic.

“It's a very concerning situation. Family Court is already busy and to see an increase in these type of offences is something that needs to be looked at.”

Family Court is also responsible for making supervision and care orders in cases where children are deemed to be at risk in a family setting.

Supervision orders can impose counselling or workshop requirements on parents while the child remains at home.

However, in cases where there is grave concern over a child's health and safety, care orders can be made.

Where care orders are made the child is put into the care of the Director of Child and Family Services and could be moved to a group home, such as the Brangman Home, or a foster family.

“We are seeing an increase in both of these kind of cases,” Mr Wolffe said. “What it tells us to a large degree is that our children are under threat from parents who are not carrying out their parental responsibilities.

“We are seeing more cases where there has been a complete breakdown in not just the family unit but the parents' ability to be mothers and fathers.

“Moreover, there seems to be an increase in not just absentee fathers, but absentee mothers. Many fathers, it seems, have stepped up to the plate, but there are more and more absentee mothers now. That should cause us great concern.”

The Senior Magistrate added: “The question obviously is why we are seeing this, and it may be down to economic opportunities and other social issues.

“But I personally believe it is down to the erosion of our values as to what is right and wrong and how it is acceptable for us to behave.

“There seems to be a disconnect and we see this in family court all the time where parents are ignorant of how their behaviour has detrimental effects on their children.

“It is taxing us as a community more, and it is taxing the system more too.”

Senior Magistrate Juan Wolffe (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published February 07, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated February 07, 2017 at 6:21 am)

Wolffe warns about breakdown of family unit

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