When Dave* needed help navigating the legal system so he could be reunited with his son Gabe*, Salvos Legal Humanitarian were there.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian (SLH) recently opened an office in Melbourne, at Sunshine, just in time to represent Dave in the Children’s Court in Victoria and assist him in his efforts to rebuild his family and create a home for his seven-year-old son, Gabe.
When Dave first contacted SLH he was in long-term addiction rehabilitation in Queensland. He was confused, frightened and scared about what was happening with Gabe because he was told there were court proceedings in Victoria concerning care arrangements for his son. He knew he should stay in the rehab program, but was fearful of what might happen in a courtroom at the other end of the continent.
Dave, and Gabe’s mother, Michelle, had both struggled with addictions and faced other challenges, including Michelle’s mental health issues and the family violence each of them perpetrated against the other. Dave had placed himself in a long-term addiction rehabilitation program, but while there Michelle’s mental health deteriorated and she travelled to Victoria hoping for a fresh start, taking Gabe with her.
Dave contacted SLH in Queensland after he was told there was to be a court case about Gabe, and they were able to provide him with authoritative legal advice and quality legal representation in the Children’s Court of Victoria, all without him having to discharge himself from rehab.
Deterioration in Michelle’s mental health and an assault by her new boyfriend in the presence of Gabe had led to her admission to hospital. Gabe was placed in the care of Dave’s parents in Queensland, but this could only be a short-term arrangement, and Victoria’s child protection agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had commenced proceedings in the Children’s Court to place Gabe into protective care.
SLH Melbourne was able to appear on Dave’s behalf at hearings in the Broadmeadows Children’s Court. They were also able to represent Dave at a Family Conciliation Conference and arrange his ‘attendance’ via teleconference. Evidence was presented and submissions made on Dave’s behalf at the various hearings.
While SLH helped Dave navigate these legal proceedings, he continued making big changes to his personal life. Rehabilitation was hard work, involving more than six months in a rehabilitation program, followed by living in supported accommodation. Dave stuck with the challenge as he was determined to get clean and stay that way for Gabe’s sake. Dave also attended family violence counselling, which allowed him to have more insight into his behaviour and learn how to manage it better.
Without SLH to provide advice, explanation and representation in the legal proceedings the pressure on Dave to leave rehabilitation would have been immense, and could have easily led to a relapse.
By the date of the final hearing in October 2017, Dave had recently celebrated his one-year anniversary of recovery from substance abuse and was attending ongoing support programs including Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. He’d rented a modest two-bedroom unit near Gabe’s school in Queensland and was seeing him regularly.
At the final hearing, and with the support of DHHS, SLH successfully submitted that the court make orders implementing a Family Reunification Plan—a monitored, staged return of Gabe to Dave’s full-time care.
This meant Gabe went to bed on Christmas Eve in his own room at his dad’s unit. He was so excited at the prospect of Santa’s visit that he woke up at 11.30 pm and was upset that Santa had missed him! Dave reassured him that it was not Christmas Day yet, and Gabe woke up very early the next morning—relieved and excited to see Santa had been.
Not only were they able to enjoy Christmas together, Gabe will soon be living with Dave full-time and they are headed towards a great future as father and son.
As told to Darryl Arnett at Salvos Legal Humanitarian.