Parent / teacher interviews are always a traumatic experience for Anastasia and this particular scheduled interview evening had all the hallmarks of being more traumatic than most. Fourteen (14) year old Prudence was becoming more difficult to manage and that quality was unlikely to have gone unnoticed by her teachers. Anastasia knew that communication with her former husband, the father of Prudence, was almost impossible in any meaningful way, so she would have to deal with the increasing demands of parenting their daughter by herself.
Anticipating a difficult Tuesday evening, Anastasia decided to attend parent teacher night without Prudence. Accordingly she organised for a change to the usual contact arrangements so Prudence could spend the evening with her father.
This was probably an evening when Prudence would have been happy not to be the centre of attention. The night had a reasonably familiar theme, insofar as the message that was being conveyed to Anastasia about Prudence was concerned. Four (4) of the six (6) teachers said that Prudence invariably did not pay attention in class and if and when she did pay attention, she rarely engaged in any of the discussion or activity being undertaken. Prudence was a student with talent, but her application, attitude, results and behaviour were noticeably deteriorating. Some meaningful intervention was necessary in the life of Prudence and it would be better to arrive sooner rather than later.
Anastasia reflected on two (2) separate incidents that had arisen in respect of Prudence. Two former friends of her father made separate complaints about him, seemingly without regard to the effect that those complaints may have on Prudence. Both women were determined to exact revenge on the father for rejecting them and apparently saw any harm to Prudence as acceptable collateral damage. When Prudence realised that some of the teaching staff at her school learned of the complaints, she could see her cocoon was cracking and the outside world was significantly more harsh than she had anticipated.
It was becoming clear to Anastasia that the totality of parenting Prudence was becoming a significant issue for Anastasia, Prudence and her teachers. Anastasia left the parent teacher interviews rather shaken by the experience and a little perplexed as to how she might deal with the increasing demands of parenting Prudence.
She thought about it on the way home and determined to ring her friend Millicent, to see if Millicent could offer any insight into her situation and perhaps even a meaningful solution. As Prudence would be spending the evening with her father, this was an ideal opportunity to have an uninterrupted conversation with Millicent about the situation.
Millicent was aware of a great deal of the history in relation to Prudence, so that did not need to be canvassed in any great detail. There was more concentration on the school parent teacher interviews and the implications that news might have for both mother and daughter.
Millicent said there was a barrister with whom she was quite friendly and he practiced in family law. She was confident that he would happily speak with Anastasia about her situation. Hopefully be able to provide some assistance for her. Millicent said she was fairly confident Daniel Soames would help, as he had done so in the past for another friend of hers.
Anastasia said, “I would be very grateful if you would organise for your barrister friend and I to get together”. Millicent said, "Leave it with me, I will contact you after I have made contact with Daniel."
Dinner and Conference
The following week Anastasia was in luck, although it would be a dinner with somewhat of a difference. Prudence was with her father, so Anastasia could meet with Millicent and Daniel to discuss her situation over dinner that Wednesday at 7:00 pm.
Daniel arrived a little before 6:50 pm Wednesday and spent the time catching up with Millicent. They did not discuss Anastasia or her situation, as there would be plenty of time for that to occur later in the evening. Happy though Millicent was to catch up with Daniel, she was getting a little concerned by 7:20 pm when Anastasia had still not shown and had not telephoned to say what was going on. Daniel did not seem to be too troubled by the development, which pleased Millicent, but she thought this behaviour was all too typical of Anastasia, no thought or regard as to how her actions might impact upon others.
On the stroke of 7:30 pm Anastasia knocked on the front door of Millicent’s home and Millicent promptly answered. Millicent invited Anastasia in and chose not to make an issue of the late arrival. She then introduced Anastasia and Daniel and set about serving dinner. Anastasia said the reason she was late was that she was finalising arrangements she had put in place to attend an audition the following day to be part of an upcoming play. She did not seem to be troubled by her lateness and she seemed to be very enthusiastic about the audition.
Anastasia said to Daniel, “Millicent has probably told you about my situation”.
Millicent responded promptly, “I have told him nothing. It was not my business to tell him. That is for you to do”.
Daniel contributed to the conversation by saying, “All I know about this is the very brief invitation I got to come to dinner and talk to you about family law issues relating to children.”
As they ate their dinner Anastasia told Daniel of her situation. Most interesting to Daniel were the two (2) relatively recent incidents involving Prudence and her father that came to light as a result of complaints made by former girlfriends of her father.
Daniel said to Anastasia, “These women were determined to exact some revenge on the father. Do you know what it was he allegedly did in respect of them?”
Anastasia said “No.”
Daniel continued, “These complaints were apparently made with little regard to the effect that they may have on Prudence. I also doubt this will have escaped the notice of those who teach Prudence at her school. This will be anything but a secret now, I expect.”
Daniel continued, “We could go on all night, but your real problem is twofold:
• You do not have orders under the Family Law Act regulating the residence of and contact with your daughter; and
• The nature of the complaints about her father are such as to seriously peak the interest of the Department of Children’s Services.
If that Department takes a serious interest in you and you continue to not have any orders under the Family Law Act, you may very well find the Department of Children’s Services makes an application to the Court to be the guardian of Prudence, at least whilst they continue their investigation into her well-being. The implication of such an order for you is that Prudence would be placed into foster care for the duration of that order and for all intents and purposes, there is nothing you could do about it.”
Anastasia seemed very surprised to hear that advice.
Daniel said, “Anastasia I know a solicitor who can help you. I have worked with him on many occasions previously and I will endeavour to speak with to him tomorrow, so that he is aware of you, should you choose to seek his assistance. For the sake of completeness I am happy to continue assisting you, but you will need to retain a solicitor.”
“Given what has transpired this evening, it is probably best I leave now and you can continue to discuss your situation with Millicent if you wish. I am not going to tell you anything new, I am just going to repeat the advice I have already given you. I accept that it is rather confronting, so it is best that I do not add to your pain by giving you more information than you can cope with in one sitting. I will telephone Millicent tomorrow and she can let me know if you have made any decisions as to what you want to do.”
Daniel then said goodbye and left them to discuss the Anastasia situation amongst themselves.
The following afternoon Millicent rang Daniel at his chambers and thanked him for attending the previous evening and advising Anastasia.
Millicent said, “It was probably a good move on your part to leave when you did, because Anastasia seemed to be struggling to come to grips with all that you said to her. She seemed to be better able to process information this morning. However it did not stop her from attending the audition.”
Daniel said, “Oh yes, the audition. Anastasia is not going to do anything about her daughter. Her focus will be on the play and she will hope the other business will all go away.”
Millicent said, “Surely not.”
“Sadly yes”, Daniel said, “I have seen this all before. Still it was a very pleasant dinner, so all was not lost. Perhaps you know your friend better than me, but I would be very surprised if I ever hear from her again. I know she is your friend, so with that in mind I say this to you, hope springs eternal.”
Three weeks after Anastasia met with Millicent and Daniel, Prudence got into another serious physical altercation at school. The two girls had to be separated by a teacher, Mrs Duckworth. Happenstance was not kind to Prudence and Mrs Duckworth was a poor choice if Prudence wanted to stay under the radar. Mrs Duckworth told both girls that their behaviour was not acceptable. Further it was not the first time she had had to speak to the girls about their behaviour. She then took them to the Principal.
Mrs Duckworth then contacted the Department of Children’s Services and reported the incident. She also reported the continuing misbehaviour of Prudence, as she felt she was obliged to do.
As a result of that complaint a file was opened and allocated to a field officer within the Department of Children’s Services. An investigation was then commenced in respect of Prudence. Ultimately that investigation lead to the Department making an application to be the guardian or carer for Prudence for six (6) months and an order made for her to be put into foster care.
About two (2) months after the fight incident that led Mrs Duckworth to contact the Department of Children’s Services, Anastasia received a telephone call from Prudence. Prudence was very distressed as she told her mother that officers from the Department of Children’s Services were at the school. They told her they were taking her into foster care that day. Prudence asked her mother to come to the school immediately.
Anastasia was in shock. She became distressed herself. However she made arrangements to go immediately to see Prudence at her school and try to work out what was going on. As she drove to the school she telephoned Millicent to share what had transpired. She hoped that Millicent could offer a solution. When Millicent heard the news, she said she would telephone Daniel and see if he could offer any assistance.
Once Anastasia arrived at the school she had a conversation with the officers from the Department of Children’s Services and the School Principal. It was clear that she would not be able to persuade the departmental officers to change their mind by herself. She asked if they would speak to Daniel. They agreed to do so. Anastasia rang Millicent and begged her to get Daniel to ring Anastasia on her mobile telephone, so these developments could be explained to him and perhaps he could solve it or figure something out. Millicent said she would try, but she could not guarantee Daniel would be available, nor could she guarantee that he would be in a position to do anything to help. Anastasia said she would be grateful for any help.
Within five (5) minutes Daniel telephoned Anastasia. She endeavoured to explain to him what had transpired. She then handed the telephone to the senior officer from the Department of Children’s Services. The officer explained the situation to Daniel and at the conclusion of the conversation, the telephone was given back to Anastasia.
Daniel told Anastasia, “The department officers were entitled to do what they were doing. In the very near future there would be a court hearing to determine if the current order they hold in respect of Prudence would need to be extended.”
By that stage preparations were clearly being made by the officers of the Department of Children’s Services to leave the school with Prudence. Prudence was in tears and kept saying she did not want to go with the officers of the Department Children’s Services. Her requests seemingly fell on deaf ears, because they had no impact on the departmental officers doing their job.
Anastasia was also in tears and pleading with the departmental officers, “Do not take my daughter away from me.”
The departmental officers continued to escort Prudence from the premises.
As she followed the departmental officers and Prudence out of the school grounds and into the car park, Anastasia continued to sob and she pleaded with the departmental officers, “Do not take my daughter away from me.”
Prudence was placed in the motor vehicle with the departmental officers and they drove away.
By that stage Anastasia had fallen to the ground and was sobbing and screaming, “Do not take my daughter away from me.” Anastasia screamed in vain.