An Ontario expert familiar with parental abduction cases speaks about how children are emotionally damaged by these incidents and relates two stories of children who were found in Toronto.
Terry Smith, Program Administration for Child Find Ontario, discussed the last side effects on children who have been abducted by a parent during a phone interview. She stressed first and foremost that parental abduction is a crime.
"In almost all cases a child is not abducted for the good of the child. Those cases are extremely rare. We have systems in place for when a child is in danger from another parent. Taking the law into your own hands is never the right way to go."
Smith said that for the most part parents who may not get along still do a wonderful job of co-parenting because they put the best interest of their children above all else.
Sometimes there are issues that need to be addressed which are by use of the systems that are in place. There may be reasons that the courts limit visitations for instance that a parent wants to change. By using the court system parents can work to give their children their best.
"Parents may not always like the answers but the systems are managed by people who are without an emotional stake allowing them to work for what is in the best interest of the child. The system works. In the rare cases that it doesn't work parents need to challenge the system. Instead of abducting a child a good parent will come up with an idea to make the system work better. By and large co-parenting even without liking the former spouse is being done wonderfully every day."
It's when a parent oversteps those systems, taking off with their child that everything falls apart.
Abducting ones own child is a crime. Still the public, media and even some law authorities view parental abduction as a 'soft crime' placing the bigger fears with stranger abductions. It is not often stressed the seriousness of parental abduction. The scars left on the child in these cases are not visible so they tend to be overlooked.
"When found kids can do wonderfully when they are helped. The children need to have support though in order to thrive and realize that they are not at fault."
While most parental abductions do not end violently some do. Changing the public's perspective of parental abduction is needed in order for more of these children to be found more quickly. The longer a child is on the run the more emotional damage there is and the longer it takes for the child to become a 'real kid' again when they are found.
"When one person jumps out of line is when it goes wrong. When they feel that they are above the law their kids will suffer. Parental abduction has serious side effects on the children. Trust, identity, living a lie, everything they knew of their life is gone, having to choose one parent over another-these add up on the overall toll to the child."
When a parent makes the decision to abduct their child they tend to not be considering their child's best interest but rather their own. Being pulled away from the world a child knows has lasting effects. Kids who have been found and reunited with their other parent have said that they felt alone and isolated, betrayed by their parents and most damaging of all felt that they were in some way responsible for their parents actions. The Victims of Violence website states that the child victim is often depressed, has a loss of community and stability, anger, loneliness, helplessness and a fear of abandonment. Some of the children have experienced Reactive Attachment Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Overanxious Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Disruptive Behaviour Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, eating disorders, learning disorders, regression and elimination disorders, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result of their time on the run.
Smith said that these children have to deal with a huge internal tug of war. While there are few cases in Canada where children taken in parental abductions have been murdered there are a few. One case that Smith related dealt with a man who was angry at his ex and took their daughter in Toronto. He had threatened to kill both himself and the child. The man threw the girl off an overpass and then jumped. The child survived, the father did not. Regardless when a parent is abducting their child they are "not running on all cylinders" Smith said.
Smith said that when children are found they can thrive. She related two stories about children who were found that live in the Greater Toronto Area.
"One little boy that has been taken when he was four spent four years on the run. He had never been to school or a doctor. Today he is thriving. His father made sure that he had the help and support he needed to go on." Smith continued, "Another girl had been found after thirteen years. When a child has been missing for such a long period of time they are really strangers to their parents and visa versa. While there were many adjustments that had to be made she is doing okay today."
There is one time that it is wise to take your child and 'run.' If you are in an abusive relationship going to a shelter is the safe thing to do. This is legal and in the best interest of both you and your child. This is not parental abduction.
"This is a safety issue. Go through the proper legal systems. If you are in danger then get help. Go to a shelter or contact the police. If you don't think the police will be of help then tell someone like your doctor, your child's teacher or a school employee about your situation. Above all learn your legal rights."