Life Raft hopes to prevent suicide among fathers
AN ORGANISATION set up by an ex-truckie to help parents going through marriage breakdowns will literally go up the creek - with a paddle - soon.
Wayne Abbott said the cause was close to his heart.
He hasn't seen his daughter in 20 years since he split with her mother; not by choice but because the legal fight took too much of a toll.
"I gave up," he said.
But he didn't want to see his friend Darren Rowe give up.
So he asked his mate, who was not coping well with his own legal fight to see his daughter, if he wanted to paddle up the Brisbane River as a way to boost his spirits.
That paddle turned into a metaphor for what it's like to experience child access issues - "you feel like you're up the creek without a paddle".
And now with the help of friend Shane Hughes and one of Mr Rowe's daughters, Katrina, the passionate group has created Life Raft Aus.
Mr Abbott said the importance of what the new organisation was trying to do could be summed up by the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers' 21fathers campaign.
This campaign aims to shine a spotlight on the fact that 21 fathers every week commit suicide because of family access issues.
Mr Rowe, a truckie, admitted his own situation got him to a point where he was contemplating suicide.
"You start looking at trees and think which one am I gonna pick," he said.
"When you're going through it there's no support.
"I felt like I didn't have a say in it.
"The law is on the side of whoever has the child."
The emotional toll was apparent when Katrina, tears in her eyes, said she wasn't allowed to see her sister either.
"I've got to apply through the court to see my sister," she said.
"If it wasn't for Wayne, dad wouldn't be here."
While access issues are widespread throughout the community, both truckies said it was harder for those in their profession, as you're on a lonely road, facing the loss of your family, drained bank accounts and the possibility of losing your truck.
And Mr Abbott has experienced firsthand a truckie try and take his life at high speed by driving straight into his oncoming truck; the reason was access issues.
With Life Raft Aus they hope to help parents cope and provide much needed advice and services.
Mr Rowe said it would have helped him; he's been fighting for custody, in order to gain one supervised visit a week he's had to prove his innocence and take anger management classes.
"Family law is 30 years behind where it should be," he said.
"Decisions need to be based on facts."
He has already spent about $12,000 on solicitors and other costs so he could see his daughter, saying he had missed so much including special events like Father's Day and Christmas.
"Thousands of blokes are going through it," he said.
"It's child abuse," Mr Abbott said. "It's gotta stop."
Now the group wants to turn the original paddle idea into a rally to raise awareness and money for the cause.
Parents who can't bring their children are encouraged to bring a cardboard cut-out of them.
They're trying to get 1000 people interested to send a message to the government that legislation needs to change.
They're hoping the paddle can be held on Father's Day this year and leave from Moggill Ferry and head to Mowbray Park, allowing people to join on the way.
Mr Abbott said he hoped other organisations would get involved and support it.
Funding is needed
LIFE Raft Aus is currently trying to secure a facility where free supervised visits for children can be held.
They need funding and so far Tag Tyre Service has pledged $1000, but it's going to be a while before their dream becomes a reality.
Once Life Raft is up and running it will provide a free place where supervised visits could be facilitated.
While it's being started in Brisbane, founders hope to see a Life Raft meeting in place in every city.
"We want parental alienation recognised as child abuse," Mr Abbott said.
"Plenty of people are going through the same things. This would help kids and reduce youth crime and suicide."
Mr Abbott said people needed to think about what was best for the kids.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss my daughter. All the money being spent on solicitors could be going towards the child. We just want what's right for the kids."
A Life Raft Aus centre, set up for supervised visits complying with legal requirements.
A sponsored vehicle to pick up children and take them to and from a Life Raft centre for supervised visits. So there's no excuses for not getting to a meeting.
Courses and programs for parents to help them become better parents.
Educating the public about access issues.
Having withholding children classed as child abuse.
Changing family law so the onus is on the parent who wants to deny access to petition to disallow instead of parents who want access to have to petition.
Allowing children to have a say in how many times they see both of their parents.
Allowing children to reach out to a parent if needed.
Stoping parental, sibling and grandparent alienation.