'My son went to daycare. When I went to pick him up, he was already gone.'

This story discusses domestic abuse. 

I've been rattled to my core ever since hearing about the recent Lismore case — the two-year-old boy who died at the hands of his father during a custody visit. A man who had a history of domestic violence.

It is a single mother’s worst fear that something might happen during visitation or custody time, especially when domestic violence or AVOs are involved.

It is a fear that plagues me, especially after what happened to me a year ago. 

On that day, I went to the daycare, like I did every single day, after work to pick up my son — but he was already gone. I found out he had been picked up by his father not long after I dropped him off that morning.

Watch: Can you spot the red flags of domestic violence? Article continues after the video. 

Video via Mamamia

Up until that point, I had always been flexible with his father picking him up from daycare, although it often irked me that he never arranged it with me beforehand — I was always just "informed" that he had picked him up.  

Despite the unsettling feeling it always gave me, I placated my ex by "allowing" him to pick my son up. It soon became clear that all these "informed" pick-ups were a precursor to something much more sinister.


As odd as it sounds, because these random pick-ups were never an issue, daycare didn’t flag that my ex had come in and taken my son on that fateful day. I'd also never thought to provide the daycare with the consent orders that outlined custody details.

I still remember how I felt when I turned up at 3.30pm that afternoon to sign my son out. The head teacher told me he'd already been picked up by his father "hours ago".

My heart dropped into my stomach.

It’s similar to the feeling you get when you momentarily lose sight of your little one in a shopping centre, but so much worse. Because although I technically knew where he was, I didn’t know where he was.

The thing that made the panic hit so much harder was the fact I had been texting his father all day discussing different matters but he did not once mention he was picking up my son or that he had had him all day.

My fears were exacerbated when I called my ex and he responded, "Daycare obviously told you he's with me, so what’s the problem? I’ll drop him back when I’m ready to."

Despite knowing where my ex lived, his block of apartments has a security door — which means there was no way for me to actually go in person to check on my son.

At this point, I genuinely had no idea what my ex was capable of. I knew he had a history of domestic violence and was quick to anger, but I also knew from previous experience that if police were involved, he was very good at being calm and acting like nothing was wrong.


Despite this, I called them anyway. I outlined our complicated history, the custody agreement and what had happened, only to be told it was a "family law matter" and that the only thing they could do was "come and take my statement".

I felt completely helpless.

After the futile call to the police, the next call I made was to my family lawyer who told me to call the police back and request a welfare check. He told me if the police conducted a welfare check and my three-year-old son told them he was happy with his dad and wanted to stay with him (what kid wouldn't want to hang out with their 'Disney Dad' who they only see once a week?), then the police would have to leave him there. 

My lawyer said if this happened, the following day we would need to approach the court to request for a retrieval order, which would take time to process and issue.

I knew this only too well - a friend of mine, whose breastfed six-month-old was taken by their father, had waited over six months for a retrieval order to be issued. This wasn’t an option I even wanted to consider.

After the call with my lawyer, I called the police back to request a welfare check. They told me what I already knew — if my son was happy and “safe”, then there was nothing they could do. I told them that I understood and that I just wanted to know my son was okay.

At this point, I had already been waiting for the police officer to take my statement for over three hours, so I texted my ex to tell him that the police had been called.


A barrage of abusive texts followed, but there was only one that I cared about: "You can pick him up now if you want."

At 7pm, three and a half hours after finding out my son wasn’t at daycare, I wasn’t waiting a minute longer.

I asked my father to escort me to pick up my son.

I'm fortunate that my story ends with my son in my arms, but some mothers, like Dr Sophie Roome, aren't so lucky.

Something needs to change. The police putting their hands up and saying these are family law matters is a narrative we’ve heard too often. And it needs to stop.

We grow up being told the police are here to protect us but we see it time and time again when they fail to do so. 

When is enough, enough?

Feature image: Canva.

If you or someone you know is at risk of violence, contact 1800 RESPECT, Safe Steps (VIC): 1800 015 188, or Full Stop Australia: 1800 385 578.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here.