July 18, 2024

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Missing Phillips family: Children may suffer health issues on their return, psychologist says

3 min read
Ember, Maverick and Jayda Phillips

Ember, Maverick and Jayda Phillips who went missing with their father Tom Phillips two and a half years ago.
Photo: Supplied / NZ police

A psychologist says the three Marokopa children taken by their fugitive father could suffer medical and psychological issues on their return.

There’s an $80,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Maverick, Ember, and Jayda, who went missing with their father Tom Phillips two-and-a-half years ago.

California psychologist Dr Rebecca Bailey has extensive experience in abductions and told Checkpoint there can be lasting consequences for children in these cases.

“I think it’s very important that we do understand that family abduction has tremendous consequences emotionally for children and others.”

Its impact is often minimised but whether a child was abducted by a family member or a stranger “it’s still being ripped out of a predictable world into a different world”, she said.

For children who had been abducted there were concerns around medical issues, education, where they were living and what they had been told by the person who took them, she said.

Sometimes children who were abducted had been told all sorts of lies about the parent they were taken from, such as that the parent had died or that the parent did not care about them and was not looking for them, she said.

“I’ve worked with a number of parents where there has been a familial abduction and often there is a story about why the parent left and until there’s other eyes on the story nobody can validate or refute the story in itself and so the kids can get a very distorted version of reality.”

The person who abducted the children will often give them a distorted version of the other parent, she said.

“The children will be told the parent doesn’t love them, the parent is a bad person, very often the parent is deceased.”

The abductor might then tell the children that if they returned they would be separated and would never see the person again, she said.

The children may have also been told that the other parent did not care about them, was not looking for them, she said.

“Sometimes one of the first things that has to happen when they’re returned also is that there needs to be proof that that other parent was indeed looking [for them].”

It could be traumatic for children, particularly younger children, to be returned to ‘normal life’, she said.

“They will often feel like they’re being ripped out of the life they know and that they’re again being re-abducted.”

But given Dr Bailey said in her experience after working with 18 families in abduction situations it could be easier than one would think.

“If there’s a trusted family member, or a trusted friend, if there’s some concrete data to refute what was told.”

But even then it was not easy, she said.

“It’s a painful experience for a child either way and they get in a terrible loyalty bind, they often do come back with medical issues, some psychological issues, often substandard education.”

It was also important to remember that there were three children with three different personalities involved in this abduction, so they would not all necessarily feel and react the same way, she said.

Dr Bailey said that people who helped abductors to keep the children hidden may have bought in to the abductor’s story and be seeing things in black and white.

“Life is not black and white and when a parent takes a child they are often seeing one colour only.

“If any of your listeners know anything about this just for the sake of the children understand there’s very likely to be another narrative connected,” she said.

It was important to ascertain that the children were doing all right, she said.

“I do believe very firmly that it is child abuse, I do.”

The $80,000 reward police have offered expires on Tuesday.

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