«Best Practices at Family Justice System Entry Points: Needs of Users and Responses of Workers in the Justice System CONSULTATION PAPER SEPTEMBER 2009 ...»
and Rural Access Project Report pointed out that although there is a legal requirement to offer services in French in Ontario in specific areas, francophone communities still faced challenges in accessing legal information and services.38 The LCO will consult with francophone communities to consider how access to family justice services in French can be improved. In short, the LCO decided to leave the project open for participation from various groups in Ontario, including Aboriginal and French speaking groups. The LCO recognizes that particular communities have particular needs.
Moreover, it recognizes that there is a great diversity within communities across the province. However, it will consider submissions from all groups and apply an intersectional analysis to better understand their needs.
Another example of recent and related work in the province is Luke’s Place report on the needs of Abused Women Unrepresented in the Family Law System.39 Luke’s Place is a centre in Oshawa that “provides professional and peer support services to women and their children free of charge in a comfortable, accessible and confidential environment.”40 In collaboration with The Denise House, an emergency shelter for abused women and their children, Luke’s Place conducted focus groups with and circulated a questionnaire to women survivors of violence who were unrepresented in family court as well as community workers, legal support workers, lawyers and judges.41 This is an interesting study for the LCO as it focuses on a particular user group included in the LCO project.
Perhaps even more than the previously mentioned projects, this study made a particular effort at focusing on users, in this case women, and making their voices heard in the report through quotes from interviews. This project’s approach to users and recommendations are in line with the LCO family justice project. It recommends, for example, developing a triage system to handle emergencies on a pro bono basis or with legal aid support; removing barriers that prevent women on legal aid certificates from retaining a lawyer they saw at a Family Law Information Centre (FLIC) or as duty counsel; developing an information sharing/communication system between family and criminal courts; developing a screening process to fast-track cases involving woman abuse and to address the issue of legal bullying; increasing the scope of FLIC services (separate waiting room for abused women, free child care, free photocopying, legal aid office in courthouse, space for community supports and services); and exploring the option of providing legal services while women access other types of services (shelter,
immigration and mental health services for example).42 These are all possibilities that the LCO will take into consideration in its own research. Like some of the initiatives mentioned above, this Report also highlights the importance of domestic violence issues within the family justice process and the fact that these issues need to be identified early in the process, dealt with rapidly and in a different manner than other cases, and responded to through a variety of services and not only family legal services.
Also related to domestic violence, the Ontario Court of Justice Criminal-Family Intersection Working Group is currently discussing the possibility of having integrated domestic violence courts (IDVC) in Ontario.43 Participants in this group include judges, lawyers, a regional Senior Justice of the Peace, a Victim/Witness Support Assistance representative and police officers. The LCO attended one of this group’s meetings in June 2009 and will follow these discussions with great interest as IDVCs provide an example of integrated service delivery and coordination beyond specific areas of the law (family, criminal and possibly immigration law) to better respond to needs of specific user groups, i.e. victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.
In addition to these initiatives, a significant number of public legal education materials
have been produced in Ontario. Existing public legal education materials include:
Community Legal Education Ontario’s (CLEO) online family law publications,44 CLEO’s six languages project,45 as well as the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General website, which contains public legal information about Ontario law including family law resources.46 Other initiatives focusing on Ontario women’s need for public legal education include: Family Law Education for Women (FLEW), which targets various audiences in terms of language and culture;47 the Ontario Women’s Justice Network (OWJN), which also includes information about family law48 and violence against women;49 and the Canadian Council for Muslim Women’s (CCMW) comparative brochures about Canadian and Muslim family law.50 Justice Harvey Brownstone also recently published a book, Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court,51 which seeks to help people understand the family justice process. In addition to these materials, Ontarians have access to the federal government website, which provides information about various topics including family violence for example.52 As the next section will explain, the better circulation of information about the family justice process is one of the possible solutions
to improve the system. It is therefore important to be aware of the materials that are already available for distribution.
Interesting work has also been done in other jurisdictions. The LCO is only at the initial stage of conducting comparative research both nationally and internationally. However, an example worth considering in relation to family justice is the British Columbia Family Justice Reform Working Group, which was created by the BC Justice Review Task Force, to facilitate “ongoing collaboration between government, the judiciary and lawyers, working together to help make the justice system more responsive, accessible and cost-effective”.53 There are interesting examples of innovative service delivery models in the United States, including one-stop-shopping family courts with full-time therapists on site54 and a marriage license fee reduction upon completion of a premarital preparation course.55 The Australia-based study “Working on their Relationships: a study of inter-professional practices in a changing family law system” is another example that provides helpful insight into the necessary elements to foster true and effective interdisciplinary collaboration in the area of family justice.56 This is the kind of research that will supplement Ontario focused research and consultations. The LCO will continue inquiring into research and initiatives in other jurisdictions to find possible models that may apply to Ontario. Findings from comparative research will appear in the LCO final report during phase 3 of this project.
V. POSSIBLE RESPONSES
Many possible solutions have already been mentioned in previous sections of this paper.
Better information circulation, referrals and coordination across disciplines appear to be key elements of effective early intervention. Integrated service delivery models, service hubs or one-stop-shops were also mentioned as possible ways of integrating these key elements.57 The more human aspects involved in community building, fostering new interdisciplinary relationships and enabling cross-cultural exchanges were also discussed as significant factors without which collaboration cannot work. In that regard,
social work scholarship provides insight into the meaning of collaboration:
The term collaboration is used in two ways. The common meaning of the word, reflecting its Latin roots, is that of ‘working together’. In the literature on human services organisations and inter-organisational relations,
collaboration also has a more specific meaning, that of the formal joining of structures and processes between organisations. It is part of a spectrum ranging from the informal to the formal, beginning with cooperation (as in informal information exchange), through coordination (as in development of formal protocols) to collaboration and ultimately, integration, which involves the formation of new organizational structures….
Improving the family justice system’s early intervention capacity will likely involve a commitment to better collaboration. It may also require a transformation in the way Ontarians approach family challenges and problems. These are elements to consider in thinking about possible solutions.
The possible solutions mentioned in this paper involve both informal and formal rules.
Some involve legal procedural issues, professional responsibility issues or additional regulation of certain workers’ services. Others involve, for workers, more socializing with workers from other disciplines, and for users, having the courage to confront family challenges as soon as they arise. Solutions may also be mandatory or optional, in the case of information sessions and mediation services for example. In addition, solutions may require the use of different technologies to respond to different users’ needs.
Finally, time and resources also determine what solutions can realistically be implemented.
With these possible responses and implementation considerations in mind, the LCO looks forward to receiving feedback from users and workers on what responses may work for them. The LCO is interested in hearing participants’ views about short, medium and long term responses that may be implemented to improve the family justice system.
It is also interested in hearing about what current practices in Ontario could be considered great examples for the rest of the province. Although the LCO will examine systemic issues related to the allocation of resources, it will also explore solutions that may be implemented with resources currently allocated to the family justice process.
VI. CONSULTATION QUESTIONS
This section includes questions that you may consider in your submission to or conversation with the LCO. Questions are designed for users, workers or both, and are intended to be a guide for providing feedback. You do not need to answer all the questions and you may wish to provide your comments without reference to these specific questions. Organizations and academics are also invited to comment on themes included in the user and worker sections. If you have questions about this section, please contact the Project Head whose contact information is included in the last section of this paper.
A. Users Tell us Your Story Can you tell us the beginning of your story, from the point when you realized that you had a family challenge or problem and wanted external help, to the moment when you came in contact with someone who provided you with help (inside or outside of the family law justice system)?
If you felt blocked in the process and couldn’t receive any help, you can also tell us this story.
You may also trace your story backwards, from the moment you came into contact with a family justice worker back to the beginning of your family challenge or problem.
Imagining a Different Scenario If you had to redo everything again, what would you do again, do differently or never do again at the beginning of the process of solving your family challenge or problem?
What would your story have looked like if you had had access to the services you were looking for?
Your Resources Who was the most helpful person in terms of helping you resolve your family challenge or problem? (This person may or may not be a family justice system worker.)
When it comes to receiving family justice services, do you have specific needs related to your group identity, ability, geographical location or experience of migrating to Canada?
What did you NOT know before or during your relationship, parenting experience or overall family experience that may have helped prevent family challenges or problems?
Assuming that not everyone prefers or is in a position to receive services in the same way, how do you prefer receiving services in the area of family law?
What would be the most accessible entry point for you?
How important are in-person interactions for you?
Do some means of communication work better than others for you?
Are there any technologies that may help reaching out to you?
Rewriting a User’s Story If you could rewrite the story of one of your clients (or a user of the system that you have interacted with) and design the most effective way to solve the issue, what would that story be?
C. Family Law Lawyers Your Situation How would you describe your clientele from a group identity perspective (income, sex, race, age, ability, religion, etc.)?
How do your clients come to you?
What steps do you take to try to solve your client’s issue in a fast and cost effective way?
Questions for All
- Do you explore collaborative law or ADR options when appropriate?
Do you find that you have enough of an opportunity to negotiate settlements?
Do you take Legal Aid Ontario certificates?
What do you consider to be limits of the law in terms of solving family challenges or problems?
What other resources can compensate for these limits?
What should legal professionals do to avoid reinforcing these limits?
What are the worst mistakes that happen at the beginning of the family justice process?
How can we avoid these mistakes?
D. Questions for All Information Circulation Should free information sessions be mandatory before entering into a marriage or cohabitation contract?
Should court-based information sessions, such as Parent Information Sessions be mandatory before any parent starts legal procedures across Ontario?
If they remain voluntary, who could/should refer clients to these information sessions so that they are not underused?
How should these sessions be advertised so that users learn about them?