Evaluation of the B.C. Family Maintenance Enforcement Program's Pilot Outreach Project

2004-FCY-4E

5.0 EVALUATION FINDINGS

5.1 Assessment of Client Meetings by Family Justice Counsellors

Two evaluation strategies were used to address the effectiveness and impact of Client Meetings. These consisted of 1) a telephone survey of Family Justice Counsellors, and 2) a post meeting survey of clients attending Client Meetings. Section 5.1 presents the results of the Family Justice Counsellor survey; Section 5.2 presents the findings of the client survey.

5.1.1 Number of Family Justice Counsellors Participating in the Survey

Twenty-four (71 percent) Family Justice Counsellors (FJCs) were randomly selected from a list of 34 current Family Justice Counsellors. The highest proportion of Family Justice respondents (23 percent) participating in the research were from the Family Justice Centre on Commercial Drive (Vancouver).

5.1.2 Issues Addressed in the Family Justice Counsellor Telephone Survey

The FJC Telephone Survey explored the following issues:

  • Approximate number of payors and recipients referred to the Client Meetings by the Family Justice Counsellors;
  • Criteria used by Family Justice Counsellors for screening and referral of payors and recipients;
  • The type of payor and recipient needs requiring a referral;
  • The helpfulness and benefits of the Client Meetings to recipients, payors and Family Justice Counsellors;
  • Barriers to service experienced by payors;
  • Limitations of the Client Meetings and ways these could be addressed;
  • Whether, and the degree to which, the Client Meetings enhance the comprehensiveness of services delivered by the Family Justice Centres.

5.1.3 Level of Referrals Made by Family Justice Counsellors

There are a greater proportion of payors than recipients referred to the Client Meetings by the Family Justice Centres. While all Family Justice Counsellors had made referrals of payors, only 71 percent (17/24) had made recipient referrals. The average number of payor referrals made per month was 4.9. In comparison, the average number of recipients referred per counsellor was low (averaging 1.3 clients per month).

5.1.4 Screening and Referral Criteria Used by Family Justice Counsellors to Refer Payors and Recipients

Family Justice Counsellors are the main referral source for Client Meetings. Some referrals are also made by FMEP Enforcement Officers, the Court Registry, Duty Counsel, and the Ministry of Human Resources. Referrals are also made from among walk-in clients.

Although the FJCs have no specific written referral criteria on which to base referrals, 92 percent identified general criteria that they used to determine whether a payor referral would be made. Criteria covered two main areas of service need: payors enrolled in the FMEP with specific maintenance enforcement issues and payors with broader issues or concerns who had been unsuccessful in communicating effectively with the FMEP by telephone. Over half the FJCs said that they often referred payors who had found telephone contact with the FMEP to be “frustrating and unsatisfying.”

Table 4 Reasons for Referrals of Payors to Client Meetings

Reasons for Referral Number
Reporting *
(N = 22)
Payor has issues related to the amount or processing of payments. 11
Payor is frustrated and unable to resolve issues through telephone contact. 11
Payor has specific information issues (e.g. needs copy of order). 8
Case details complex and beyond expertise of FJCs. 4
Payor needs information about enforcement mechanisms. 3
Payor does not understand the system of maintenance enforcement. 3
Payor's financial circumstances have changed. 2
Payor is motivated to resolve issues related to payments. 2
Court action pending. 1
Screen out history of violence. 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

Only 57 percent (12 out of 21 FJCs who responded to this question) of Family Justice Counsellors said they had specific criteria in mind when determining the referral of a recipient of maintenance to a Client Meeting. The most common reason was the recipient’s inability to resolve issues or acquire information through telephone contact with the FMEP.

Table 5 Reasons for Referrals of Recipients to Client Meetings

Screening Criteria Number of FJCs Reporting*
(N = 17)
Recipient cannot resolve problems through telephone contact. 7
Recipient requires information on the status of arrears. 3
Complex case or maintenance order. 2
Recipient wishes to negotiate with payor around arrears. 2
Recipient reports violence in relationship. 2
Recipient requires basic information about maintenance enforcement. 1
Recipient has information to share with the FMEP about case. 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

5.1.5 Client Needs

Family Justice Counsellors were asked to identify the most common needs of payors in relation to maintenance enforcement.

Client frustration over contact with the FMEP and the need to establish more personal contact were the major issues identified by half of the Family Justice Counsellors. Twenty-five percent of FJCs (6/24) noted that payors wished to make payments or resolve issues around payments.

Table 6 Payor Needs Identified by Family Justice Counsellors

Payor Needs Number of FJCs Reporting*
(N=24)
Payor frustrated by attempts to solve problems through telephone contact with the FMEP. 12
Payor unable to make payments. 12
Payor wants to change payment arrangements. 8
Payor lacks understanding of FMEP mandate and process. 8
Payor lacks information related to specific enforcement actions and process. 8
Payor needs clarification regarding specific amount of arrears. 7
Payor wants to make payments. 6
Payor has severe language, skill or other barriers necessitating personal contact. 4
Payments made, not recorded. 3
Payor going to court. 1
No fixed address. 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

While some recipients feel unable to resolve problems by telephone most had specific questions about enforcement mechanisms, receipt of payments or general questions about their own role or what is expected of them by the FMEP.

Table 7 Recipient Needs Identified by Family Justice Counsellors

Recipient Needs Number of FJCs Reporting*
(N=17)
Recipient wants information on time frame of payments. 9
Recipient does not understand their role in relation to the FMEP. 7
Recipient feels unable to solve problems on telephone. 5
Recipient wants information on arrears. 4
Recipient has skill, emotional and physical barriers which limit understanding. 2
Recipient wants arrears cancelled. 1
Recipient has problems with enrollment. 1
Complex case with multiple issues. 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

5.1.6 Barriers Experienced by Payors

Eighty-three percent (20/23) of Family Justice Counsellors identified specific barriers that payors frequently face in terms of making payments or in relating to the FMEP. Fifty-eight percent of Family Justice Counsellors identified language or cultural barriers; other barriers were a low level of literacy, no employment or ability to pay and a lack of payor understanding of FMEP requirements.

Table 8 Payor Barriers Identified by Family Justice Counsellors

Barriers Identified by FJCs Number of FJCs Reporting*
(N=23)
Language or cultural barriers. 14
Literacy problems. 7
No employment affecting an ability to pay. 7
Lack of understanding of FMEP process, policies and procedures. 6
Emotional problems. 4
Limited communication skills. 3
Large debt load (usually supporting multiple families). 3
Social problems. 3
No money for legal assistance. 2
Feeling labeled as "dead beat dad." 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

5.1.7 Rating of the Quality and Value of Client Meetings

Family Justice Counsellors were asked to assess the helpfulness of the Client Meetings on several dimensions. These included:

  • The quality, accessibility and promptness of the service;
  • The ability to accommodate all client needs;
  • The value and utility of the Client Meetings for clients;
  • The value and utility of the Client Meetings for Family Justice Counsellors;
  • The degree to which the Pilot Outreach component enhanced the services of the Family Justice Centres.

The Pilot Outreach Project is rated very highly by Family Justice Counsellors in terms of the quality, approach, accessibility and expertise of staff. Particularly high ratings were given for the Outreach Officer’s courteous response, professionalism and level of knowledge. Although still positive, ratings were somewhat less positive for promptness of service (most clients have to wait at least two weeks for a meeting because of the number of sites visited by the Outreach Officer) and least positive in terms of providing resolution to some specific client needs.

Table 9 Rating of Client Meetings by Family Justice Counsellors

Rating Item Number of FJCs Reporting 1-2-3
Low
4-5
Medium
6-7
High
Average Rating
Pilot Outreach Project staff are accessible and easy to contact. 24     24 6.87
Pilot Outreach Project staff are courteous and professional. 24     24 7.0
Pilot Outreach Project staff are knowledgeable and well informed. 24     24 6.96
Clients receive assistance promptly from Pilot Outreach Project staff. 22   4 18 6.31
The Pilot Outreach Project addresses all client needs related to maintenance and enforcement. 22   11 11 5.68
Information to clients assists Family Justice Centre service delivery. 24   3 21 6.41
The presence of the Pilot Outreach Project on the Family Justice Centre site has increased understanding of FMEP policies and processes. 24     24 6.79

These data suggest that there is concern that the Client Meeting is not able to resolve some client needs. In fact, the Outreach Officer’s role is primarily to provide information, suggest steps to resolve problems or make referrals to other resources. This may not result in the immediate resolution of the client’s problem.

Family Justice Counsellors are strongly of the view that the presence of the Outreach Officer at the Family Justice Centres has increased FJC understanding of FMEP policies and processes. In a response to a direct question, “Did you feel services provided by the Pilot Outreach Project enhanced the services provided by Family Justice Centres?” all respondents said yes. Half of the FJCs noted that the presence of FMEP on-site allowed the FJCs to offer a comprehensive set of related services to clients in one location. According to the FJCs, more comprehensive service provision reduces client frustration and stress.

Family Justice Counsellors believe that the information provided by the Outreach Officer is valuable to clients and their own staff.

“It’s a wonderful resource. She answers all of my questions immediately.”

“Her presence has increased our understanding of FMEP.”

The sharing of maintenance enforcement and case information, together with a unified approach to cases, leads to improved planning for clients. The service is experienced as integrated by clients who in the past may have seen the FMEP as a “negative” service within the family justice system.

Family Justice Counsellors also noted that personal client access to the FMEP at the Family Justice Centres allowed them to focus more fully on their own mandate, roles and responsibilities.

“We are able to refer quickly so have more time with other clients.”

Table 10 Ways in Which the Client Meetings Enhance the Services Provided by the Family Justice Centres

Service Enhancements Number Reporting*
(N=24)
Enable us to provide a comprehensive set of client services in one location. 12
Provides specific expertise not held by Family Justice Centre staff. 8
Excellent resource for staff dealing with related issues. 7
Increases client satisfaction and reduces stress. 5
Allows FJCs to concentrate on their own service delivery and role. 4
Enables the FMEP and FJCs to work together using a team approach. 4
Improves payments to recipient. 2
Helps resolve client problems without going to court. 1

*Respondents provided more than one answer.

5.1.8 Most Important Benefits of the Client Meetings

Family Justice Counsellor respondents were asked to identify the most important benefits of Client Meetings. There was a strong consensus that access to a personal, face to face meeting that provides specific case related information and recommendations in a respectful environment are the most important benefits of the meetings. Having an expert available who is focussed on a specific problem area, and who provides clients with concrete steps to address the problem, is seen as invaluable.

The Outreach Officer is described as empathetic, supportive, helpful and focused. The responsive tone of the Client Meetings provides a constructive environment within which to address client issues.

“Clients feel like someone cares, listens and is offering help.”

“It’s an opportunity for payors to have their story heard, listened to and treated with respect and to be offered options that can work for them.”

“Clients get a good understanding of what they have to do.”

Family Justice Counsellors also noted that the Client Meetings help in diffusing the anger and frustration that payors sometimes feel towards the FMEP that is counter-productive to resolving payment problems.

“It diminishes the anxiety and anger of clients who often hate the process and the FMEP even before they begin.”

Table 11 Benefits of Client Meetings to Clients (As Assessed by FJCs)

Benefits to Clients Number of FJCs Reporting*
(N=24)
Direct face to face contact provides better mechanism for problem solving. 19
Allows for specific focus on client problem or case. 10
Clients given specific information and steps to address problem. 10
Quality of staff (empathetic, supportive, respectful and non-authoritarian) enhances problem solving. 10
Client feels someone cares, is listening and offering help. 9
Defuses anger and anxiety clients commonly experience when dealing with the FMEP. 5
Clients get specific information on status (e.g. arrears, need to vary an order). 2
Efficient, time saving. 2
Verbal information better for clients with literacy problems. 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

5.1.9 Benefits of Client Meetings to Family Justice Centres

Family Justice Counsellors were also asked to describe how Client Meetings had benefited them. The most frequent comment was that direct access to the Outreach Officer had increased their own knowledge and understanding of the role and mandate of the FMEP and maintenance enforcement policies and procedures. A second benefit was the increased capacity of the Family Justice Centres to offer a more comprehensive and related set of services to clients. Finally, FJCs noted that a referral to the Outreach Officer was always an effective referral and one that could be relied on to provide assistance to clients.

“We have confidence in knowing we can refer clients and that they will receive excellent service.”

“It allows us to terminate contact with clients in a positive way, knowing the Outreach Officer will do the work.”

Table 12 Benefits of Client Meetings to Family Justice Counsellors

Benefits to Family Justice Counsellors Number Reporting*
N=24
Excellent source of information about the FMEP and maintenance enforcement. 12
Increases the ability of Family Justice Counsellors to assist clients. 11
High level of confidence in referral. 10
Streamlines service. 3
Reduces caseload. 2
Increases mutual respect and teamwork. 2
Provides a service for clients who do not handle telephone contact well. 2
Avoids going to court. 1
Able to handle complex cases. 1
Reduces client anger. 1

* Respondents provided more than one answer.

5.1.10 Limitations of Client Meetings and Strategies to Address Limitations

Family Justice Counsellors were asked to identify limitations of the Client Meetings in terms of clients or the Family Justice Centres. There was strong consensus that the Client Meetings and access to the Pilot Outreach Project Officer on-site were extremely valuable. Half of the FJCs expressed concern about the limited availability of the service. There is only one Outreach Officer and she has other responsibilities in addition to Client Meetings. Appointments at the Family Justice Centres typically occur no more than two times a month.

“We’d like more contact. It could be expanded. There is just one person covering a large area.”

“I’d like to refer more people to her, so that it becomes standard practice instead of a problem situation.”

Family Justice Counsellors recommended that Pilot Outreach Project staff be placed into the high volume Family Justice Centres on a permanent part-time basis. Others recommended that all Family Justice Centres (including New Westminster, Richmond, Langley) receive regular visits from the Outreach Officer.

A third recommendation was that there be more sharing of FMEP case information with Family Justice Counsellors. This would provide background to FJCs, which could be helpful in providing client services.

“We’d like more access to FMEP client records and data bases as it is difficult to prepare background information without this information.”

Several Family Justice Counsellors recommended that FJCs be assigned a code to allow counsellors “read only” access to client files.[2]

A final recommendation made by Family Justice Counsellors was that the Pilot Outreach Project take the lead in developing a broader set of education initiatives specifically oriented to payors. Topics could include methods and processes to vary Supreme Court maintenance orders, general information and assistance on completing court related documents and information on strategies for avoiding court.

5.1.11 Overall Assessment of the Pilot Outreach Project by Family Justice Counsellors

There is very strong consensus on the part of Family Justice Counsellors that the Client Meeting component of the Pilot Outreach Project is an effective initiative that is valuable to both Family Justice Centre staff and to clients. The effectiveness of the project is considered to be due, in large part, to the personal qualities of the Outreach Officer.

“The Project is extremely successful. It far succeeded (exceeded) my expectations.”

“The Outreach Officer IS the program. She is the right person to deal with angry, belligerent clients.”

Family Justice Counsellors emphasized that the quality and expertise of staff, the face to face aspect of the meeting, the practical problem-solving approach and responsiveness to FJC information needs were the most valuable features of the program.

Family Justice Counsellors also believe that the Pilot Outreach Project had helped change the reputation of the FMEP among other family justice partners. As well as being a source of relevant and practical information, the Outreach Officer was seen to be responsive to client issues and receptive to FJC concerns.

“We’re working as a team now—instead of us, ‘the good guys,’ and the FMEP, the ‘bad guys.’”

“There is a definite need for the service because clients’ biggest frustration is a lack of ability to get in touch with the FMEP. With the Outreach Officer, the FMEP is not JUST a collection agency.”

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