Summary of Activities for the Child-centred Family Justice Fund 2003-2009

Family Justice Initiatives (Part 3)

Other Activities of Interest

Many provinces and territories also used federal funding to engage in activities that did not fit nicely into any of the above categories but that were guided by the same principles.

Nova Scotia established the Intake Assistant position to help implement and promote the child support guidelines and custody and access services. In an effort to enhance the information and public support services offered by the province, Intake Assistants provide information to the public on child support, custody and access issues and act as the entry point to the Family Division. They also coordinate a triage type of service delivery by making appropriate referrals to parent-information, conciliation or mediation services, by screening for potential violence, and by identifying services that could assist clients, such as legal aid, income assistance and transition houses. In addition, they help to determine client issues and frame court applications; outlining, they outline disclosure requirements, and they open court and computer files for new cases.

Nova Scotia hired a Program Officer to monitor and develop new family justice initiatives. Most jurisdictions employed someone in a similar position, most commonly with the title Project Co-ordinator. These individuals oversaw the activities and projects undertaken under the Fund, collected statistics, prepared proposals and reports as required by the Department of Justice, and supported the front-line workers who implemented the activities and programs. They also oversaw how the province or territory used the money they received from the Fund and concentrated on improving services wherever possible.

Ontario expanded the application of its Family Law Rules, which are specialized rules of procedure for family law cases. Since 1999, these rules have applied to family law cases in the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. Effective July 1, 2004, the application of the Rules was expanded to the Superior Court of Justice, resulting in a single set of court rules for all family trial courts.

The Rules incorporate a system of case management, a key feature of which includes a duty to manage cases expeditiously and fairly. The Rules emphasize the early resolution of cases, achieved in part through the use of conferences, including a mandatory case conference in every contested case. Cases with divorce or property claims, and all cases in the Superior Court of Justice (non-Family Court branch), are assigned to a standard track whereby cases do not come to court until one of the parties seeks a motion or a case conference. All other non-child protection cases are assigned to a fast track whereby cases are assigned a first court date when the application is filed. In these cases, on or before the first court date, court staff confirm that all necessary document have been served and filed, and refer parties to sources of information about the court process, alternatives to court, and community resources. Standard and fast-track cases must be listed for trial within 200 days or parties must arrange a case conference with a judge to plan the next steps of the case. Child protection cases follow a more detailed timeline for each step in the case with a goal of 120 days to hearing.

In Ontario, the Family Responsibility Officer (FRO) undertook a Document Processing Business Improvement Project to help streamline the paper work. The FRO scans an average of 50,000 documents each month and this number continues to grow. The project involved reviewing the scanning process and looking at implementing auto-scan fax machines to enable a fast and efficient delivery of documents directly to the case owners. This would reduce the wait time for documents.

Starting in October 2001, Manitoba operated a Brief Consultation Service Pilot Project. As part of the Court of Queen's Bench Family Division Case Management process, the Brief Consultation Service provided families, their lawyers and the court, with brief, timely consultation services regarding children's developmental issues; post-separation parenting; post-separation communication options; counselling needs; information sharing with children related to separation/divorce; scheduling issues and access options; and information/screening regarding other relevant services. The service also consulted with older children aged 11 to 16 to assess their wishes and concerns.

New Brunswick established a program called the Court-Ordered Evaluations Support Program, which provides financial assistance to qualified individuals who have been ordered by the court to have a third party custody assessment. Parties may apply individually to the Court Services Division to have help with the costs of their court-ordered evaluation. Eligible parties are still responsible for finding an appropriate evaluator, who is expected to inform court decisions about child-custody arrangements. They are issued a letter of acceptance detailing their coverage, and provided with instructions to ensure that their chosen evaluator knows how the costs are to be paid and how the billing should be distributed accordingly. The level of assistance is determined through the use of a sliding scale based on incomes. Caps are set on evaluators' hourly rates and the number of hours. Costs in excess of the coverage are the responsibility of each individual party. This program optimizes the use of available funding to help the maximum number of parents at the lowest possible administrative expense.

New-Brunswick also redesigned its Interactive Voice Response to integrate with the new Maintenance Enforcement Program computer system functionality.

Manitoba implemented an Automated Family Court Order Project, or “auto order” computer process, to eliminate traditional delays by enabling family court orders to be produced immediately after a court hearing. The new system was first implemented in the Court of Queen's Bench Master's Maintenance Enforcement Court at the end of 2007‑2008. The next phase involved releasing it to the remaining general Family Division courtrooms in Winnipeg and to external legal professionals in 2008‑2009. The project has standardized the wording of family court orders and has trained court and Family Law Branch staff to enable an auto-order courtroom to operate for the Court of Queen's Bench Master's Maintenance Enforcement Court. Using the auto-order computer system, the Family Law Branch creates a draft order using the auto-order computer system and submits it electronically into the Court Registry System. In the courtroom the clerk edits the draft order (reviewed by counsel) to reflect the Master's ruling, electronically files the edited version it in the Court Registry System and distributes it to all parties before anyone leaves the courtroom.

Similarly, Alberta introduced a Court Generated Orders (CGO) program that was designed to eliminate delays in drafting and filing orders. Its specific aim is to help those who are self-represented or who are seeking restraining orders. The program was started in Edmonton and expanded to Calgary as a result to its initial success.

Research, Evaluation and Data Collection

Research and evaluation activities were carried out at the federal, and provincial/territorial levels. The Research Sub-committee of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials—Family Justice had, representatives from every jurisdiction. This sub-committee regularly provided updates of activities in the various jurisdictions, and discussed research projects and results.

The Fund supported various provincial and territorial activities that were undertaken to address priorities of the jurisdictions and to meet the need to obtain research and evaluation evidence in order to fulfill accountability objectives. The objectives of this funding were to:

Jurisdictions were obliged to spend a minimum amount of their allocation on research and evaluation activities but they had discretion with respect to what and how research and evaluation projects were carried out. The average amount over the life of the strategy was considered, rather than what was spent in each year. This meant that major research undertakings which sought to take a longitudinal perspective could be spread across a number of years. It also enabled jurisdictions to concentrate on smaller “one-off” projects every year, or to have several in one year. Collaborating with other provinces/territories and/or with the federal Research Unit on research and evaluation activities was strongly encouraged and this led to several productive partnerships. The Sub-committee facilitated collaboration and shared project-planning and research results during their monthly discussions.

In addition to the research and evaluation activities referred to previously, activities undertaken by the provinces and territories included:

Evaluations: Several provinces and territories evaluated programs or services that they offered to the public. For example, like several other jurisdictions, Nova Scotia and Yukon evaluated projects related to their maintenance enforcement programs and to the recent implementation of Inter-jurisdictional Support Order legislation. Those evaluations sought to assess how successful the maintenance enforcement programs were in terms of getting money to those who needed it quickly, regardless of where the parties lived.

New Brunswick evaluated its Child Support Variation Service to determine the effectiveness of this pilot program and to identify what, if any, modifications should be made.

Manitoba evaluated the Court of Queen's Bench Family Division Case Management Program in Winnipeg to determine the level of success in expanding the case management of eligible new family law matters from 20 percent to 100 percent and to assess the effectiveness of court processes and procedures. Manitoba also conducted an evaluation of its new recalculation service, to determine whether the service was working efficiently and meeting its objectives.

Prince Edward Island evaluated its parent education program, Positive Parenting From Two Homes, as well as the children's program, Positive Parenting From Two Homes: “For Kids!,” to determine the effectiveness of the programs and to identify what, if any, modifications should be made.

British Columbia evaluated its Children in Mediation project, which was designed to give children a voice in the dispute-resolution process by involving them, on a carefully selected basis, in discussions with family justice counsellors.

Newfoundland and Labrador participated in a research project conducted by the Research Division of the Department of Justice Canada, concerning the impact of recalculation of child support on the rate of compliance with child support obligations.

Feasibility studies: These studies were conducted by jurisdictions to assess the potential usefulness of a variety of approaches that ranged from full programs to changes in established processes. For example, Prince Edward Island conducted feasibility studies on a case-tracking computer system for the Administrative Recalculation Office and on an automated bank reconciliation system for the Maintenance Enforcement Program.

Yukon explored the feasibility of providing a supervised access service for children whose parents had divorced or separated. They also conducted a study to examine the feasibility of creating a Child Support Recalculation Service that would meet the needs of Yukon residents. A contractor was engaged to prepare a feasibility analysis.

Nunavut completed a study on the feasibility of a voice-automated telephone system that would allow clients to get information from a toll-free number anytime they wanted, rather than having to wait for business hours and an available customer service representative.

Alberta researched the feasibility of establishing a Child Support Advance Fund to provide a limited monthly advance of maintenance to families who are in need. This fund would allow families to budget and address housing and food costs, as well as costs relating to education and child care.

The Northwest Territories conducted a feasibility study to assess the operational costs associated with creating and maintaining a database, as well as human resource costs associated with training employees and/or creating new employment positions. The survey collected data on the amounts of child and spousal support awarded, the income level of parents, the age and living arrangements of the children, special expenses and other characteristics of the orders.

Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General used a web-based index to maintain a listof people with a family-court restraining order against them. The index leveraged the police extranet to provide police access and was piloted in 1‑2 court sites to assess effectiveness. This index has provided police withan investigative tool to ensure that family law restraining orders are enforceable. It will also perform a monitoring and research-analysis function as the Court Services Division of the Ministry moves towards implementation of its long-term information technology strategy.

Client Surveys: This type of research gave service providers a sense of how the services they offered were being received and perceived by those groups being served. For example, British Columbia, Yukon, Alberta and Ontario, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island conducted surveys of payers and recipients enrolled in their respective maintenance enforcement programs. Saskatchewan conducted a survey of those who had used the facilitated Support Variation Service, and those who had used the information and resource centre. This survey collected information about client satisfaction, whether clients' knowledge of the family court system had improved and whether clients were able to keep current with their maintenance obligations.

Ontario used client surveys to obtain feedback on the court-connected mediation and information services in various Family Court locations.

Alberta used participants' surveys to obtain feedback on the Parenting After Separation (PAS) courses.

Nunavut initiated a survey to determine clients' satisfaction with its programs, to seek ways to improve implementation in the vast North, and to identify methods of working with the communities to ensure court-ordered child support is paid. The survey was mailed out and was followed up by a telephone survey of those who had not responded to the mailed survey.

Prince Edward Island hired a university student to work on a Maintenance Enforcement Program Client Satisfaction Survey Project. The objective of the project was to provide the best service delivery to clients by obtaining feedback on clients' needs and on the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

Building knowledge: The Survey of Selected Family Courts is an ongoing collaborative research endeavour that collects information on divorce and separation cases, including details about support amounts, and custody and access outcomes. Information from jurisdictions is imperative in building research capacity to monitor case characteristics, system processing and the impacts on parents and children. This is another activity that was often funded by the Child-centred Family Justice Fund as part of the Strategy.

The Fund also supported the Court File Review, which was a multi-site study involving the review of file contents to determine how parents and families move through the family justice system. Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Ontario participated in the project. A total of eight sites were visited, and two waves of data were collected in three sites. Data collected from this initiative was used to identify potential impacts of the Strategy.

The Courts Statistics Program of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in Statistics Canada has been building a national family law resource by developing and implementing a new Civil Courts Survey (CCS). This survey will eventually be able to report on the caseload of family law cases in the civil court sphere. The Courts Statistics Program is also continuing to collect data for the Maintenance Enforcement Survey (MES) on enforcement activities in Canada, while at the same time, implementing an improved survey entitled the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs. At the national level, data on family court cases and outcomes will improve knowledge of custody and access arrangements, child support awards, and family court processes and outcomes, including implications for children involved. Data on national Maintenance Enforcement Programs provide information on the extent to which families benefit from these programs, as well as compliance with support orders. Several provinces and territories improved their automated information systems so that they could provide Statistics Canada with survey data from their jurisdiction.

In 2004, Saskatchewan began undertook to consult with Aboriginal organizations and communities to determine what family law services Aboriginal communities require, and whether existing family law and related programs and services have met those needs. Further consultations were conducted in 2005‑2006 with the assistance of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation (SAWCC). Provincial consultations regarding access to family justice continued in 2006‑2007, and included participation of members of SAWCC. The goal of these consultations was to ensure that Aboriginal families would be able to access useful, supportive and culturally appropriate services and information.

The Quebec Justice Department initiated a study to obtain a profile of ex-spouses who had been awarded support by the Quebec Superior Court. This information will allow a comparison between the amounts awarded by the court and the amounts that would have been awarded if the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines had been applied.

Another Quebec study examined family justice in Aboriginal communities in order to analyze the communities' needs. This study was conducted as a result of several requests from Aboriginal representatives.

The Ministry of Attorney General in British Columbia conducted a longitudinal study on the medium-term impacts of dispute resolution services. The literature review and research design were completed in 2003. The research design called for a series of three in-depth interviews with clients who had received dispute resolution services, These interviews were to be conducted at one-year intervals. The focus of the research went beyond process and administrative elements of service delivery, and set the stage for longer-term research projects aimed at measuring program and service outcomes. The final report has been completed in spring of 2008.

Results-based Management and Accountability Framework) and performance reporting: An important component of the Strategy was the results-based management and accountability framework (RMAF),which set out the Strategy's goals and objectives as well as performance indicators for measuring success in meeting them. The development of RMAF could not have been done without the cooperation of the jurisdictional partners. All jurisdictions developed frameworks that were tailored to their cases, programs, services and clients.

Logic models, performance-measurement strategies and evaluation strategies were the tools used by jurisdictions to measure their success based on performance indicators. This information was then provided to the Department of Justice Canada to better enable the Department to measure the outcomes and effectiveness of the Strategy as a whole and to ensure that it was achieving results for Canadians.

When the intended legislative reforms died on the Order Paper and it was unlikely that they would be re-introduced during the Strategy, the Family, Children and Youth Section of the Department of Justice Canada adjusted and expanded its activities in an effort to continue to support the achievement of the Strategy's objectives. The originally defined goals of the Strategy remained intact, but the pathways to those goals and the expected immediate outcomes were revised accordingly. As a result, family justice services became the cornerstone of the Strategy and the activities of the various units in place to deliver the Strategy were adjusted to support this revised focus. The changes to the focus and activities of the Strategy were reflected in a revised RMAF and logic model.

A key lesson learned in the area of performance measurement was that, to obtain adequate information from the provinces and territories, the reporting process needed to be simple, clear and as standardized as possible. Department of Justice Canada officials suggested that in any future initiative, they would be able to develop an RMAF that would have fewer, more inter-related, and clearer indicators. This would allow for streamlining the process and cutting back on required information. Efforts are currently under way to create a database that will support comprehensive analysis of on-going performance measurements and evaluations of future initiatives.