Summary of Activities for the Child-centred Family Justice Fund 2003-2009
A portion of the Child-centred Family Justice Fund was specifically designated for use in establishing pilot projects. Through this allotment, the jurisdictions promoted the development, implementation, and evaluation of innovative pilot projects to serve families undergoing separation or divorce. The pilot projects were designed to address the same twelve principles developed for the Family Initiatives Component. Following are some examples of pilot projects that were funded under this pillar. Some of the jurisdictions also used Family Justice Initiative funding for pilot projects.
Newfoundland and Labrador
A two-year pilot project, Family Justice Services Central, wasconducted from 2004 and 2006. The focus of this project was on the development of an integrated approach to providing family law legal aid services that would use a variety of alternative techniques for resolving disputes, including negotiation and mediation, legal advice, general family law information, parent-education programs, counselling and referral to other social services agencies when appropriate. The project also developed a screening process to limit violence between former spouses and to protect those parties who were at higher risk of being victimized. Efforts were made through these developments to improve education and mediation procedures. This project built on lessons learned and tested project enhancements that had been identified and recommended in a review of an earlier phase of the project. The Child-centred Family Justice Fund partnered with the Department of Justice Canada's Legal Aid Pilot Project Initiative to finance this phase of the project.
The Fund financed the development and implementation of a pilot Web Application for the Support Enforcement Division in Corner Brook. This web application was directly linked to the new Support Enforcement Application (SEA) that was implemented in February 2004. The website allowed both recipients and payers of child support to access their files in order to obtain enforcement and payment information, leave secure messages and print statements. The site also contained useful educational information on enforcement actions, payers' and recipients' responsibilities, forms, as well as links to applicable legislation such as the Federal Child Support Guidelines. Employers were also able to access the system to leave information and calculate garnishments. Other jurisdictions were also given access to get updates on what was happening with a file. This allowed for increased self-service options and allowed provincial employees to concentrate on other aspects of support enforcement.
Prince Edward Island
In 2004‑2005, the Office of the Attorney General in Prince Edward Island developed an interactive Maintenance Enforcement Program website similar to that of Newfoundland and Labrador described above. The website was designed to increase information sharing with clients of the Program and with other Maintenance Enforcement Programs across Canada. This website was supplemented by the creation of a new intake enforcement officer position in the MEP. The introduction of an intake enforcement officer significantly streamlined calls through the office, reduced the time to respond to client calls, and increased the number of clients accessing an enforcement officer for the purpose of enforcement.
The Family Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia identified an increasing delay in accessing court time for families undergoing separation or divorce. Much of this delay resulted from the unification of family law services and was not substantially mitigated despite opportunities for early non-adversarial dispute resolution mechanism. In its commitment to find alternatives and expand usage of pre-trial conferences, Nova Scotia developed the concept of a File Readiness Court Officer as a form of assisted dispute resolution. The Officer, together with the parties, would review issues such as witness lists, service requirements, requisite amount of court time and any number of other issues. The idea was that parties would be more inclined to seriously consider settlement and less inclined to proceed to court until they were properly prepared.
The proposed position was staffed from October 2005 to July 31, 2006. The Officer assisted in the redesign of the operational structure of the Sydney Supreme Court and trained staff and conducted outreach for the new system. This necessitated further policy development, which will continue. The goal continues to be service delivery that would ensure that court time is used as effectively as possible and is cost effective for the justice system.
In July 2005, the Manitoba Department of Justice operated a Child Support Recalculation Service pilot project to support recalculations of child support where a court order or agreement already existed. This project provided a fast and inexpensive way for parents to have their child support orders updated regularly or varied in cases where the parties agreed. As part of this project, a Family Law Support Centrestaffed by two lawyers and a legal assistant was created to make recalculations and recommendations under new regulatory provisions. This unit performed triage, provided information, recalculated support and assisted with documentation. Though it did not deal with overly complicated situations, the unit streamlined recalculation services.
In August 2008, Manitoba created a new alternative dispute-resolution service called “First Choice” in Winnipeg. The First Choice pilot project provided Manitoban families going through a separation or divorce with a creative approach to settling custody, access and private guardianship issues. It combined assessment, mediation, and counselling to help families move through the court system as quickly as possible. While most cases involved parents, the pilot project could also be used by others with child-related issues, including, for example, grandparents and other family members seeking access to a child. The “First Choice” also provided follow-up assistance to the families it served, to address subsequent issues/concerns.
Saskatchewan Justice used pilot-project funding to develop a comprehensive and integrated service plan for couples in high-conflict situations. As part of Saskatchewan's family law strategy, the province offered supervised-access and supervised-exchange services to separating and divorcing couples in high-conflict situations. This service reduced the degree of harmful behaviour to which children are exposed and aimed to improve the interactions between divorcing and separating couples. In 2003‑2004, the province began offering a new high-conflict parent-education session to supplement those services. This pilot project built on existing initiatives and provided a comprehensive and integrated service plan for couples in high-conflict situations. Parents who used the supervised-access services could be asked to attend the six-hour conflict session as part of their case plan. It was envisaged that the dual approach of the therapeutic supervised-access program and the high-conflict parenting program would give families an opportunity to learn positive coping methods.
While, Saskatchewan Justice's province-wide, voluntary, parent-education program (described under Family Justice Initiatives section) has been quite successful, access to the program has been an issue for many residents in rural or northern locations. To help resolve this problem, Saskatchewan Justice transferred its parent-education program to CD-ROM and made it available in northern communities and other areas where parent-education sessions were not offered. In consultation with aboriginal service providers and aboriginal bands, Saskatchewan Justice also produced a version of that CD-ROM targeted specifically at Aboriginal peoples. This modified material was designed to be applicable to all jurisdictions, keeping Saskatchewan-specific information separate from the body of the text. Feedback from providers and participants has been positive.
And finally, in 2006‑2007, Saskatchewan Justice operated a two-year Access Facilitation pilot project. Under this project, a team of family, parenting, legal and conflict-resolution professionals offered assistance to separated and divorced parents. It was designed to target low-income families, who often have difficulty accessing mediation and legal services. The overall objectives of the project were to remove financial barriers to services; encourage non-adversarial conflict resolution to address access issues; reduce conflict levels and the length of time required to develop appropriate access arrangements; promote cooperative parenting; improve satisfaction with and the durability of access arrangements; and reduce the number of court applications relating to child access.
When this pilot program was initially designed, it was anticipated that it would be more appropriate for couples experiencing low to medium levels of conflict. However, initial experience with court-directed, high-conflict couples in this program indicated that a significant amount of progress could be made in resolving issues. Therefore, it also targeted families experiencing medium to high levels of conflict.
At first, the Access Facilitation pilot project operated in only one location, namely, the judicial centre of Saskatoon and surrounding area. However, it was expanded to the judicial centre of Prince Albert in March of 2007. Referrals to the program from other locations were accepted if the parties were prepared to travel to Saskatoon for the legal information and mediation services portions of the program. This program was offered at no cost to families meeting the program eligibility criteria.
The Ministry of Attorney General of British Columbia commenced a four-year pilot project to administratively recalculate child support orders on an annual basis. This recalculation was based on updated income information and was completed in accordance with the child support guidelines.
Under this project, a Recalculation Officerbegan work in July 2006 and completed 65 court orders by March 31, 2007. By the end of 2008‑2009, approximately 200 orders and written agreements had been registered. A database was constructed to track the income and payment information used in the recalculation.
This service benefited parents by saving them the cost of varying their orders in response to income changes and by reducing conflict related to changing child support amounts. It benefited the court by reducing the need for parents to go to court for a variation. Children also benefited as a result of increased support when the support payer's income increased.
For several years, Canada participated in the development of the Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and other forms of Family Maintenance. Following a series of diplomatic sessions, a final form of the Convention was completed in November 2007. More than 60 countries participated in the discussions and several indicated a desire for early ratification. The Convention will expand the number of countries that have reciprocity with Canada's provinces and territories. Work is underway to develop a common system of business processes, including common forms and data system support, for those jurisdictions that adopt the Convention.
Officials at The Hague approached British Columbia to provide resources to develop a Practical Handbook for the Convention. In response, British Columbia started The Hague Convention on the Recovery of Child Support—Practical Handbook Pilot Project. The main objectives of this project were to draft an operational guide for the implementation of the Convention, undertake consultation with key experts in Canada and other member States, complete a final version of the handbook and develop training material for use in Canada. Once completed, this handbook would become the operational guide to the Convention and set out business processes for the establishment, variation and enforcement of support obligations under the Convention. It would also outline the responsibilities of the Central Authorities and caseworkers in sufficient detail to provide support and direction in the handling of international cases.
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