Risk Factors for Children in Situations of Family Violence in the Context of Separation and Divorce
A detailed description of promising practices
1) Parenting programs to prevent family violence
Caring Dads is an intervention program for fathers (including biological, step, common-law) who have physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected their children, or exposed their children to domestic violence or who are deemed to be at high-risk for these behaviours. The program consists of a 17-week, empirically-based, group parenting intervention for fathers, systematic outreach to mothers to ensure safety and freedom from coercion, and ongoing, collaborative case management of fathers with other professionals involved with men’s families.
The group component of Caring Dads combines elements of parenting, fathering, battering and child protection practice to enhance the safety and well-being of children. Program principles emphasize the need to enhance men’s motivation, promote child-centered fathering, address men’s ability to engage in respectful, non-abusive co-parenting with children’s mothers, recognize that children’s experience of trauma will impact the rate of possible change, and work collaboratively with other service providers to ensure that children benefit (and are not unintentionally harmed) as a result of father’s participation in intervention.
Caring Dads was first developed in London, Ontario in 2003. Since its development, many community agencies that represent the interests of children have supported the program (i.e., child protection, probation services, partner assault response agencies). Caring Dads is available in several locations in Southwestern Ontario as well as Ottawa, Thunder Bay, and the province of Alberta. It has also been adopted in several locations in the United States and Europe.
2) Secondary responder programs for perpetrators of domestic violence
High-Risk Domestic Violence Men’s Outreach Initiative
This project is based on the premise that victims are safer when their partners are provided with support to target those dynamic risk factors which contribute to creating heightened risk. Forty men charged with a domestic violence related offence who were not incarcerated or eligible for early intervention with a PAR program were contacted prior to attending any batterer intervention program to provide them with services, counselling, and community supports to minimize their risk of re-offending. Results indicated that one year later negative police involvement with project participants dramatically reduced; men in the project had significantly less charges and arrests; and the number of violent and administration of justice crimes (e.g., breach of a recognizance or failure to attend court) dramatically reduced.
Due to the success of the High-Risk Domestic Violence Men’s Outreach Initiative, the London police department will receive $270,000 in provincial funding in 2014 to introduce the program in Woodstock, Sudbury, and Ottawa.
3) Integrated court for families
The Toronto Integrated Domestic Violence Court provides a single judge to hear both the criminal and the family law cases (excluding divorce, family property and child protection cases) that relate to one family where the underlying issue is domestic violence. The goals of this court are a more integrated and holistic approach to families experiencing domestic violence, increased consistency between family and criminal court orders and quicker resolutions of the judicial proceedings. An evaluation of this pilot project is underway.
4) New Family Court Orders When New Criminal Charges
Supervised access centres provide a neutral space where a third party can oversee visits and exchanges between a parent and child. These centres are often used by separated parents who have perpetrated family violence and require supervised exchanges or visits in order to keep the children safe. Supervised access centres receive family court orders that outline the visitation and exchange arrangements that were determined by the courts after charges were laid, management strategies were put in place and risks to the child were properly assessed. However, if the abusive parent is charged with a new criminal offense and receives a new bail order, the risk of harm to the child may increase. The central issue is the lack of coordination between the criminal court and family court proceedings. Work is ongoing to establish a protocol whereby when any new criminal charges and bail conditions are made, a new family law order related to child access provisions also be made. As of December 2013, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney is drafting the templates to be used by the courts in order to implement this new practice. The intent of the practice is to force communication between criminal and family courts in order to minimize the risk posed to children during supervised access or supervised exchanges.
5) Advocacy for abuse victims and their children dealing with the family court
Luke’s Place, Oshawa, ON
Luke’s Place was constructed in response to the 1997 murder of a three-year old boy, Luke, by his father during his first unsupervised access visit. The courts had allowed unsupervised access to Luke’s father despite the pleas from Luke’s mother to allow supervised access only. Luke’s Place helps to provide a specialized response to support abused women and their children as they proceed through the family law process. Luke’s Place provides individual service and group support; a resource manual and training process for staff and volunteers; emergency motions toolkit; and training for shelter staff, lawyers, and other social service professionals. The vision of Luke’s Place is for a family court system that responds efficiently to end domestic violence and effectively provides for the safety, emotional and financial needs of abused women and their children after leaving a situation of abuse.
Jared’s Place was developed in honour of a young boy, Jared, who was murdered in 2006 by his father during a court-ordered unsupervised access visit. Jared’s Place provides free information, referrals and support to women who have experienced violence in order to help them navigate through the legal system. Jared’s Place offers information and support; referrals and advocacy; safety planning and risk assessment; court preparation and accompaniment; access to the Resource Centre and Drop-in Services; and education and training. Through research and advocacy, Jared’s Place is working towards systemic and policy change.
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