Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems

Chapter 10 - Models of cross-sector collaboration

While this report is focused on cross-sector collaboration within the justice system, notably among the family, child protection and criminal justice sectors, this last chapter briefly examines some of the challenges to a broader collaborative approach to family violence as well as some promising practices in this area. Cross-sector collaboration refers to the linking or sharing of policies, information, resources, activities and services by organizations in two or more sectors to jointly achieve an outcome that would not be accomplished by organizations in one sector separately.Footnote 369 Cross-sector collaboration of relevance to family violence includes multidisciplinary and inter-agency cooperation, identifying appropriate government and community-based services and facilitating the development of coordinated policy frameworks and structured collaborations to allow for proactive referrals and follow-ups. It often involves the establishment of Inter-agency Committees to more formally promote and coordinate common policies, protocols, and service contracts.

Every major report and much of the research on violence against women and children over the past 25 years has confirmed the crucial importance of cross-sector collaboration.Footnote 370 For example, the Final Report of the Ad Hoc Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group Reviewing Spousal Abuse Policies and Legislation highlighted the need for comprehensive and coordinated strategies to address the problem of domestic violence as one of the key lessons learned, noting:

Within each jurisdiction, a comprehensive, co-ordinated strategy is needed to address the problem of domestic violence and the factors that contribute to it. Such co-ordination needs to occur across policy sectors (social, justice, education and health) and at all levels within each jurisdiction: at the provincial level (to establish a policy framework); at the local community level (to co-ordinate services and to identify needs, gaps and solutions); and at the individual level (to provide effective case management and conferencing mechanisms). The essential ingredients of an effective strategy addressing domestic violence within each jurisdiction include resources, a focal point of leadership and co-ordination, senior-level commitment and support to undertake these initiatives, and an accountability framework based on commitment to a long range vision.Footnote 371

The central importance of coordination in family violence cases has also been specifically emphasized in a number of coroner’s and other reports on deaths resulting from or linked to domestic violence.Footnote 372 The Report to the Chief Coroner of British Columbia (2010) Findings and Recommendations of the Domestic Violence Death Review Panel noted that “victims and perpetrators of domestic violence encounter a number of service providers as they progress through the legal system. It is absolutely critical that there be a standardized, collaborative approach to domestic violence by all agencies, ministries, and support networks reinforced by enhanced public awareness of the risks for families in distress.”Footnote 373

In the context of family violence cases that involve two or more of the criminal, family and child protection systems, the need for coordination is especially critical. The distinct legal processes have different objectives and legal standards which increase the likelihood of fragmented responses, inconsistent orders and confusion. Lack of coordination can have serious negative repercussions for victim’s safety, offender accountability, police and program accountability and system costs. Coordination is therefore required within the broad justice sector – between the criminal, family and child protection systems, and also between the justice sector and other government sectors such as child protection, social services, and mental health. Coordination with community services and stakeholders is also necessary.

10.1 Challenges/barriers to coordinated responses

While the importance of coordinated and integrated criminal justice, family law, social service, mental health and community responses to family violence has been recognized for some time, this goal has been difficult to achieve. The different mandates, goals, standards and accountability frameworks amongst the various sectors and systems create barriers to coordinated responses. From a government perspective, there are also practical challenges associated with multidisciplinary coordination. It has been noted that:

Coordination needs to happen at all levels to be effective. It also takes staff to do the work and a commitment of resources to carry out activities. These (coordinating) bodies need a mandate to coordinate, [one] that is supported by real commitment at the top and that is enforceable. Partnership is a very time-consuming process, but no more so than the resources spent on uncoordinated policies, programs and service delivery systems.

Coordination is difficult in part because it operates, by definition, across professional disciplines and departmental boundaries, and outside line authority. Typically the coordination function comes with responsibility but is not supported by the authority to make it happen. Accountability mechanisms tend to be weak if not supported by the senior management of multiple departments/stakeholders. When coordination works, it is in spite of this and is usually the product of partnership and trust-building effort.Footnote 374

It has also been noted that potential stakeholders in collaborative processes do not always trust each other or fully understand or concur with the motives and philosophy of each other’s organizations. Since organizations have diverse mandates and work primarily with different individuals within a family or an intimate relationship, there can be concerns that some representatives may try to prioritize their own or their client’s perspective and, in the process lose sight of the safety of the victims. A collaborative team also requires impartial leadership to provide direction and organization for members. However, deciding who will govern the collaborative team is a challenge. Governing the collaborative team includes arranging meetings, taking minutes, storing confidential information, communicating with members and providing staff support.Footnote 375

This inter-agency work involves creating and sustaining multidisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations and supporting community level coordinating committees. While it can be resource-intensive, and the challenges are often greater in rural and remote areas, this work is critically important.

10.2 Promising practices

While specific examples of promising collaborative practices are found within the body of this report, this section highlights at a more general level, the different types of models of cross-sector, inter-agency and multidisciplinary collaboration that are being used to design and implement improved cross-sector coordination among the criminal, family and child protection systems.

10.2.1 International

In the United Kingdom, the Family Justice Council (FJC), established in 2004, is an advisory, non-statutory, non-departmental public body sponsored by the Judicial Office. It provides independent expert advice, from an interdisciplinary perspective, on the operation and reform of the family justice system in England and Wales to the Family Justice Board. It is chaired by the President of the Family Division, and in August 2012, became part of the President's Office.

The primary role of the Family Justice Council is to promote an interdisciplinary approach to family justice and to monitor the system. It advises on reforms and consists of a representative cross-section of those who work, use or have an interest in the family justice system.

There are a number of FJC Committees and several reports which consider issues relating to domestic violence. For example:

10.2.2 Models within Canada

Coordinating committees and inter-agency collaboration

In Canada, formalizing a coordinating committee is the most common model utilized to develop and implement collaborative relationships and endeavours. Particularly when formed in response to a specific priority, the committee format provides important formal authority and status, as well as access to resources. It can also serve to provide a dedicated forum for discussions and decisions which are a key component to the development of common visions, goals and outcomes.

As an example, in Prince Edward Island, the Premier’s Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention (PAC) is an advisory committee to the Premier with member organizations appointed by Executive Council representing government departments, community advocates, crisis and outreach workers, and representatives of legal, medical, and law enforcement circles to ensure diversity and collective responsibility for family violence prevention. The PAC Ad Hoc Working Groups and Committees are comprised of PAC members, and other government and community representatives. The Civil/Criminal Issues Working Group (CCWG) coordinates the activities of various committees in the province who are focused on family violence issues in the context of the criminal and civil justice systems, including the Linking Criminal/Civil Justice Systems Working Group. This working group focuses on information access between the Civil and Criminal justice systems in cases of family violence and has held ongoing meetings to determine the feasibility of a system to link civil and criminal orders in cases of family violence involving children.

Another example is the Family Violence Police Advisory Committee in Alberta. Chaired by the Public Security Division of Justice and Solicitor General, this committee is comprised of representatives from the RCMP, municipal and First Nations police services, the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, the Criminal Justice Division, and Alberta Human Services and Correctional Services. This Committee meets monthly to discuss issues of protection as well as issues within the criminal justice system. It was through the efforts of this committee that the Domestic Violence Guidelines for Police, the Family Violence Investigation Report (FVIR) and the Considerations for Safety Guide were developed. PAC has recognized the need for input from the Family Justice System and will be extending the invitation for representation at this table.

Furthermore, “gap” assessments are critical to figuring out what services are available, how they overlap, and where there are holes in service delivery. The Safe Communities Project (SAFECOM) in Alberta is an initiative designed specifically to gather cross-ministry personnel to address crime prevention.Footnote 376 The Integrated Justice Project in Calgary (developed through SAFECOM) is an example of how co-locating services can encourage collaboration and ensure that individuals are receiving the full benefit of available services, otherwise known as “wrap around service.”Footnote 377

In addition, in Quebec, the ministère de la Justice [translation: Ministry of Justice] and the ministère de la Condition féminine [translation: Ministry on the Status of Women] co-chair the deputy ministers’ committees en matière de violence conjugale, familiale et sexuelle [translation: on spousal, family and sexual violence] and the comité interministériel de coordination en matière de violence conjugale, familiale et sexuelle [translation: interdepartmental coordinating committee on spousal, family and sexual violence]. The primary mandate of the latter committee is to make certain that government action in these areas is consistent. The coordination done by these committees is also aimed at avoiding duplication of services and ensuring an adequate response to client needs. It also results in ongoing evaluation of joint actions while respecting the autonomy of the parties. This coordination mechanism has existed since 1987. Currently, ten ministries are taking part in this work.

There are many additional examples of government-based integrated coordinating committees throughout Canada with mandates related to violence against women and/or family violence that are identified in Annexe 4, Volume II of this report.

Policies and standards

A key component of collaborative efforts is negotiating common formal and informal policies and standards. British Columbia’s Violence Against Women in Relationships Policy (VAWIR policy) December 2010Footnote 378 is an example of a comprehensive provincial policy framework which sets out the protocols, roles and responsibilities of service providers across the justice and child welfare system that respond to domestic violence cases including Police, Crown counsel, Corrections, Victim Services, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Court Services, Family Justice Services, and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. The policy also reflects the operational policies of the various agencies involved. The identified primary purpose of the VAWIR policy is to ensure an effective, integrated and coordinated justice and child welfare response to domestic violence. The goal is to support and protect those individuals at risk and facilitate offender management and accountability. It includes the Protocol for Highest Risk CasesFootnote 379 that outlines the responsibilities of justice and child welfare system partners for the delivery of a coordinated response to domestic violence cases designated by police as being highest risk. Key protocol partners include Police, Crown counsel, Corrections, Victim Services and Child Protection Workers.

In Ontario, Policy (LE-024) of the Policing Standards Manual (2000)Footnote 380 provides advisory policies and guidelines for undertaking and managing investigations into domestic violence occurrences and includes suggested terms of reference for domestic violence coordinating committees.

Saskatchewan Towards Offering Partnership Solutions to Violence Inc (STOPS) has prepared a manual Community Connections Planto help provide direction for a consistent, coordinated, and effective response to interpersonal violence and abuse in Saskatchewan. The Community Connections Plan outlines actions that individuals, agencies, communities, and government can take to respond to victims/survivors of violence and abuse; provides tools for communities to organize and work together; and broadly outlines the roles and responsibilities of various agencies in their delivery of services.

These are just some of the many examples of policies and standards throughout Canada designed to assist with a coordinated and collaborative response to family violence. See Annex 4, Volume II, for further examples.

Protocols and memoranda of understanding

Many jurisdictions have developed protocols and/or memoranda of understanding to structure system and sector collaboration in specific areas. For example, in Ontario, the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP) which assists during the criminal court process, and the Family Court Support Worker Program (FCSWP), which assists victims of domestic violence during the family court process, have a protocol in place to help support clients with concurrent criminal and family law cases. The protocol encourages proactive referrals between programs, and provides guidelines for sharing of information and case coordination.

In the Northwest Territories, the Yellowknife Interagency Family Violence and Abuse Protocol is an agreement among eight cross-sectoral agencies to improve responses to adult victims of family violence. The Protocol describes how agencies will respond to adult victims of family violence and interact with each other to provide a more coherent response to victims of family violence. Other, similar protocols are listed in Annex 4, Volume II.

Court coordination

In New Brunswick, The Moncton Domestic Violence CourtFootnote 381, made permanent in 2011, includes a Domestic Violence Coordinating Team with a Court Coordinator, who collects and shares information with the immediate key partners of the Court. To prevent the issuing of conflicting court orders between the criminal and family justice system, the coordinator consults the family court information system on a weekly basis to cross-reference potential overlapping domestic violence cases, by using identifying information of offenders and victims scheduled to appear in Domestic Violence Court each week. This Domestic Violence Court Docket is circulated weekly to the social workers and all involved in the Domestic Violence Court in order to facilitate a coordinated response for domestic violence files.

Ontario’s Domestic Violence Court Advisory Committees were established to support the effective operation of the Domestic Violence Court Program. The Committees are comprised of justice and community representatives and are intended to provide a coordinated, effective justice system response to domestic violence cases. The Committees provide a mechanism for information sharing, process review, and problem solving. Typically, membership on the Domestic Violence Court Advisory Committee includes: Crown; Victim/Witness Assistance Program; Court Services; Police; Probation and Parole; Partner Assault Response Program agencies; Interpreter agencies; Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centre; and a representative from the Violence against Women sector. Representatives of the defence bar, the Children’s Aid Society, and shelters may also sit on these committees. Domestic Violence Advisory Committees are not designed to deal with case-specific issues, but rather as a forum for discussion on systemic and policy issues related to the operation of the Domestic Violence Court Program.

Government strategies and actions plans

Cross-sector collaboration is increasingly assumed to be both necessary and desirable as a strategy for addressing many of society’s most difficult public challenges.Footnote 382 To address the complex and often interconnected issues related to violence against women and family violence, all jurisdictions within Canada have developed high-level strategies, action plans and campaigns that promote cross-sector collaboration that are identified in Annex 4, Volume II.

In Quebec, mechanisms have been established to ensure cooperation and coordination among agencies that respond to domestic violence and sexual abuse. In 1995, the intervention policy on domestic violence, Preventing, Detecting, Ending Domestic Violence was made public with a first action plan containing 57 commitments. In 2001, the Orientations gouvernementales en matière d’agression sexuelle [translation: government guiding principles on sexual abuse] were published as well as a first action plan that contained 59 commitments. In 2004, a second action plan on domestic violence (2004-2009) was adopted that contained 72 commitments. The reports on the implementation of these action plans, published in 2007 and 2011 respectively, are excellent examples of following through and measuring these actions.Footnote 383 To update its commitments, the government published in April 2008, the Plan d’action gouvernemental 2008-2013 en matière d’agression sexuelle [translation: 2008-2013 government action plan on sexual abuse] containing 100 commitments and in December 2012, the 2012-2017 Action Plan on Domestic Violence was published.Footnote 384 This latter contains 135 commitments presented in two components: the first includes 100 measures that address the general population and the second includes 35 measures that specifically address the Aboriginal population.

Alberta’s Cross-Ministry Action Plan Strategy for the Prevention of Family Violence and Bullying (2009-2012), includes the priority of identifying issues related to the intersection between the family law and criminal justice systems in supporting family violence victims and offenders (it involves Justice and Attorney General; Solicitor General and Public Security; Children and Youth Services).Footnote 385

In March of 2012 the British Columbia government created the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV) in response to the findings and recommendations made in the Representative for Children and Youth’s (RCY) report, Honouring Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon: Make Their Voices Heard Now (2012).Footnote 386 The RCY completed this in-depth investigative report into the lives and deaths of these three children who were affected by exposure to domestic violence and their father’s untreated mental illness.

The PODV, in collaboration with six key ministries, developed the Taking Action on Domestic Violence in British Columbia (September 2012) action plan which sets the course towards a coordinated approach to addressing domestic violence across the child and family serving systems in British Columbia. The action plan lays out the key deliverables, actions and timelines that respond to the recommendations in the RCY report and outlines the provincial government’s short-term plan to improve and strengthen the response to domestic violence in British Columbia with a clear focus on the safety of children, women, families and communities.

A holistic response to family violence requires not only enhanced linkages among the key sectors within the justice system but also collaboration between the justice system and other critical systems such as the health care, welfare, housing, shelters, educational, social and community service sectors. This chapter set out just a couple of the multiple examples of government strategies and action plans to respond to family violence throughout Canada involving multiple sectors. See Annex 4, Volume II: Family violence responses by jurisdiction, for further examples.