Concurrent Legal Proceedings in Cases of Family Violence: The Child Protection Perspective

VII. Conclusion: Improving Responses and Additional Research

Intimate partner violence, child abuse, high-conflict separations and alienation allegations are complex problems. Cases with these issues present unique challenges for child protection agencies, police, intimate partner violence workers, mental health professionals, the justice system and policy makers.  

In some milder alienation cases and less serious intimate partner violence situations, the needs of the parents and children may be adequately addressed by referral to a parental education program or voluntary counselling.  Such referrals may suffice to help parents understand the deleterious effects of their conduct and attitudes on their children, and may provide adequate protection and best promote the interests of all parties and their children. Although in general such diversion of family cases from the courts and adoption of non-adversarial approaches is to be encouraged, when there are significant intimate partner violence concerns or other high-conflict separation issues, an early, effective early legal response is necessary, including effective responses from the criminal justice and child protection systems.  Further, knowing that there will be such a response will both tend to encourage compliance with court orders and promote the interests of children.

Cases involving child abuse, intimate partner violence or alienation need to be understood, prioritized and treated differently than most other types of parental separation cases. The final determination of how to respond to an individual case requires a weighing of many factors, but safety for children and victims of intimate partner violence must be a primary concern. There is clearly a need to improve communication and co-operation between agencies, professionals and judges in different parts of the justice system, in order to improve the efficiency of the justice system, the safety of the vulnerable and the interests of children.

Lawyers, judges, child protection agencies, police and other service providers need to be cognizant that their decisions and actions will address not just the immediate problems in the cases that they are dealing with, but will also affect the long-term interests of the children involved. These cases must be carefully assessed and responded to on an individual basis, and where appropriate be premised on the promotion of the interests of children, and the recognition that they are often the ones who suffer the most.

A final comment on the limits of present knowledge and the need for further research:  while this paper and the works cited here offer many recommendations for improving the way in which agencies and professionals deal with family violence and high-conflict separation cases, there is clearly a need for further empirical research, and for the development and evaluation of pilot programs to deal more effectively with the complex problems that arise in these cases.  We note, for example, that there is no organization in Canada monitoring courts and agencies across the country to identify innovative programs for high-conflict separations and cases of intimate partner violence, evaluate their effect and share information about effective responses. This report and the two companion reports on concurrent proceedings have identified a number of approaches.  There are undoubtedly more unknown to the authors and it is beyond the scope of this project to evaluate each option.

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