Aboriginal Justice Strategy Evaluation, Final Report
Issue 1: Work-related Challenges Faced by Community Justice Workers
A challenge to community-based justice workers' effectiveness noted by nearly all key informants, and supported by case study findings, is the high level of burnout and staff turnover. This is most significant for programs with only one paid staff member, who is in the position of acting as the main point of entry to justice programs, and is dealing with sensitive and/or complex community issues. Interviewees cited the significance of the longevity of their community-based justice workers, as the length of time required for replacement training following turnover can reduce program effectiveness.
Key informants noted this challenge was a result of several factors. They indicated emerging issues in communities (with respect to the nature of offences committed, or the underlying factors affecting offenders); high rates of staff turnover necessitated continuing learning opportunities, which are lacking for justice workers. Vicarious trauma training is also considered essential for community-based justice workers who participate in the healing journeys of their clients in stressful and often emotional situations. Although the Capacity Building Fund provides resources for training, it is designed for short-term, one-time projects rather than serving ongoing needs.
Insufficient funds to retain qualified community-based justice workers were also cited as a contributing factor to rates of justice worker burnout and turnover. Community justice workers do not receive regular salary increases linked to rises in the cost of living, and experienced workers often find better-paying employment outside the community-based justice programs.
The AJD has drafted a Communication Strategy in an effort to reinforce our commitment to efficient communication with P/T partners, funding recipients and other stakeholders. The Communication Strategy, which stemmed from the mid-term evaluation findings, includes improvements in areas such as an online resource information toolbox, electronic newsletter/ bulletins and interactive AJS forums to facilitate networking, information sharing and capacity building.
Working with P/T partners and community justice workers, AJS will also identify opportunities to focus its available capacity building funds on supporting training, knowledge exchange and learning opportunities that better equip community justice workers to deal with these issues.
Recommendation 1: Increase community justice workers' access to information, networking opportunities and training on established and emerging issues identified as significant to community-based justice programs.
Issue 2: Challenges to Capacity Building Fund Applications
The call for proposals for capacity building funds has occurred in the late fall in previous fiscal years. Once proposals are approved, communities generally only have two to three months to complete projects before the end of the fiscal year. The lateness of the call for proposals and the short timeframes for project completion have been identified as limitations to the types of Capacity-Building Fund proposals that can be approved, especially since key informants indicated that many programs do not have the resources to write project proposals and implement capacity building projects while completing end-of-year reporting.
An unintended outcome of this Capacity-Building Fund proposal process is that it can favour communities which already have relatively high capacity, as they may be more likely to complete proposals and projects within the allotted timeframes. Due to the short window between the call for proposals and the deadline for applications, some interviewees indicated that those programs most in need of funds do not have the resources to complete an application.
Additionally, a lack of dedicated funding precludes the AJD from advertising the funds available for capacity building projects, which provincial and territorial representatives cited as the primary reason communities and community-based justice programs are not able to plan or prepare for project funds in advance.
Early identification of funds permitted the AJD to launch the 2011-12 Capacity-Building Fund Call for Proposals on September 6 in order to provide applicants with additional time to apply.
AJD also reviewed and updated its Capacity-Building Fund application form, rating guide, and regional coordinator screening guide, and developed additional tools to assist potential applicants applying for capacity building funds. In total, nine new tools for the 2011-12 Call for Proposals were developed, all available on the Justice website in French and English.
Recommendation 2: Create procedures and systems to allow the advertisement of the Capacity Building Fund earlier in the fiscal year, and develop tools to assist programs applying for capacity building funds.
Issue 3: Challenges Associated with FPT Initiatives on Aboriginal Justice
An area for improvement frequently cited by key informants was the lack of AJD participation on the FPT Working Group on Aboriginal Justice chaired by ALSP. Several respondents indicated that AJD staff are often unaware of the work taking place in this working group. This can hinder their ability to implement the AJS as effectively and efficiently as possible, especially given that AJD is responsible for the administration and operational policy of the AJS.
Many respondents noted that communications at the federal level between groups involved in Aboriginal justice were limited. Increased collaboration between the AJD, ALSP and other federal groups involved in the delivery of Aboriginal justice programs was seen as an opportunity to improve the efficiency of all Aboriginal justice initiatives.
Justice Canada officials are working to improve internal practices to ensure better coordination and collaboration of programs and initiatives focused on Aboriginal justice. For example, AJS, Aboriginal Courtwork Program, Victims and Restorative Justice Program officials participate in respective FPT working groups to ensure consistent messaging and program-specific information dissemination.
Federal officials are also making efforts to ensure Aboriginal justice programs complement each other and work to identify joint funding opportunities. As examples, it is quite common for the AJS Capacity-Building Fund and the Victims Fund to co-fund training programs. Joint training for Courtworkers and community justice workers also takes place.
In addition, federal officials are working together to provide a one-window approach for project funding opportunities, as was the case for proposals relating to violence against Aboriginal women. In this particular case, an ad-hoc working group was created to ensure that proposals could be received and reviewed, and that funding could be delivered in the most timely and coordinated manner possible.
Recommendation 3: Improve communication and collaboration between various federal initiatives on Aboriginal justice, as well as the communication of emerging issues/initiatives in the area of Aboriginal justice.
Issue 4: AJS FPT WG Participation Challenges
The AJS FPT WG serves as a policy forum for ongoing monitoring of inter-jurisdictional issues that concern the AJS. It is considered to be an important forum for members to exchange information, share best practices, engage each other on various AJS issues, and for relationship-building between the AJD and its provincial and territorial partners.
Key informants noted that some jurisdictions participate more fully in the AJS FPT WG than others, possibly resulting from the heavy workloads of P/T representatives. Since full P/T participation was noted as being essential to the success of the AJS FPT WG, ensuring participation of all P/T partners is important. It was suggested that participation rates could be improved by having a back-up representative for each province and territory in case the representative is unable to attend; having AJS FPT WG meeting dates set a year in advance; and having regional coordinators remind their provincial/territorial counterparts in advance of upcoming AJS FPT WG meetings.
As well, some key informants noted that having resources available to new P/T partners that explain the structure and functioning of the AJD, as well as the AJS, would assist in the transition between representatives.
P/T participation is crucial to further discussions related to the cost-shared AJS; therefore, efforts have been made to assist P/T partners to regularly attend meetings. AJD has established a routine of setting teleconference dates two months in advance, and has extended an invitation to back up P/T representatives to participate.
Recommendation 4: Continue to strengthen P/T participation on the AJS FPT WG and ensure that new representatives have the information required and understand communication channels and resources available in order to learn about the AJS.
Issue 5: Coordination Challenges between the AJD and ALSP
Enhanced collaboration between the AJD and ALSP is essential to the achievement of the intended outcomes of the AJS, as the groups work collaboratively to support the Strategy. Some barriers to communication noted by key informants were the reporting structure that separates the AJD and ALSP under different branches within the Department, and the high levels of staff turnover in both groups. Some respondents noted there was a lack of communication between the two groups beyond the AJD's policy team; for example, while one regional AJD staff member stated that ALSP was accessible and responsive to questions when contact was initiated, others noted they did not communicate with ALSP.
AJD staff members who work closely with the ALSP noted there was little duplication of work between the two groups, as ALSP works on high level strategic Aboriginal justice policy issues, while the AJD is focused on administering the AJS and operational policy. However, some federal respondents were unaware of these distinctions and were unable to describe the initiatives undertaken by ALSP over the period of the evaluation. Although no specific examples of duplication of work between the AJD and the ALSP were mentioned, some key informants noted that work could be done more efficiently if staff were more aware of the priorities and needs of both groups.
Increasing the awareness of AJD and ALSP staff with respect to the roles, responsibilities and tasks of both groups could improve efficiency; making the links between the two groups more explicit could lead to increased partnerships and collaboration between staff.
The need for enhanced collaboration between AJD and ALSP was identified by the policy team during the preliminary discussion on the renewal of the AJS. As a result, the AJD policy team and ALSP have been meeting once a week to exchange information and discuss policy-related issues for the past two years.
Bilateral meetings with the Director of the AJD and the Senior Advisor for ALSP were also established at that time to allow for increased communication and information exchange on activities related to the renewal, which has allowed the AJS staff to keep abreast of issues that may be of relevance to the Strategy.
In an effort to further clarify the roles, responsibilities and work of ALSP with program/regional staff, ALSP has been invited to participate in bi-weekly AJD Staff Meetings. This will provide ALSP with the opportunity to share with the broader Directorate updates on working groups they participate on and/or policy related activities relevant to the AJS.
AJD has also extended an invitation to ALSP to participate in its annual face-to-face meetings. These meeting include staff from the NCR and its regional offices. This will provide an opportunity for greater information exchange between the ALSP and the broader Directorate and provide an opportunity to elaborate how this relationship works in practice, for example how we collaborated on the renewal of the AJS.
Recommendation 5: Clarify roles and responsibilities of the AJD and ALSP and develop a communications strategy between ALSP and program/regional staff within the AJD to better integrate AJS program and policy functions, focusing on effectiveness and efficiency.
Issue 6: Performance Communication Challenges
Many respondents noted that while the AJS was effective in communities, these results were not communicated beyond the Strategy's partners. Several respondents indicated that communication of the success of community-based justice programs to Aboriginal leadership, other federal departments and the public at large should be a priority of the AJD. Increased communication of the impact of the AJS could improve awareness of the Strategy among Aboriginal persons and communities, and other community groups whose partnerships at the program level are important to the effectiveness of the community-based justice programs.
Some respondents suggested working in collaboration with Justice's Communications Branch to advertise the benefits of the AJS. It should be noted that the AJD is currently developing a "Success Stories" document meant to communicate the effectiveness of the community-based justice programs to a wider audience.
The AJD has been taking advantage of opportunities to communicate the impact of the AJS to other FPT working groups as well as other federal government working groups, including the Federal Committee on Aboriginal Justice and Safety, the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, and the Aboriginal Information Management Committee, which includes national Aboriginal organizations.
The AJS has established a repository of success stories identified by the regional staff, in partnership with the communities, to promote the Strategy.
Recommendation 6: Seek opportunities to improve communication of the impact of the AJS to a wider audience.
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