Supporting Families Experiencing Separation and Divorce Initiative Evaluation

5. Conclusions

This section summarizes the key findings arising from the evaluation in relation to the broad issues of relevance and performance.

5.1. Relevance

Continued need for the program

The SFI activities are addressing many of the significant needs of families. Although some progress has been made, there continues to be a need for specific legal information that addresses the needs of families who are from linguistic or cultural minorities and those living in remote communities. Also the complex needs of high conflict parents are not being completely addressed and those cases are creating the need for additional attention to the issue in the family justice system. Information alone is not sufficient for some of these families. Access to timely, low cost and accurate legal information at certain points in the legal process is particularly important for SRLs, who are an increasing proportion of family justice system users.

There is a continued need for a comprehensive national program to address the diverse needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. The Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters stressed the continuing need for family justice services. Footnote 63 The CCSO-FJ has also made a business case emphasizing the need for continuity of services and programs by federal, provincial and territorial governments to support separating and divorcing clients of the family justice system, and advocating for sustained, long-term funding from the federal government to help the provinces and territories maintain and continuously improve the delivery of these services.

Alignment of the SFI with government priorities

SFI activities, outputs and the ultimate outcome for this Initiative are fully aligned with the Justice Canada's strategic outcome of a fair, relevant and accessible Canadian justice system.

The comprehensive leadership, assistance and investment activities undertaken by the SFI are also aligned with the federal government commitment to ensure that Canadian families experiencing separation and divorce will continue to be well served. Footnote 64

The SFI also supports activities, programs and services directed towards assisting parents to comply with their custody, access and support obligations, which is aligned with the federal government priority to build a stronger society that promotes respect for the law. Footnote 65 All of the federal, provincial and territorial representatives interviewed for the evaluation felt that the SFI has contributed to meeting this objective.

Alignment of SFI with federal roles and responsibilities

Family law in Canada is an area of shared jurisdiction between the federal and provincial and territorial governments, as a result of the distribution of legislative powers under the Constitution Act, 1867. The leadership, assistance and investment activities undertaken by FCY are fully aligned with the federal government's mandate in relation to its legislative authority under the Divorce Act, FOAEAA and GAPDA. SFI activities are consistent with its role in the development of family law and policy work nationally and internationally, facilitating collaboration and partnership building among the jurisdictions, supporting the ongoing quality improvement and innovation of family justice services and programs in the jurisdictions, mainly achieved through the SFF and the development of PLEI at the federal level.

Although the roles and mandates of the federal government are distinct from those of the provinces and territories, the different governments work together within a clearly defined structure of collaboration. This ensures that the SFI contributes to: addressing issues of access to justice and parental compliance with custody, access and support obligations; helping mitigate the negative effects of separation and divorce; and ensuring that the best interests of the child remain at the heart of family justice.

5.2. Performance - Achievement of Expected Outcomes

Federal, provincial and territorial capacity

The SFI has strengthened the federal capacity to respond to and address the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce through leadership, assistance and investment activities undertaken through the Initiative. The key legislative role of the federal government related to the Divorce Act, the FOAEAA and GAPDA was limited due to the lack of federal legislative amendments during the SFI.

The SFI activities have enhanced the capacity of the provinces and territories to provide and deliver family justice services that meet the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. Some of the most significant achievements include: grant and contribution funding to support activities; programs and services that meet the needs of families in the provinces and territories; partnership building between the jurisdictions which supports effective program planning and policy development; the development of widely-used federal PLEI material; and the provision of federal enforcement services that assist the MEPs in their support enforcement related activities.

Enhanced awareness and understanding of parental obligations, compliance and the family justice system

The activities of the SFI have enhanced parental awareness of the family justice system, their custody, access and support obligations, and compliance. Parent education programs are the best means of enhancing parental awareness and have made a significant contribution to cultural shifts in thinking about parental responsibilities. These include the importance of placing the needs of children at the centre of custody, access, and support agreements and the value of mediation as a means of reaching custody and support agreements.

The SFI has also contributed to enhancing the knowledge and awareness of legal professionals, particularly through the funding of specialized training and the development and distribution of PLEI.

Expanded accessibility of family justice programs and services

The SFI has dedicated significant resources to increasing the accessibility of family justice services and programs to families although some issues still remain. Access is most effectively achieved through parent education programs, enforcement assistance delivered through the provinces and territories, dissemination of PLEI, and federal, provincial and territorial partnership building and collaboration. However, some groups are considered to have continuing issues of accessibility (e.g. First Nations, specific linguistic and cultural minorities and high conflict parents).

Improved efficiency of enforcement tools and services

The SFI has also contributed to improvements at the federal level by addressing system efficiencies, improving business practices, adding new sources of garnishable moneys, and enhancing electronic transfer of enforcement information to and from the jurisdictions so that provincial and territorial efforts to support compliance can be simplified and more efficient. The SFI has also supported the provinces and territories through improvements in enforcement systems and technologies, the hiring of specialized enforcement staff, and assistance with participation in national data collection.

Enhanced capacity and ability of parents to reach agreements and comply

The SFI has had a significant role in enhancing the capacity of parents to reach appropriate custody, access and support agreements and compliance with custody and access agreements. This was achieved particularly through the funding of services and programs such as mediation, parent education, and the development and distribution of PLEI products.

Increased parental compliance with financial support obligations

The SFI has made progress towards increased parental compliance with their financial obligations through services and programs funded under the SFF, as well as PLEI and service improvements provided through FCY. Aspects of the SFI services and activities that were seen to contribute the most to compliance were those provided under FOAEAA and GAPDA, technical and systems assistance provided to the MEPs, funding of recalculation services to help keep child support payments in line with earnings, and the availability of new sources of moneys for garnishments.

Increased effectiveness of the family justice system in addressing the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce

Considered as a whole, the SFF leadership, assistance and investment activities have led to the achievement of direct and intermediate outcomes that have resulted in improvements to the effectiveness of the family justice system in addressing the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. These include the funding for family justice services, programs and activities that support parental awareness, enhance accessibility to services, and support parental compliance with their custody, access and support responsibilities.

Mediation, parent education programs, family justice information centres and enforcement related services are associated with the highest levels of parent satisfaction.

5.3. Performance - Demonstration of Efficiency and Economy

The SFI has been administered economically, but the level of salary and O&M resources were not sufficient to meet the demands placed on FLAS for systems upgrades and for its operation between 2009 and 2013.

The administration of both the SFF and FLAS has been shown to have high levels of operational efficiency. The administrative costs as a percentage of total operating costs are low, as is the resulting efficiency ratio. In addition to having a low administrative efficiency ratio, the PDU meets and exceeds the Justice Canada service standards for the administration of the SFF 100% of the time.

In addition to helping to achieve the outcomes of the SFI, the SFF support of mediation services and parent education programs has had a positive impact on reducing costs for families. Although this is not a direct cost savings to the federal government, it is an indication of the multiplying effect of the federal investment and one of the measurable benefits of supporting these programs and services. The outcomes for parents of FLAS activities are also substantial when compared to the amount of federal net expenditures.