Supporting Families Experiencing Separation and Divorce Initiative Evaluation

6. Recommendations and Management Response

This section presents the recommendations and management response relative to the main evaluation findings.

Strengthening federal capacity to respond/address needs of families experiencing separation and divorce

The SFI has made progress towards strengthening federal capacity to respond to and address the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. This is accomplished through leadership, assistance and investment activities undertaken through the Initiative. However, the key legislative role of the federal government related to the Divorce Act, the FOAEAA and GAPDA was limited due to the inability to make federal legislative amendments during the SFI. In the absence of legislative amendments, FCY continues to address the needs of families through policy development activities.

Recommendation 1:

That FCY advance efforts to address the needs of families through policy instruments and related activities and further develop options to improve and update federal legislation (Divorce Act, FOAEAA and GAPDA) to promote effectiveness and efficiencies and to keep pace with the evolving needs of families experiencing separation and divorce.

Management Response:

Agreed. FCY continues to monitor the Divorce Act, the FOAEAA and the GAPDA to identify whether any improvements or updates are necessary. Furthermore, FCY has developed and implemented amendments to regulations under federal family laws to improve the family justice system and will continue to do so as necessary.

A flexible approach is required when legislative reform cannot be advanced. Activities can be adjusted to allow for other types of policy instruments to meet objectives. FCY PLEI activities have had enormous success in raising parents' awareness of the consequences of their separation or divorce on their children which in turn has helped them focus on what is best for their children. Other examples include: professional training resources (such as material on high conflict relationships), professional tools (such as advisory guidelines or the tax toolkit), and the successful family justice services which have become the cornerstone of the family justice system.

Trends in Canadian families towards more instability in relationships and marriages as well as increasing complexity due to multi-layered blended and often multi-cultural families indicate that family life and negotiating separation and divorce will continue to get more complex. However, resources remain limited. FCY recognizes the need to continue to find efficiencies to keep pace with the evolving and varying needs of each family experiencing separation and divorce. By working with provincial and territorial governments, FCY can identify options that address these needs.

Building national data

Developing national data collection and research in the area of family justice is one of the main priorities identified by the CCSO-FJ. Statistics Canada is no longer collecting national data on marriage and divorce on an annual basis. The ability to track emerging trends that help identify the needs of parents is contingent on collaborative data collection efforts, two of which are national justice surveys (CCS and SMEP) supported by the SFI.

Recommendation 2:

That FCY renew efforts to address the need for national family justice data.

Management Response:

Agreed. One of the prime opportunities to build national data remains leveraging the value of administrative data bases already maintained by the provinces and territories. Engaging jurisdictions to secure their participation remains a challenge, which must be overcome in order to realize progress and enable subsequent studies that would build upon them.

FCY will continue to work with the provinces and territories to emphasize the importance of complying with national CCSO-FJ led data initiatives in order to be able to build metrics that measure efficiencies and effectiveness in terms of economic savings to government.

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. However, some accessibility issues still remain. Those with cultural and linguistic needs other than French and English and families who are living in remote communities were still not being adequately reached. Mandatory parent education, enforcement tools and services and PLEI resources and services were considered to be the best means of mitigating these accessibility issues.

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. However, the provision of PLEI for some families is not always sufficient in meeting their needs as is the case with high conflict parents.

Recommendation 3:

That FCY advance efforts in working with the provinces and territories to facilitate access to the family justice system for families experiencing separation and divorce and in particular for communities that face barriers.

Management Response:

Agreed. The federal, provincial and territorial governments share responsibility for providing access to family justice system for families experiencing separation and divorce. The FCY recognizes an effective federal, provincial and territorial collaboration and partnership is necessary to advance this goal. Therefore, the FCY will continue its policy and program development efforts in partnership with provinces and territories through the CCSO-FJ Committee aimed at meeting the diverse needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. The FCY will also continue to manage funding support to provinces and territories and NGOs for maintenance and expansion of family justice program and services and development of information and training resources for target populations. In particular, the needs of those who are facing barriers in accessing the family Justice system such as members of cultural and linguistic minority communities, self represented litigants, those living in rural and remote communities and families in high conflict situations will be further addressed.

Improved capacity in provinces and territories to provide and deliver family justice services

The SFI is the seventh consecutive federally-funded initiative in the area of family law/family justice implemented by Justice Canada. Since the mid 1980's, federal funding has been provided to the provinces and territories to support services and programs that assist separating and divorcing families.

The leadership, assistance and investment activities provided through the SFI have continued to enhance the capacity of the provinces and territories to provide and deliver family justice services. Evidence from interviews and case studies indicated that there is a need for continued federal funding for family justice initiatives and, more importantly, stable funding (non-initiative based) to allow for effective planning and resourcing for program delivery (i.e., staffing in Family Law Information Centers).

The CCSO-FJ has also made a business case emphasizing the need for sustained, long-term funding from the federal government to help the provinces and territories maintain and continuously improve the delivery of these services.

Recommendation 4:

That options for more stabilized funding to support the delivery of programs and services for families experiencing separation and divorce be examined.

Management Response:

Agreed. The evaluation of the SFI has shown that the provision of federal funding has been critical in developing many of the programs and services that divert family justice clients from the court system and help reduce the impact of relationship breakdown on families and children. The range of programs supported by federal funding includes: mediation; parent education and information programs; supervised access; support enforcement and recalculation services. Provinces and territories have indicated that the absence of a long-term and reliable funding source has made it challenging for them to develop new programs or services, and to sustain existing programs which have been evaluated and determined to be effective.

The FCY will seek on-going funding to continue its family justice related activities at the federal and provincial and territorial levels and to support the delivery of programs and services that meet the diverse needs of families experiencing separation and divorce.

Demonstration of efficiency

This evaluation provided a first step in assessing the use of resources for the SFI. Insofar as analyses of resource utilization will be required in the evaluation of any future initiatives, it is important that a base be laid early in the initiative that will make more systematic analyses feasible in the future.

Recommendation 5:

That FCY review their performance measurement strategy to determine what information can be collected to address resource utilization.

Management Response:

Agreed. As efforts in this evaluation have demonstrated, finding relevant and useable costing data in the area of family law is difficult. In considering the current results, efforts will need to be mindful of the dearth of national family law data generally (see recommendation 2), as well as the variability among provincial and territorial programs, services, and systems. Ongoing dialogue and collaboration with provinces and territories will continue under the CCSO-FJ Research Subcommittee, in order to build capacity to look further into resource utilization. FCY in collaboration with the Evaluation Division will be looking at their performance strategy for supporting the analysis of the resource utilization. Additional leadership and assistance may be required from central agencies to identify requirements and expectations.