Report of the Working Group on an A2JBC Family Justice Leadership Strategy (November 2020)
Access to justice is not just about process, it is about creating the conditions that allow people to live a good life. In the family justice system, improving access to justice means designing a system that promotes family well-being.
In October 2019, the Access to Justice BC (A2JBC) Leadership Group committed to addressing the negative impacts on child well-being when families are interacting with the family justice system. It directed that a “practical” leadership plan be developed for A2JBC to meet this commitment. This report represents the deliberations of a working group (see Appendix 2) set up to assist with that direction. It makes recommendations for the first phase of an A2JBC leadership plan.
The report recommends that A2JBC lead a collaborative directed at transforming the family justice system by focusing on family well-being. The ‘Transform the Family Justice System’ (TFJS) Collaborative will coordinate the efforts of the many organizations and individuals (both in the justice sector and across other sectors) needed to make this transformation happen. It will take an approach known in the tech world as “highly aligned, loosely coupled”, and encourage innovative activities at both the community and provincial level, and integration with family-focused policies and programs in other sectors.
Vision: a family justice system that, together with other societal systems, supports children, youth and families
Goal: child, youth and family well-being
The road to transformation of the family justice system starts with a shift away from concentrating on the system itself, to making child and family well-being the focus - the North Star that guides decision-making along the way. This paradigm shift leads to understanding the family justice system as part of a larger supportive ecosystem involving health, education and other societal systems, and provincial and community actors outside the justice system.
The TFJS Collaborative will ground itself in the established scientific evidence about healthy brain development, Adverse Childhood Experiences and resilience. Families dealing with family justice issues often experience toxic levels of stress that have an immediate adverse health impact on all family members and risk long-term negative consequences, particularly for the children. The adversarial paradigm, upon which the court system is based, tends to exacerbate this stress. The good news is that something can be done to ameliorate the negative impacts: the toxic stress can be reduced; the resilience of children and adults can be strengthened, and family members can be supported through family transitions and stressful family situations.
Transforming the family justice system by focusing it on family well-being requires the justice sector to reach out to families, youth and children, and individuals and organizations from other disciplines and sectors, both for a better understanding of family well-being and trauma, and to partner in developing solutions that will work for families.
The journey towards transforming the family justice system has already begun in BC. To reach the goal requires many people and organizations aligning around common strategic objectives, coordinating activities and assessing success by using shared measures. Through the use of a strategy mapping approach, the TFJS Collaborative will create the necessary framework and backbone support for this collective effort. The use of a customised strategy map (tied to an established ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map) will strengthen the TFJS Collaborative by connecting it with organizations, across many sectors, that together are pursuing the common goal of “increased intergenerational health and wellbeing across the life span for all”.
In taking this holistic approach to the family justice system, BC is fortunate to be able to learn from the traditional approaches of its Indigenous peoples. Achieving the goal of family wellbeing in the family justice system will only happen if the justice sector acts in partnership with Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities. The report recommends that A2JBC invite Indigenous leaders to co-develop, as part of the TFJS Collaborative, a strategy directed specifically at the well-being of Indigenous families in BC.
Most lawyers, judges, court workers, mediators, justice policy-makers and others working in the justice sector, value public service and experience their own stress when they know the system is not working for the people they are in it to serve. A transformed family justice system will lead to greater job satisfaction for those who work in the family justice system, which in turn will improve the services they provide.
The report sets out six specific recommendations for action by A2JBC (See Recommendations, Below):
Recommendation #1 - Announce A2JBC’s intention to create a “Transform the Family Justice System” (TFJS) Collaborative
Recommendation #2 - Re-articulate the goal, vision and overall objective of A2JBC’s October 2019 Commitment by using the language of “family well-being”, and expand the scope of the initiative to cover the entire family justice system, including separation and divorce, family violence and child protection.
Recommendation #3 - Invite Indigenous leaders to co-develop, with A2JBC in the context of the TFJS Collaborative, a strategy in sync with the BC First Nations Justice Strategy and directed specifically at transforming the family justice system for Indigenous families in BC.
Recommendation #4 - Use a strategy map framework for the TFJS Collaborative, customized for British Columbia and connected to an ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map that links the Collaborative with organizations across many sectors.
Recommendation #5 - Take immediate steps to lay the foundations for a successful TFJS Collaborative.
Recommendation #6 - Convene a “transform the family justice system” conference to launch the TFJS Collaborative, when the foundations for success have been laid.
On October 30, 2019, the Access to Justice BC (A2JBC) Leadership Group learned about
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), their immediate and long-term consequences, and the importance of resilience in ameliorating that negative impact. The Group reflected on the relevance of this brain science to family justice and recognized that the family justice system was contributing to serious harm being done to children. As a result, A2JBC made a Statement of Commitment (Appendix 1) to take leadership in addressing the adverse impact on children of parental conflict and anxiety during parental separation.
The Action Framework (which forms part of the Statement of Commitment) provided that “the approach to action will be collaborative (including multi-disciplinary), user-centred, experimental and evidence-based – and that an Indigenous lens will be applied.”
The first identified step was to develop a practical leadership plan to be brought back to the A2JBC Leadership Group. A working group (membership Appendix 2) was created to assist in developing this leadership plan. The working group met several times throughout 2020 to discuss strategy and review work done by A2JBC’s strategic coordinator. This is the working group’s report to the A2JBC Leadership Group.
When venturing forth on an ambitious course of leadership to make a difference on a complex social issue, it is important to begin by articulating a theory of the change that it is anticipated will result from the initiative. A “Theory of Change” gives direction on a journey that by its nature will take years, not months and lead down unforeseen paths.
The following is the Theory of Change for this social impact initiative:
By focusing the design of the BC family justice system on achieving family well-being, the family justice system will be transformed and that transformation will, in turn, substantially increase the well-being of children, youth and adults experiencing family justice issues.
An A2JBC-led Family Justice Collaborative will contribute to this transformation by inspiring, strategically aligning, measuring and keeping track of activities directed at achieving family well-being through the family justice system.
Transforming the family justice system requires pursuing the following categories of strategic objectives simultaneously:
- A paradigm shift (based on brain science, ACEs and resilience research) that looks at the family justice system from a holistic child and family perspective
- Policy and programs that reduce toxic stress, strengthen resilience, and support families, and
- Innovations involving experimenting, evaluation and scaling.
These three categories of objectives reflect the three levels of change required to sustain
systemic change – Landscape, Regime Systems and Niche Innovations – in F. Geels “Multi-level
framework on Sustainability Transitions” chart
A2JBC is a collaborative of individuals and organizations committed to improving access to justice in British Columbia. Its mandate covers the civil and family justice system and it made an early decision to focus on family and Indigenous justice. A2JBC is well-placed to take on the leadership of the proposed TFJS Collaborative and with respect to Indigenous families, to partner with the First Nations Justice Council and others.
This is an access-to-justice issue. The harm being experienced by children, youth and families facing family justice issues is undermining family well-being and risking serious long-term and intergenerational negative consequences for children and youth. In a survey conducted by Professor Trevor Farrow and the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, members of the public were asked how they define “justice” and “access to justice”. The researchers were surprised by the responses, which were not the typical justice system definition of “more lawyers”, “more courts”, “more judges”, “more legal aid”, or “faster time to trial”. What they found is that much of the public defined justice as “the right to a good life” (see the survey conducted by Professor Trevor Farrow and the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice at pages 970-972). Family well-being is another way of talking about the good life.
A2JBC has aligned more than 50 justice sector organizations around the Access to Justice Triple Aim. Transforming the family justice system by focusing on family well-being will further all three elements of the Access to Justice Triple Aim:
- It will improve the experience of families interacting with the family justice system.
- It will improve many aspects of access to justice at the population level.
- It will improve costs, including by saving costs in other sectors: for example, the economic costs of stress-related illnesses or of children falling back in their educational achievement.
Transforming the family justice system by focusing on family well-being will ensure that investment of public funds in the family justice system benefits children and families.
Many of the causes for the harm being done in the current situation, and the ways to ameliorate that harm, will be found outside the justice sector. Still the justice sector must take on its share of responsibility for this harm, and for developing, in partnership with others, ways of addressing it. The will to have the family justice system make a positive difference for
families must start from within the justice system.
No one justice sector organization, nor the justice sector on its own, can achieve the strategic objective to transform the family justice sector by focusing on family well-being. Collective leadership is necessary, as is a workable framework to coordinate the collective effort. A2JBC , with the necessary resources, can provide both the leadership and the framework for action.
A2JBC is only beginning to develop the justice sector’s collective leadership ‘muscle’. The proposed TFJS Collaborative will allow the sector to go beyond words of alignment. It will provide a platform for inspiring and coordinating decentralized but aligned action directed at common strategic objectives. The Collaborative and the strategy mapping framework proposed in this report will be a testing-ground and exemplar for what effective A2JBC leadership can and
should look like.
The scientific evidence
As has been done in other sectors, the justice sector needs to root its understanding of child and family well-being in the scientific evidence. Brain science tells us that the healthy development of children’s brains is a crucial determinant of future well-being. Non-stressful interaction with loving adults enhances healthy brain development. Trauma and toxic stress interfere with it.
The research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) identifies ten childhood experiences that potentially create toxic stress and risk negative immediate, long-term and intergenerational impacts. (See Figure 3, ACEs chart.) Divorce and parental separation is an ACE, as are other family justice related issues such as child neglect (physical and emotional) and abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), and household dysfunction including mental illness, substance abuse violence and incarceration.
The more ACEs experienced by children, the higher the risks of immediate and future negative outcomes. The presence of adverse social conditions and historical trauma also increase risks and lead to intergenerational impacts. (See Figure 4 Pyramid of ACEs Context and Impacts.)
But the news is not all bad. Resilience, inherent in all of us and strengthened through healthy brain development, helps with the management of stress. There is something that can be done to ameliorate the negative impact of ACEs: negative experiences can be reduced, resilience strengthened and positive supports provided. (See Figure 5, Resilience Scale.)
While the biggest potential impact of toxic stress is on the brains of young children and adolescents, adults (especially those who themselves have experienced multiple ACEs) continue to be undermined by toxic stress experienced in adulthood. Their resilience can also be strengthened, albeit not as easily as the resilience of children and youth. With a non-stressful environment and the right supports, adults who have themselves experienced ACEs can provide the necessary stability to their children when those children are experiencing adversity, so that the stress is not toxic and the child’s resilience is strengthened rather than undermined.
How does this play out in the family justice system?
Differences among family members are inevitable, and are not necessarily harmful to children. Experiencing some level of stress is what strengthens children’s resilience. If the differences are managed well within the family, children develop the capacity to manage conflict well as adults.
It is when families are having difficulties managing differences that they often come into contact with the family justice system. Families facing family justice issues related to separation and divorce, such as, neglect and abuse and family dysfunction, including mental health and substance abuse, violence and incarceration (all designated as ACEs) will likely be experiencing heightened stress that could be or become toxic.
The family justice system is intended to help families resolve disputes about their family justice issues. In practice, however, the system often exacerbates the stress families are already experiencing, thereby increasing the likelihood that the stress will become toxic.
This is, in part, because the family justice system is based on an adversarial dispute resolution model. In this model, the justice system’s role is to provide a neutral third-party decision-making process for unresolved disputes. The adversarial model assumes that the best way for that neutral third party to make just decisions is in a court process that regulates a clash between opposing forces. It is presumed that out of this clash will emerge justice.
While the system may see itself as playing the benign role of helping to resolve disputes, the adversarial approach creates a win/lose narrative that fuels, rather than diffusing, the toxic stress that may be at play in the conflict between the adults in the family. From the perspective of the participating adversaries, the system encourages them to dredge out the most negative aspect of the other, assume the worst at each stage, confront the other, and work towards an end goal of overcoming the other. Rather than creating optimum conditions for an environment that supports healthy brain development in children, it increases the toxic stress and risks serious immediate, long-term and intergenerational negative health effects on both children and adults.
What is the family justice system’s role in promoting family well-being?
“To be entirely or even mainly focused on the resolution of disputes in our pursuit of justice is, I submit, to miss much that we should expect of our legal systems. A broader view is needed.”
- Richard Susskind, Online Courts and the Future of the Justice System, p. 66
Richard Susskind argues that the concept of access to justice should embrace four elements:
- Dispute resolution – an authoritative forum for the vindication of people’s legal rights
- Dispute containment – nipping disputes in the bud or providing justice system responses that are proportionate to what is at stake and in the best interests of litigants
- Dispute avoidance - building a fence at the top of the cliff, rather than focusing on how responsive and well-equipped the ambulance is at the bottom
- Legal health promotion – empowering people to access the many benefits that the law can confer.
We can deduce from the brain science that adversarial dispute resolution processes, designed as clashes between the participants, should, as much as possible, be avoided to the benefit of all family members, particularly the children. A family justice system focused on family wellbeing will lead to designing a system that creates the conditions for de-escalation of conflict, and puts a premium on the dispute containment and avoidance roles of the family justice system. This might mean using the authority of judges to divert cases out of the justice system entirely, or creating a presumption of consensual dispute resolution (including mediation and Collaborative Practice, such as is currently being tested by the BC Provincial Court in Victoria, and soon Surrey), or working upstream to avoid court entirely.
Promoting legal health includes empowering family members to manage their own conflicts and to live a good life, in accordance with their rights as humans, as Indigenous peoples or as children. This might mean providing separating parents easy access to online co-parenting tools or child support calculators, or involving Elders in decisions about the children from their communities, or giving children and youth the safe opportunity to participate in decisions that impact them, and thereby allowing them to realize their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Focusing the family justice system on family well-being and taking a broader view of access to justice will lead to policies and programs that we have only begun to imagine.
Working in partnership with other sectors
From the perspective of the family (adults, youth and children), family legal issues are most often secondary to social, relationship, parenting and financial issues. Making family well-being the focus of the family justice system leads to recognizing that the justice sector is not where the solutions lie for most families. The authority of the court may still be needed to combat power abuses within families, but issues that require skills, knowledge and experience not held by judges and lawyers can and should be referred to others outside the justice system.
A transformed family justice system focused on family well-being will support and be supported by professionals from other sectors, and all will be aligned around the common goal of child and family well-being. The justice sector will be integrated with the health (particularly mental health), education and social services sectors, allowing lawyers, judges and mediators to do what they do best, but not in a silo that plays down the non-legal issues of families.
The shift in focus to family well-being is not intended to turn lawyers and judges into social workers or mental health professionals. Instead, it will lead to the justice system working alongside other societal systems, and together with them, supporting families to achieve wellbeing by offering its particular contribution to that goal.
While the health and social services sectors may be seen as the more obvious leads in generally promoting family well-being, it is up to the justice system to take the lead in designing justice sector policies and processes, and supporting innovations, that reduce toxic stress, strengthen resilience and get families the support they need as they work through multi-faceted issues that bring them into contact with the family justice system.
Announce the intention to create a “Transform the Family Justice System” (TFJS) Collaborative
Why a collaborative? Many reports have been written making excellent recommendations for changing the family justice system so that it works better for families, and yet there has been a persistent execution or implementation gap. In 2013, in its report “Roadmap for Change”, the national Action Committee on Access to Civil and Family Justice recognized this gap, and made a plea for action.
Fortunately, in BC many actions have been taken or in progress. We are not starting from scratch on the road to transforming the family justice system. The problem is that, for the most part, the actions are ad hoc and taken in isolation. There has been no common purpose or strategies, no alignment of efforts across the sector and there has been minimal alignment with the work being done for families in other sectors.
Transforming the family justice system by focusing on family well-being is an ambitious and complex strategic objective. It will not happen through government action alone, or through justice sector organizations acting in isolation. It requires leadership, insights and actions from multiple individuals and organizations - government and non-government; in the justice sector and in other sectors like health and education; and at the provincial and community levels. Alignment of efforts toward a common goal or aspiration increased the collective capability and bridges the execution gap.
A “highly aligned and loosely coupled” approach
While overall alignment is crucial, each of the organizations necessary to achieve transformation of the family justice system have their own mandates and limited resources. They need to control over their own activities. They work in varied ways and at different paces.
The Collaborative, as the working group conceives it, will provide a platform for co-alignment around common goals and strategies, while respecting the necessary leadership, insights and actions working within the constraints of the available resources and mandates of participating organizations. It can build on what is already happening, while allowing new ideas and approaches to emerge. It does not require organizations to always work together on projects (though this would be helpful in many instances); but it does require a high degree of commitment to common objectives that can be measured collectively. In short, the proposed Collaborative will work because it allows for actions that are “highly aligned and loosely coupled”. This phrase, borrowed from the tech world, was introduced to the working group by one of its members, George Psiharis, COO of CLIO (Cloud -based Legal Technology). It resonated as a reflection of the essence of the proposed Collaborative approach.
A2JBC as leader of the Collaborative
In the five years of its existence, A2JBC has been exploring both the opportunities and constraints related to its leadership role. It has understood its contribution to be aligning disparate organizations around a common goal and leaving to those organizations the responsibility for implementing actions to achieve that goal. It has recognized the importance of the “how” of justice reform in advocating for a user-centred, collaborative, experimental and evidence-based approached, and has begun to understand what that means.
A2JBC is already established as a collaborative strategic network within the justice sector. It includes government (a necessary partner) but is separate from government. It is made up of leaders of key justice sector organizations without being beholden to any one of them. It is the natural home for a Collaborative aimed at transforming the family justice system.
Announcing the intention
For A2JBC to lead a successful collaborative, it will require resources that it does not currently have. It is for this reason that the working group is not recommending the immediate creation of the TFJS Collaborative. A2JBC, however, is in a position to lay the foundations for a successful Collaborative (see recommendation #5). This includes seeking the necessary funding and building the crucial relationships with potential partners outside the justice sector. Both these endeavours will be assisted by A2JBC asserting its intention to take this leadership role.
What will the Collaborative look like?
The idea of a Collaborative is borrowed from the health sector in BC. Working group members Dr. Shirley Sze and Eileen Janel, both of whom have been centrally involved in the Doctors of BC and Ministry of Health Child & Youth Mental Health & Substance Use (CYMHSU) Collaborative, shared their experiences and have helped the working group envision what a Collaborative might look like in the justice sector.
The exact shape of the TFJS Collaborative will emerge as the foundational work is done to get it ready for launching, during which time, no doubt, further opportunities and constraints will reveal themselves. It will depend on the resources available. However, some of the basics are known now.
The purpose of the Collaborative will be to inspire and coordinate activities in BC, at the provincial and community level, directed at transforming the family justice system by focusing on family well-being.
The Collaborative will provide the framework for actions that support:
- a paradigm shift to a family justice system* focused on family well-being
- policy and programs in the family justice field to reduce toxic stress, strengthen resilience and support family members that have experienced trauma
- innovations to achieve family well-being that are evaluated as they develop and are ultimately scaled into the mainstream family justice system.
* The family justice is defined broadly here to include not just courts but the whole sector intended to enable families to avoid, manage, and resolve family legal problems and disputes.
The Collaborative will take a family-centred, experimental and evidence-based approach, and include participants
- from diverse justice sector organizations
- from other sectors and disciplines
- with lived experience, including parents, children and youth.
It will create a space for re-envisioning the family justice system, and a bridge between innovators and those responsible for the operationalization of the family justice system.
Whatever the level of resources available for the Collaboration, it will have these features:
- A core story that promotes a paradigm shift for the family justice system and is
responsive to questions such as: Why should I care? What can be done?
- A clear statement of outcome and strategic objectives around which all participants will align
- Defined measures of success and a way to gather metrics in relation to these objectives
- A stable of initiatives connected to the Collaborative and directed at the outcome and strategic objectives
- A strategy mapping platform (see Recommendation #4) that:
- Conveys visually the alignment around a common purpose
- Records measures, targets and progress on those targets
- Keeps track of decentralized initiatives connected to the Collaborative
- Shares lessons learned
- Allows for cross-pollination of ideas and the evolution of new solutions.
- A backbone organization with sufficient resources to keep the Collaborative going
- A governance framework appropriate to the purposes and nature of the Collaborative, including being a bridge to those responsible for operationalizing the family justice system
- Partnering relationships with potential champions and organizations in other sectors
- A strategy for cross-sectors, community-based action
- Regular celebration of achievements and acknowledgments of the efforts of the various organizations, groups and individuals taking positive and incremental steps towards transforming the family justice system by focusing on family well-being.
Working group members Dr. Shirley Sze and Eileen Janel provided 10 pieces of advice in a document they called, “Pearls from the Child & Youth Mental Health & Substance Use (CYMHSU) Collaborative 2013-2017”:
- Build on areas of consensus and advance an informed perspective based on reliable and best available evidence.
- Ensure the inclusion of lived experiences from the onset (e.g. client journey mapping, needs assessment) and develop proposals that are understandable, measurable, constructive, and accountable.
- Develop and support a funded stewardship (i.e. a Steering Committee) that guides influence, action, and accountability in key areas across working groups (e.g. local action teams and focused working groups) that engage and collaborate with Government, NGOs, those with lived experience, and key stakeholders and partners. [Collective Impact]
- Gather and leverage influence and endorsement via multiple levels of stewardship within the system (i.e. government, operational, and system advisory) via consensus decision making and local collaboration for system transformation.
- Achieve system transformation through incremental changes to policies and protocols while building on existing strengths. Resolve barriers to access and to coordinated teambased approaches that are scalable at the local, community, and provincial levels, and also encourage a whole-of-government approach.
- Develop and support key ideas and principles for what needs to be improved (i.e. a Change Package) that enables a Collaborative Learning Approach; a method for all teams to learn together, from experts and each other, and to enable provincial spread.
- Enable spread of successful prototypes which allow for flexible local customization.
- Employ a collaborative approach by being inclusive and open to opportunities that organically arise through networking.
- Select appropriate strategies and communication channels when advocating.
- Mark achievement milestones and celebrate successes.
They also provided a helpful visual of the dynamics and essential elements of leading change:
Re-articulate the goal, vision and overall objective of A2JBC’s October 2019 Commitment by using the language of “family well-being”, and expand the scope of the initiative to cover the entire family justice system, including separation and divorce, family violence and child protection
Work done since the October Statement of Commitment has highlighted the need to expand the scope of the initiative (beyond separation and divorce to include child protection) and to modify some of the language of the goal, vision and overall objective of the Action Framework.
It is recommended that:
- the scope of the initiative be the whole of the family justice system, and the targeted population be all BC families experiencing family justice issues (whether or not they are currently accessing the court system and including extended family members as part of the concept of family)
- the goal be “family”, not just “child”, well-being
- the vision be “a transformed family justice system focused on family well-being” and the overall objective be “transform the family justice system by focusing on family well-being.”
1. Scope of the initiative
The Action Framework in the October Statement of Commitment defined the issue to be addressed as “the adverse impact on children of parental conflict and anxiety during separation.” The target population was “children whose parents are going through separation”. This was an attempt to choose a user-centred family issue that was broad enough to be important to families, but narrow enough that justice sector actions could make a difference. As stated, the issue in the Statement of Commitment covers a significant portion of children and families with family justice system issues. Still it cuts out children whose families are involved in the child protection and youth justice part of the system, and it implies a narrow definition of family, as the nuclear family – parents and children.
Applying an Indigenous lens led to a recognition that to be inclusive of Indigenous peoples in BC the scope of the initiative and definition of family had to be broader.
A key justice priority for Indigenous peoples in BC is to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care. Increasing the scope of the initiative to the entire family justice system, including the child protection part of it, brings a key Indigenous priority into the initiative.
A broader scope increases the likelihood of Indigenous participation, which is crucial to the success of the initiative for a number of reasons including:
- As a result of the intergenerational impacts of colonialization, Indigenous children will suffer inherently high ACEs.
- The intergenerational impact of ACEs on Indigenous families can only be addressed if Indigenous peoples take the lead and non-Indigenous organizations play a supportive role.
- The holistic approach contemplated will be informed by the underlying principles of Indigenous laws and culture.
Applying an Indigenous lens suggests a definition of family to include extended family members, and so the language should be more inclusively “family”, not just “children and parents”
Figure 8 is a visual that appears in the Wrapping Our Ways Around Them: Indigenous Communities and the CFCSA Guidebook, authored by Ardith Walpetko We’dalx Walkem, QC, that captures the breadth of the Indigenous family model and its inclusion (in addition to the child and the parents) extended family, elders, community, Nation, laws and land.
The reason for narrowing the scope in the first place was to choose an issue where action by the justice sector could make a difference. Increasing the scope to include the child protection justice system brings with it increased complexity, and will not happen easily. It will require, Western Nuclear Family Model Indigenous Family Model Elders Laws Territory Extended Family & Community Parents Replacement Caregivers Parents before proceeding, working in partnership with Indigenous leaders (see Recommendation #3) and bringing the Ministry of Children and Families and the First Nations Health Authority to the table. This will take time. The advantage of the proposed strategy mapping approach to the Collaborative (see Recommendation #4) is that different elements of the strategy can work at different paces. It is not necessary to hold back actions that are ready to go because others are not, or to push other actions forward before the right people are participating.
2. Family well-being as the goal
The goal identified in the Statement of Commitment Framework for Action is “increased wellbeing of children”.
Defining the goal of a justice sector initiative as child well-being was an important step forward. It reflects a shift from being system-centred to being user-centred. Being system-centred leads to taking system jurisdictions, structures and objectives as the frame within which to understand and address issues. As a result, issues and responses are often carved up in ways that align with the mandate and focus of the systems. The resulting divisions do not accord with the way issues or people are in the world. Being user-centred attends to the relational and dynamic nature of human beings, and leads to looking for understanding and solutions outside the justice sector, and to acting in partnership with organizations from other sectors and the users themselves.
But should we make the goal child well-being or family well-being? Delving more deeply into the brain science and its implications to the family justice system led to an understanding of the centrality of family (defined broadly) as the crucial context in which children’s brains develop in a healthy way. ACEs are of significance not only because of their immediate impact on children, but also because the longer-term consequences of ACEs experienced by the adults in the children’s lives can impact their capacity to provide the support children need to develop healthy brains and resilience to stress.
The significance of capturing this reality by referring to “family well-being” rather than just “child well-being” became apparent in the work done collaboratively with Alberta’s RFJS (Reimagining the Family Justice System) initiative to come up with a common strategy mapping approach. (More about strategy mapping under Recommendation #4.) Children are, of course, members of families and so family well-being includes child well-being, but it also recognizes that the outcome sought by the A2JBC initiative includes the well-being of the adults in the child’s life, and of the family as a whole.
Using “family well-being” instead of “child well-being” puts BC more in sync with the Alberta initiative and allows us to share a common high-level strategy map, and opens up the possibility of other synergies.
3. A “transformed family justice system” as the vision and the overall objective
The Statement of Commitment Action Framework defines the initiative’s vision as being a “family justice system designed to reduce parental anxiety and conflict, and enhance children’s resilience.” Work on the ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map has highlighted the value of using the language of transformation. Most people understand that making the family justice system more responsive to the needs of children and families will require more than tinkering with the existing system. It will involve a complete re-imagining of the family justice system.
Committing to the user-centred goal of family well-being is in itself transformative. The system looks different when seen from the perspective of family members of different sub-populations in BC . It is this shift in perspective that will motivate and guide the transformation.*
The Three Horizons visual (see figure 9 below) depicts different conceptions of change (incremental, reform and transformational). Transformational change takes the most time, but has the greatest value. The purpose of the TFJS Collaborative is to achieve big and important outcomes.
This does not mean that small changes are unimportant. The Three Horizons visual also captures the idea of building on smaller innovations within the current system and policy changes to get to the further-off horizon of radically different paradigms, practices and policies.
While being part of a transformative movement is motivating for many, others are more comfortable when focused on actions that bring immediate results. These results, in themselves, may not be transformative but they can contribute to the transformation. There is a place in transformative change for all actors.
Still to be transformational the initiative itself must adopt a transformational goal around which organizations and people can align, guiding the initiative along the way and providing an organizing principle for decentralized action. “Transform the family justice system by focusing on family well-being” will be the North Star in the far horizon that will guide the way forward.
Another reason to adopt this language is that it will allow BC to link to the ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map (see Figure 10, in Recommendation #4) that identifies “transform the family justice system by focusing on family well-being” as one of a number of cross-sectors strategic objectives contributing to the outcome objective of “Increased Intergenerational Health and Well Being across the life span for all”. Adopting this language will open up the possibilities of network connections with other sectors.**
* This truth is brought home in a video from the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. When the spaceship circled the moon, the astronauts were focusing entirely on what could be learned from the moon. Then one of them, Edgar Mitchell, began to take photographs, not of the Moon, but of the Earth. These photographs were unexpected and the first time that most people had ever seen of their home from space. The camera was turned to allow them to see all mankind on a beautiful and fragile planet floating in the universe. To many, it was a profound and life-changing event. “The Overview Effect”
** An example is already emerging of possible synergies with the Toronto-based Institute of Childhood Trauma and Attachment of the George Hull Centre for Children and Families, around an objective of expanding and improving trauma assessment and screening.
Invite Indigenous leaders to co-develop, with A2JBC in the context of the TFJS Collaborative, a strategy in sync with the BC First Nations Justice Strategy and directed specifically at transforming the family justice system for Indigenous families in BC
Indigenous participation will be crucial to the success of the Collaborative. There is much that the settler-dominated justice sector can learn from Indigenous law and approaches to promoting child well-being. Applying an Indigenous “lens” in all the work done by the Collaborative will reinforce the proposed holistic paradigm shift that places children and family well-being at the centre, and the family justice system as part of, a larger supportive ecosystem.
There are also good reasons to develop a separate-but-integrated strategy specifically targeted at promoting Indigenous child and family well-being.
The inter-generational and on-going consequences of colonialization and the residential school policy means Indigenous children have inherently high Adverse Childhood Experiences. So the case for transforming the family justice system by focusing it on family well-being is particularly strong when it comes to Indigenous families.
Because the justice system is identified with incarceration of family members and their children being taken away, Indigenous families are less likely than non-Indigenous families to choose to engage with the formal family justice system to manage issues arising from parental separation. That does not mean that Indigenous children do not experience parental separation as a trauma. Also, as with non-Indigenous children but in larger numbers with Indigenous children, family relations issues are intertwined with the court’s involvement in family violence and child protection issues.
In considering Indigenous participation in the Collaborative, the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must be adhered to. For good reason, there is a low level of trust that a nonIndigenous dominated Collaborative will get it right when it comes to the best solutions for Indigenous children. There is concern that an ACEs analysis will be used as yet another reason to take Indigenous children away from their parents.
Working in partnership on family justice issues, with the First Nations Justice Council and other interested Indigenous leaders, is consistent with the understanding that came out of earlier meetings between representatives of the then Aboriginal Justice Council and A2JBC. Because of the Justice Council’s dual priority of fewer Indigenous people incarcerated and fewer Indigenous children in care, and A2JBC’s mandate being the family and civil, not the criminal, justice system, it was acknowledged that the nexus of focus of the two organizations was the child protection justice system.
Recognizing that Indigenous justice will play out at the community level, A2JBC and the Aboriginal Justice Council joined together to support the Cowichan Tribes Justice Project. This is a sub-project within the Cowichan Tribes’ larger initiative to implement sovereignty over its children, which is now being done within the context of Bill C-92 – An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families that affirms the rights and jurisdiction of Indigenous peoples in relation to child and family services and sets out applicable national principles. This project is potentially a seedling from which to grow a more robust and farreaching partnership in the context of the Collaborative.
While Indigenous perspectives should be infused throughout the Collaborative, it makes sense that there be a part of the Collaborative intentionally tied to BC’s already existing First Nations Indigenous Strategy.* The detailed provisions of that strategy relate more to the criminal than the family justice system, but the two tracks and the principles underlying the FN Justice Strategy are in sync with the objective of the Collaborative to transform the family justice system by focusing on family well-being.
* The BC First Nations Justice Council, First Nations Leadership and Ministry of Attorney General & Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, in consultation with First Nations and their Chiefs and Leadership, First Nations Elders and First Nations communities and service providers, developed the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, which was completed in February 2020, and endorsed by BC’s Attorney General and Solicitor General and the First Nations Leadership Council.
It is not necessary to start from scratch, as an Indigenous strategy for the Collaborative can adopt and apply the four foundational philosophies of the First Nations Justice Strategy:
- Adopting an integrative, holistic, and comprehensive approach that addresses all forms of interaction between First Nations and the justice system.
- Pursuing two tracks of change at once: Reform of the existing justice system, including “presumption of diversion” from the justice system (consistent with the family justice objective of keeping families, as much as possible, out of contentious court processes) ; and Transformation through the rebuilding of Indigenous justice systems “advancing First Nations self-determination” (the focus of the Cowichan Tribes Justice Project)
- Being proactive in creating conditions where First Nations people are no longer disproportionately interacting with, nor being impacted by, the justice system (as is the case with the child protection part of the family justice system.)
- Achieving a 180-degree shift from the current reality of First Nations people being overrepresented in all stages of interaction with the justice system, while at the same time being underrepresented as participants with roles and responsibilities within the system.
The recommendation is that A2JBC build on its existing relationships with Indigenous justice leaders and invite them to co-develop, with A2JBC, an Indigenous strategy for transforming the family justice system for Indigenous families in the context of the Collaborative and in sync with the First Nations Justice strategy.
Use a strategy map framework for the TFJS Collaborative, customized for British Columbia and connected to an ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map that links the Collaborative with organizations across many sectors
A strategy map is a visual representation of an aligned set of strategies intended to bring about change. It supports collaboration among multiple organizations working together to achieve an outcome.
The leadership strategy working group early on identified the need to provide a visual framework for the work of the Collaborative. This led to A2JBC’s strategic coordinator and some of the members of the working group collaborating with leaders of the Alberta Re-imagining the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative and with a US-based organization, Insight Formation, on developing a “transform the family justice” objective in the context of a larger, cross-sectoral ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map zoomable template. (See Figures 10 & 11)
The first map sets out the high-level outcome objectives that are defined in terms health and well-being; strategy objectives, including circled in the bottom right “Transform the Family Justice System”. Zooming down, from this strategy objective to the next level, takes you to the second map that Alberta and BC worked on together, showing strategic objectives, directed at transforming the family justice system and divided into the three categories. These categories reflect the three levels of the Geels Framework for System Change (see Figure 2, page 4) and are referred to in the Theory of Change section, above:
- A family well-being paradigm shift (based on brain science)
- Policy and programs to reduce toxic stress, strengthen resilience, and support families
- Innovations to improve family well-being (experimenting, evaluation and scaling).
Insight Formation has been working in the world of collective impact for many years, and has developed strategy mapping, and tools related to it, to respond to the challenges of collaborative initiatives that are attempting to address complex social issues. Because of the work BC and Alberta have done over the last several months to help with the ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map, Insight Formation is working with both provinces to develop customized maps for each province, as illustrations of how strategy mapping can be used in the field of collaborative social impact initiatives. This led to Alberta and BC family justice strategy mapping work being used as an example in an article co-authored by Insight Formation principal Bill Barberg, John M. Bryson, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota and Michael Quinn Patton, renowned author on evaluation in the context of social transformation. The article has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Change Management.
The strategy mapping approach is consistent with A2JBC’s commitment to a justice sector shift to being evidence-based. It includes developing common measures and setting targets for achieving those measures. To the extent that measuring is currently being done in the justice system, it is primarily individual measures that vary from program to program. (See Figure 12)
The strategy mapping approach develops common measures that are used by all the different organizations working towards the same strategic objective. (See Figure 13 – Note: the larger blue arrows represent the organizations in the Collaborative, the smaller reads arrows represent assisting organizations recruited to help achieve the objectives.)
Details about each objective on the strategy map can be stored in a parallel system/tool called “InsightVision” that holds not only the Strategy Map view (see Figure 11 above) but also has the ability to store all of the data relating to the work of the TFJS Collaborative. See Figure 14 for an example of a data page for one of the objectives “Increase justice sector education in brain science & understanding about the impact of trauma”. From this data page, it is possible to go back, with a click, to the Strategy Map or a click for more detail about the objective, including measures and actions.
Figure 15 shows what you see if you click on the From-To Gap on the Objective Data page, it includes a clear description of the change that the TFJS Collaborative is trying achieve related to this particular objective. Circled in the bottom left hand corner is an example of a common measure related to the particular objective, along with an indication of the degree to which the target related to that objective has been achieved.
Figure 16 shows the Measure at a glance, with details about the historical situation, the targets over time and the degree to which those targets are reached.
This kind of data can be tracked for any of the objectives. It gives a clear understanding of how the Collaborative is doing with the individuals actions that have been identified as helping to move towards the change sought.
Actions have their own data page. See Figure 17 below.
The InsightVision tool can track actions from many different organizations, all working towards the common objective on mutually reinforcing activities that fit with their resources and mandates. It can show who has been assigned to do the work and the status of each action. This can all be rolled up in a Score Card that creates yet another way to visualize the data. See Figure 18 below.
All the information is interconnected. A change in one part of the tool automatically makes a change throughout, thereby avoiding multiple entries.
A final resource, offered by the strategy mapping approach using the Insight Formation tools, is a Resource Hub that uses a wiki platform or commons. See Figure 19, below. This is a separate resource that is maintained by the organizations engaged in the Collaborative . It is a platform for sharing information about experiences working on the specific strategic objectives.
Participating in the Resource Hub related to the high-level ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map (Figure 10, above) is an opportunity for the BC justice sector to learn from and connect with organizations that are working on similar strategies across many sectors.
In summary, the reasons to adopt the strategy mapping approach are:
- It clarifies the larger, longer-term collective vision (necessary when addressing complex social issues) while, at the same time, encouraging short-term, decentralized actions.
- It provides a framework for mapping existing efforts and highlighting their alignment around common objectives.
- It encourages strategic networks of organizations working on common objectives, learning from each other and building solutions together.
- It incorporates measures and targets that can be recorded, monitored and made public.
- It is a tool for keeping track of different activities, and instilling a level of accountability without directing participating organizations what to do.
- It can be the repository of resources (or connection to resources) that will reduce duplication of effort.
- It builds on the work done together by BC and Alberta on a joint articulation of a family justice strategic objective. This opens up synergistic possibilities with Alberta and other provinces, and increases the options for funding.
- It will link the A2JBC justice sector initiative to the efforts of other sectors (for example, the mental health and education sectors) who are also working on the ACEs and Resilience Strategy Map template, and open up resources beyond the justice sector for understanding the issues and providing solutions.
Take immediate steps to lay the foundations for a successful TFJS Collaborative
The Doctors of BC members of the working group advised strongly against starting the Collaborative until the foundations for stewardship have been laid. The necessary conditions for success of the initiative have to be put in place or the TFJS Collaborative to ensure viability and sustainability of the Collaborative.
This foundational work for the TFJS Collaborative has already started, and some of it can be done within the resources (including volunteers) currently available to A2JBC. But, like any successful collective impact initiative, the Collaborative will require a funded backbone (infrastructure) to guide and support actions, coordination, cross-pollination of ideas, accountability and communication. This will take time and resources to put in place.
The foundation work that needs to be done before the Collaboration is launched includes:
a. Developing a communications strategy, with a “core story” and a plan for effectively communicating it. (Note: Development of a core story is in progress, and the idea of a video on ACEs and the family justice system is under consideration. A2JBC’s networks provide a ready means for distribution.)
b. Conducting an “ACEs Awareness to Action” campaign in the justice sector (Note: The concept is to develop a webinar that addresses the questions: what is the brain science saying? so what? now what? The Canadian Bar Association - BC branch has a budget for this and is ready to take a lead. The educational resources have been gathered.)
c. Developing a ‘Transform the Family Justice System’ Strategy Map, customized for BC and beginning with mapping existing efforts, in particular:
- initiatives directed at the objective of enhancing children’s resilience
- the Provincial Court/MAG early resolution initiatives in Victoria and Surrey
- A2JBC supported initiatives (Skills, Pathfinder, Cowichan Tribes)
(Note: Customizing a ‘Transform the Family Justice’ Strategy Map for BC is in progress with Insight Formation, as is the idea of testing out the tool by working with a strategic network of organizations already pursuing the children’s resilience objective. The Provincial Court/MAG early resolution initiative and the A2JBC supported initiatives, to mention only a few of BC family justice initiatives, have obvious links to the strategic objectives shown in Figure 11, in Recommendation #4.)
d. Building relationships with potential partners in other sectors and tying into the government’s Pathway to Hope initiative.*
(Note: Prior to COVID, connections were being made to other sectors, notably the child and youth mental health sector, but this relationship building needs to be expanded. It will be easier once A2JBC has committed to leading the TFJS Collaborative. Preliminary efforts suggest a real enthusiasm in other sectors, in particular in the mental health area because of the recognition of the negative impact of the family justice processes on families already challenged by mental health issues. The current assumption of many from outside the justice sector is that there is nothing that can be done about the justice system – it is a negative reality to be endured by their clients. Within government the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions leads on taking an integrated approach to mental health issues, as outlined in their multi-year strategic plan in the Pathway to Hope report. It may make most sense to find a way to link to that initiative, rather than trying to create yet another cross-ministry plan.)
e. Developing and implementing a fund-raising strategy to resource the Collaborative
(Note: Steering Committee and Leadership Group member Melanie Mahlman is a very helpful resource for guidance in effective fundraising. Nika Robinson is a possible volunteer willing to commit time to manage this crucial aspect of the foundational work.)
The recommendation is that A2JBC make laying the foundations for a successful collaborative a priority for 2021, within the confines of the resources at hand.
* A Pathway to Hope: A roadmap for making mental health and addictions care better for people in British Columbia was published in 2019. It lays out the government’s 10-year vision for mental health and addictions care with the goal of getting people the services they need in order to tackle problems early on and support their wellbeing. It identifies the priority actions government will take over the next three years to help people immediately and reduce demand on services down the road. The focus is on supporting the wellness of children, youth and young adults, supporting Indigenous-led solutions and improving access and quality of care
Convene a “transform the family justice system” conference to launch the Collaborative, when the foundations for success have been laid
Much good work is already being done towards the strategic objectives set out in the TFJS strategy map (Figure 11, in Recommendation #4). Yet, achieving the strategic objective to transform the family justice system by focusing on family well-being involves more than ad hoc activities. It requires the alignment around the idea of paradigm shift – a reimagining of the family justice system from the perspective of families – children, youth and adults – who are experiencing family justice issues.
While a lot of foundational work can and should be done quietly and methodically, the success of the TFJS Collaborative will depend on widespread engagement of individuals, groups and organizations. At some point, these individuals, groups and organizations need to come together to commit to transform the family justice system, and to launch the TFJS Collaborative.
Because reimagining the family justice system involves seeing things from the perspective of children, youth and families, those with lived experience need to be front and centre of all the transformational work to be done.
Because the view from the perspective of the family is holistic, the needs of families are multifaceted and interrelated, and family justice issues have social, mental and physical health, educational and economic aspects, representatives from other sectors and disciplines must be included.
Because many of the changes that will flow from a reimagined family justice system will require action within and across the justice sector, the key justice sector institutions and organizations need to be represented.
Since its inceptions, one of A2JBC’s roles has been to convene justice sector leaders, inspiring leaders from other sectors and people with lived experience, to examine issues related to change in the justice system so that it better serves the people it is intended to serve. A2JBC has experience in creating the space for a diverse group to reflect, and in reflection to generate a collective will for action. So, this report concludes with a recommendation that, when the time is ripe (that is, when the foundations have been laid) A2JBC convene a diverse group to reimagine the family justice sector from the perspective of children, youth and families, and to launch the ‘Transform the Family Justice’ Collaborative.
STATEMENT OF COMMITMENT
Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Family Justice System
Heightened parental conflict during separation negatively affects children, and increased anxiety reduces parents’ ability to support children through an inevitably stressful situation. Interaction with the court system too often exacerbates parental conflict and anxiety. Instead of supporting the natural resilience of children by giving them voice, the family justice system frequently leaves children feeling unheard and thus more vulnerable.
On October 30, 2019, the Access to Justice BC Leadership Group met to hear about the scientific research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and child resilience, and the evidence of immediate and long-term adverse impacts on children of parental conflict and anxiety during separation. This led to the conviction that action – both within the justice sector and across other sectors - is necessary, and to a commitment from Access to Justice BC to take leadership to address this issue. This will involve looking at the family justice system in a different way – from the perspective of families and children - and defining its success in terms of its positive impact on child well-being, and the extent to which it reduces, rather than exacerbates, parental conflict and anxiety.
The nature of this leadership will require further consideration to make it practical, impactful and consistent with the governance limitations of Access to Justice BC. Individual organizations are not being asked to endorse this Statement of Commitment, and collective leadership by Access to Justice BC (or the Leadership Group) does not bind any individual organization to a particular course of action or at all. This joint commitment is supported by the vast majority of the Leadership Group, but is not unanimous.
Opportunities to reduce parental conflict and anxiety and increase a child’s resilience will differ depending on the child and their family situation, community and culture. It is recognized that historically, by reason of state actions to separate Indigenous children from their parents, Indigenous children and adults in British Columbia have disproportionately been subjected to the inter-generational impacts of adverse childhood experiences, and that opportunities to address this sad reality lie within Indigenous communities and culture. Still justice system leaders have a supportive role to play.
Therefore, the Access to Justice BC Leadership Group:
- Commits to addressing the adverse impact on children of parental conflict and anxiety during separation;
- Confirms the Action Framework set out below; and
- Agrees to the development of a practical plan for cross-sector/cross-sectoral leadership to be brought back to the Leadership Group in the spring of 2020.
ACTION FRAMEWORK TO ADDRESS ADVERSE IMPACT ON CHILDREN OF PARENTAL CONFLICT AND ANXIETY DURING SEPARATION
Goal: Increased well-being of children experiencing parental separation.
Vision: A family justice system designed to reduce parental anxiety and conflict, and enhance children’s resilience
Obligation: UN Declaration of the Rights of Children, Rule 1-3 of the Supreme Court Family Rules, Rule 1 of the Provincial Court (Family) Rules and section 37 of the Family Law Act
Guiding Principles: (Adapted from Meaningful Change for Family Justice: Beyond Wise Words):
- Minimize conflict - Programs, services and procedures are designed to minimize and reduce the extent and duration of conflict and its negative impact on children.
- Collaboration - Programs, services and procedures encourage collaboration and consensual dispute resolution is at the centre of the family justice system, provided that judicial determination is readily available and accessible when needed.
- Client Centred - The family justice system is designed for, and around the needs of the families that use it and the children who are affected by it.
- Empowered families - Families are, to the extent possible, empowered to assume responsibility for their own outcomes.
- Integrated multidisciplinary services - Services to families going through separation and divorce are coordinated, integrated and multidisciplinary.
- Early resolution - Information and services are available early in disputes to help people resolve their problems as quickly as possible as is appropriate to the dispute and the emotional circumstances of the parties.
- Voice, fairness and safety - People with family justice problems have the opportunity to be heard and the services and processes offered to them are respectful, fair and safe. Children have the opportunity to have their views and preferences heard.
- Accessible - The family justice system is affordable, understandable and timely.
- Proportional - Processes and services are proportional to the interests of any child affected, the importance of the issue, and the complexity of the case.
Approach: collaborative (including multi-disciplinary), user-centred, experimental, evidencedbased and applying an Indigenous lens.
- Increasing parental capacity
- Enhancing children’s resilience
- Designing the justice system to reduce parental conflict and anxiety, and enhance children’s resilience.
This Framework links to the Access to Justice Triple Aim in that it seeks to improve access to
justice at the population level and the experience of children and families with the family
justice system, and to do so in a way in which the costs are proportional to the benefits.
|First Name||Last Name||Title||Affiliation|
|Robert||Lapper QC (Chair)||Lam Chair in Law and Public Policy||University of Victoria|
|Nancy||Carter||Executive Director of Family Policy, Legislation and Transformation||Ministry of Attorney General|
|Sahara||Davis||Member||Youth Voices Leadership Team|
|Eileen||Janel||Senior Project Coordinator||Joint Collaborative Committees of Doctors of BC and the Provincial Ministry of Health|
|Jennifer||Muller||District Counsellor, North Vancouver School District||Public|
|Wayne||Plenart||Family Law Lawyer & Mediator||Justice Sector Educator|
|George||Psiharis||Chief Operating Officer||CLIO (Cloud-Based Legal Technology)|
|Kerry||Simmons QC||Executive Director||Canadian Bar Association BC, Family Law Lawyers|
|Dr. Shirley||Sze||Chair||Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use (CYMHSU) Community of Practice’s ACEs Working Group|
|Kaitlyn||Chewka||Volunteer||Access to Justice BC|
|Nika||Robinson||Volunteer||Access to Justice BC|
|Jane||Morley QC (support)||Strategic Coordinator||Access to Justice BC|