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Manitoba Justice Child and Family Services Division: Family Conciliation

Year: 
1984
Description: 

Manitoba Justice service providing legal information, appropriate referrals, court ordered assessments, counselling, and mediation to family law litigants.

Status: 

Permanent Implementation

Jurisdiction: 

Manitoba

Court: 

Court of Queen's Bench (Family Division)

Body Responsible: 

Manitoba Justice Child and Family Services Division

Timeline: 
1946 Amendment made to the Child Welfare Act which included a provision for five family counselors for the court
1968-1969 Family Conciliation Services transferred to the Department of Social Development
1984 Unified Family Court established and rule changes made to the Court of Queen's Bench Act dealing with procedures regarding the Family Conciliation Service
Development: 

"The Family Conciliation program is delivered through the Department's Community Service Delivery Division, and is the social services component of the Court of Queen's Bench, Family Division. Policy responsibility for Family Conciliation rests with the Strategic Initiatives and Program Support Branch, Child and Family Services Division" (Annual Report 2007/2008 at 81).

The Family Conciliation Services emerged in 1984 when the Unified Family Court was created. Some of the Family Conciliation services were integrated with the Court of Queen's Bench Act which was amended that same year. Since then, various slight modifications have been made, but the service has largely maintained its present form.

A review of family law in Manitoba produced some recommendations which resulted in some changes to the mediation program. The mediation program was expanded with Federal funding through a pilot project. The program proved to fulfil an identified need for families, and the pilot became an ongoing service.

The For the Sake of the Children program was added to the FC service in 1995, and expanded in 1997 after an evaluation. In April 2005, a symposium was held where the judiciary along with the legal community recommended that the parent education program (For the Sake of the Children) become mandatory. This recommendation was implemented on May 15, 2007, and a corresponding amendment was made in the Queen's Bench Rules.

Purpose: 

The objective of Family Conciliation Services "is to ensure the availability of a range of high-quality dispute resolution services to families disrupted by separation or divorce, and where ongoing parenting of the children is of primary concern" (2007/2008 Annual Report at 81).

Description of Reforms: 

Services to separating/divorcing families are provided to Winnipeg, Eastman, Interlake and Central community areas through the office in Winnipeg and to Westman, Parkland, and northern regions through Rural and Northern Services, Community Services Delivery Division.

Family Conciliation's objective is achieved through the following activities:

  • administration of Family Conciliation services which provide social services support to the Family Division of the Court of Queen's Bench, including information/referral, court-ordered assessments including brief consultation, mediation, conciliation counselling, group programs, Grand Relations and the Parent Information Program;
  • development and monitoring of program policies and service standards across the Province;
  • provision of training, consultation, and leadership in the development of regional services; and
  • consultation with other agencies, professionals and the public.

2007/2008 Annual Report at 81

Services offered include:
  • Brief Consultation Service offers brief consultation for families and children in a shorter time frame, focusing on the input of children ages 11 to 17 in custody/access matters that affect them. Additional information is provided in a consultative format for issues related to time sharing, child developmental needs, parental communication, and other aspects of parenting plans for children of all ages.
  • Court-Ordered Assessments provide comprehensive family evaluations, professional opinions, and recommendations to the court concerning the best interests of children in custody, access, and guardianship matters. This process serves as a vehicle for the resolution of custody/access/ guardianship disputes by providing information that can be used in settlement meetings, lawyer negotiations, or litigation as circumstances warrant. It serves parents, children, lawyers, and the court by recommending courses of action and available resources that may reduce parental/family conflict, which is harmful to children.
  • Mediation is a structured, short-term intervention to assist families undergoing separation/divorce in developing a parenting plan, to maintain a continuing relationship among children, parents, and extended family, and to protect children from parental conflict. This is a preferred intervention for resolving custody/access conflicts. Parents may also choose to mediate financial issues arising from their separation regarding child support, spousal support, and division of marital property. This comprehensive co-mediation is offered in the Winnipeg Region, and on a pilot basis in the Eastman Region. It is called co-mediation because a lawyer mediator and a family relations counsellor are both involved in the process.
  • Conciliation Counselling is a short-term, separation-related counselling focused on parents‟ and childrens‟ adjustment to family reorganization after separation/divorce. Conciliation counselling is also often used for special situations where a quick response may be required or in services such as Intake and Grand Relations.
  • Information/Referral is an intake service. Individuals and families are assisted in addressing issues and identifying possible solutions, informed of community and government services that may be appropriate to their situation, and are referred accordingly. They are also assessed for mediation and other Family Conciliation services and provided with advice and referrals.
  • Parent Information Program, “For the Sake of the Children," educates and focuses parents on the needs of their children in the context of separation and divorce. It is designed to help all separating parents, and is an essential first step to mediation. The program is mandatory for all parties seeking custody of or access to children through the court, including grandparents, other family members and significant others.
  • Children's Therapeutic Group “Caught in the Middle”, assists children ages 8 to 12 who are experiencing trauma, loss, and family reorganization after their parents separate or divorce. This 10-week session is designed for children living in families experiencing severe parental conflict.

  • Just for Teens, is an information group for children ages 12 to 17 whose parents have separated. This group program is aimed at helping this age group to adjust to their parents‟ separation/divorce and deals with family changes, feelings and grief, legal questions, questions facing teens and how to survive the separation of their parents. Peer support is an important aspect of this service.

  • Grand Relations, a range of services for improving access between children and extended family or significant others. These services were developed in response to an amendment in The Child and Family Services Act , and includes the mandatory “For the Sake of the Children” parent information program; First Choice a pilot of an Early Neutral Evaluation service for families requiring a court-ordered assessment; and the Grandparent Advisor. Research was also undertaken to identify best practices/models of alternative dispute resolution services for Aboriginal people to explore options in the possible development of a made-in-Manitoba model.

    • Grandparent Advisor Service was established in December 2006. A Family Conciliation Counsellor is dedicated to provide direct service to grandparents who are seeking access with their grandchildren, as well as to facilitate a monthly support group to assist them through this process.

    • The First Choice Pilot Project provides a confidential hybrid service of assessment, mediation, and counselling to help parents or extended family members to resolve their custody and access issues without going to trial. The service utilizes gender balanced teams and includes the parties‟ lawyers in the process. The service involves two stages assessment and mediation. The parties are provided with a preview of what a court-ordered assessment would likely focus on if the case proceeded to court. The team makes recommendations regarding custody and access arrangements based on the best interests of the children. The service provides an opportunity to settle custody and access disputes outside of court using the input of legal counsel. First Choice became a confidential service midway through the year, based on a recommendation from the initial evaluation of the project in 2009/10. The piloted phase of this project ended on March 31, 2011, when First Choice gained permanent program status.

  • Staff presentations on children and divorce to community organizations, and participation in various community and government committees. Presentations by the Grandparent Advisor to grandparent groups and others interested in Grand Relations services.

2011/2012 Annual Report at 90-91

 

Criteria and Methods of Evaluation: 

A series of evaluations were conducted on the effectiveness of various different programs: Case Management, Parent Education, and Mediation. Two evaluations were conducted on the Parent Education program and reports were produced with recommendations on how the program could be improved. The mediation program was also assessed.

Results: 

It was found that Comprehensive Mediation resulted in 90% of cases being settled out of court. Regular mediation had a 65-85% success rate. The evaluation concluded that the success of comprehensive mediation can be attributed to the parties' willingness to cooperate and it usually takes place at an earlier stage in the divorce proceedings. In regular mediation, there are a wider variety of factors at play and the parties are often at various stages of their divorce, or have already divorced but are back again dealing with support, access, or custody issues.

As a result of the evaluations, the For the Sake of the Children was expanded from a 3 hour program to a 6 hour program and made mandatory. Furthermore, the Child and Family Services Act was amended to address the needs of grandparents and their grandchildren, and allow the court to order a wider range of custody and access solutions. Flowing from that, the Family Conciliation service programs have been modified to include grandparents and changes were accordingly made to the Court of Queen's Bench Rules on May 15, 2007.

Activities/Highlights in 2010/11
In 2010/11, Family Conciliation Services provided the following high quality services:

  • Information and referral 2,268 clients.
  • Parent Information Program – “For the Sake of the Children” – 6,652 clients.
  • Conciliation counselling services 5 clients.
  • Mediation services 380 families
  • Court-Ordered Assessments 186.
  • Brief Consultation Services 81 families.
  • Children‟s Therapeutic Groups – 26 children.
  • Grand Relations Services 37 families regarding access between grandparents and their grandchildren, 195 information calls, plus 20 regular attendees at the monthly Grandparent Support Group.
  • First Choice Pilot Project 83 families.

2011/2012 Annual Report at 91-92

Revision History:
This summary was last reviewed in Aug 20, 2012:custom:F, Aug 20, 2012:custom:Y.