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Inventory of Reforms

New Brunswick Court Social Worker Program


New Brunswick Department of Justice program providing conciliation services in order to reduce conflict and minimize litigation.

Program Eliminated as of April 2009

New Brunswick

Body Responsible:
New Brunswick Department of Justice

1972: Court Social Worker (CSW) Program established
1982: Unified Family Court established throughout New Brunswick
1988: CSW formally commenced mediation services
May 1993: CSW became central to the Domestic Legal Aid program
1996-1998: CSW’s started to handle child support issues
April 2001: Paralegal work shifted to the family solicitor assistants, freeing up more time for CSW’s to focus on mediation and referral services
March 2009: CSW program planned elimination announced in the provincial budget
April 2009: CSW program eliminated

Victor Boudreau, New Brunswick budget 2009-2010: Leadership for a stronger economy (Government of New Brunswick, 2009).
Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Elimination of Family Court’s Social Arm Will be Costly To New Brunswick (March 20, 2009). [ACSW]
Benjamin Shingler, Court social workers cut panned Telegraph-Journal (April 7, 2009). [Telegraph]

The CSW program was established to address the increase in clients seeking divorces. The program then shifted towards providing conciliation services in order to reduce conflict and minimize litigation.

After the creation of Unified Family Courts in 1982, the CSW program continued providing conciliation services in conjunction with the Court of Queen’s Bench Family Division. In 1988, CSW’s formally began offering family mediation services after funding for mediation training was provided by the Department of Justice. Eventually, the CSW program became a part of the Domestic Legal Aid Program, however, retained its separate funding and is a service provided to everyone (not just those who satisfy legal aid requirements). Furthermore, the breadth of services provided by CSW’s was increased. Screening for domestic abuse situations was incorporated into the CSW program, and referral services addressing those issues were added. In 1996 onwards, extensive training in child support guidelines and calculation software (Childview) were incorporated. In 2001, paralegal type services were shifted away from CSW’s to the solicitor assistants in legal aid.

In April 2009, the program was eliminated as part of budget cuts in the province. Prior to its elimination, CSW services resulted in 1300-1700 cases avoiding litigation.

Description of Reforms:
For those who find themselves dealing with separation and divorce – whether before, during, or long after – Court Social Workers can provide counselling, information, and conciliation services for a wide range of issues, including parenting after separation, custody and access, child and spousal support, and division of simple and routine property and debts. They are also responsible for providing referrals for those who need, and are eligible for, the legal services of a Family Solicitor.

Court Social Workers can help people gain a better understanding of their situation and make plans for living apart that are fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of their children. Whenever appropriate, and if both parties are willing to participate in mediation, they can act as mediators to help the parties negotiate agreements that can then be made legal – thus making expensive legal action unnecessary. As mediators, they do not take sides. When mediation is not appropriate because of a history of abuse in the parties’ relationship, they can offer other kinds of help that will not compromise a person’s safety or security, such as special settlement services or a referral to a Family Solicitor for legal services (Webpage).

There were eight judicial districts where CSWs were located: Bathurst, Campbellton, Edmundston, Fredericton, Miramichi, Moncton, Saint John, and Woodstock. All CSW’s were located in court services offices adjacent to courts. They also had private offices for interviewing clients for assessments. All were situated alongside other court services, for example Support Enforcement Services. Some had receptionist staff, but most did not. Clients were generally seen by appointment, but some walk-ins were accommodated. CSWs worked in partnership with the Domestic Legal Aid Family Solicitors who were also located nearby.

Criteria and Methods of Evaluation:
CSW’s were evaluated as individual employees, with annual performance reviews. The Domestic Legal Aid program was evaluated in 1996, and was found to deliver services as intended. However, it was also found to be in need of better abuse assessment procedures, which were implemented in consultation with one of the evaluators.

Elimination of CSW Program
The program was eliminated in April of 2009, following the announcement of the provincial budget, as part of an attempt to reduce the budget by 5%. It is estimated cutting the program will save the province about $900,000.

Those seeking legal aid services related to marital separation and divorce matters will now have to apply directly to the Legal Aid Services Commission, without the assistance of a CSW.

Response to Elimination of CSW Program
“The elimination of this service goes against the international trend to invest in the social arm of family courts,” said Elsie Hambrook [Chairperson of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women]. “The importance of favouring non-adversarial resolution of family disputes whenever possible is increasingly recognized. Mediation and the other services provided by the court social workers complement the judicial side of the court – they help people gain a better understanding of their situation and make plans for living apart that are in the best interests of their children, and often divert disputes from court hearings altogether. Some studies suggest issues settled by a couple through such means, not decided by a judge, “stay settled” longer.”
“The court social workers offer a specialized service that is very valuable, especially to mothers facing separation. I fear that we will be reinventing this service in a few years, because it is a low-cost way to help families navigate and settle issues during the difficult time of a separation. This issue bears further study before the cuts go ahead” (ACSW).

The Liberal government’s decision to eliminate court social workers will hurt the province’s most vulnerable people, critics say…

Rosella Melanson, executive director of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said eliminating the program will end up costing the province in the long term. She said that, with the disappearance of court social workers, families will either live with unsolved issues, line up for legal aid or try to represent themselves in court, often without getting a result that is up to standard. “It’s the elimination of the social arm of family court,” said Melanson, who worked as a court social worker in the 1970s. “With the disappearance of court social workers, it seems that will reduce the non-adversarial settlement of these issues.”

Elaine Bell, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said court social workers are not the only ones who provide mediation services. “More family lawyers are using a collaborative approach to resolving family law issues,” she said in an email. “In all of the judicial districts formerly served by court social workers, other mediation services may also be found” (Telegraph).

Revision History:
This summary was last reviewed in Aug 16, 2012