Families In Court

People in family court are experiencing emotional trauma related to some form of family conflict which they have been unable to resolve in any other way.  Conflict concerns the ability of parents to care adequately for their children, which leads another family member or a child protection agency to seek either a TGO or PGO.  Sometimes abuse or neglect is involved, but often it involves a parent’s insufficient income, or illness.  Families living in poverty, and especially Aboriginal parents and children, are significantly overrepresented in child protection cases. 

Little research has been done on the adversarial nature of court procedures and the impact this has had on Aboriginal families involved in Child Welfare issues.  

Maresca (1995) notes that the “length of time required for child welfare litigated cases to make their way through the system to a final order is, in most cases, far too long to meet the needs of any of the participants, but particularly the children.”  Further “the social worker who begins work with the family in the capacity of a helping professional is thrust into the position of building a case against the family, and being witness against his or her client.  Parents begin to view the child protection agency as intrusive and coercing, rather than cooperative and helping."   

Once cases become entrenched in the courts, parties have very little control over the length of time it may take for the court to come to a final resolution.  The litigation process creates highly polarized situations pitting the state against the parents, with the state ultimately using the custody of the child as leverage to produce changes in parenting behaviour. (Maresca, 1999)  

Dissatisfaction with the adversarial nature inherent in Canada’s legal system has given rise to the creation of many alternative forms of dispute resolution.   As a result of ADR, mediation is also now being used in the area of child protection as an alternative to the adversarial court process. (McNeilly, 1997; Carruthers, 1997).  

New findings from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect. The study documented an estimated 217, 319 child maltreatment investigations in Canada, of which 47% were substantiated child maltreatment investigations. 

  • increase in investigations of child maltreatment
  • increase in substantiated investigations

Concurrent Planning: Benefits and Pitfalls
(Excerpt from Katz, Linda. Concurrent Planning: Benefits and Pitfalls. Child Welfare; Jan/Feb 1999; 78; ProQuest Education Journals) 
Concurrent planning is defined as working with families toward reunification while developing alternative permanency plans.  This type of planning was designed to fit an out-of-home care population.  It focuses on very young, chronically neglected children from multi-problem families. This was designed to reduce the trauma experienced by children in placement.  The concurrent planning model addresses this difficult-to-treat family constellation by combining vigorous family outreach, expedited timelines, and potentially permanent family foster care placements to improve the odds of timely permanency for young children.  

Wulczyn and colleagues also note that children who enter foster care under the age of one year have the longest length of stay of all age groups, and are disproportionately represented in the approximately 30% of children in care more than 30 months.  If there is no shift in the national policy climate, and if the connection between poverty and child neglect is accepted, then it seems reasonable to expect the child poverty rate to continue to grow, and with it, child neglect and maltreatment leading to out-of-home care.  

What concurrent planning does in treating society’s symptoms should be avoided.  Too often, promising new methods have been oversold, inaccurately predicting significant cost savings and reductions in placement rates.   Concurrent planning will not produce miracles.  What it can claim to do is give case planning a clearer sense of direction and measurable goals it has the potential to reduce the number of temporary placements children go through, to shorten the length of time in care overall by clarifying and respecting timelines, and to increase the candour and respect given to biological families and relatives by drawing them into case planning early.  It can help keep out-of-home care temporary, as it was intended.

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