Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems

Annex 4: Family violence responses by jurisdiction - British Columbia

Legislative Responses

Family Law Provisions Related to Family Violence

British Columbia’s Family Law Act was implemented on March 18, 2013.

The Act increases the ability of the court to deal with family violence by:

  • defining family violence;
  • legislating risk factors considered in parenting cases involving violence; and
  • making the safety of children a key goal of the best interests of the child test. The Act makes the best interests of the child the only consideration when decisions affecting the child are made.

In addition, it creates a new type of order – a protection order – to replace the existing Family Relations Act restraining orders. Protection orders will limit contact and communication between family members where there is a safety risk.

To ensure there is a consistent and effective approach in cases where safety is at risk, breaches of protection orders under both the Family Law Act and the Child, Family and Community Services Act will be a criminal offence via section 127 of the Criminal Code.

The Family Law Act regulations also provide for new training and practice standards for family dispute resolution professionals. Under the Family Law Act, all family dispute resolution professionals, including lawyers, mediators, parenting coordinators or arbitrators who are working with families to resolve their family law dispute, must assess for family violence to ensure the process used is appropriate. All mediators, parenting coordinators and arbitrators will be required to meet minimum training and practice standards including a minimum of 14 hours of training in family violence. The Law Society of British Columbia has also provided similar requirements for lawyers acting in these capacities.

Child Protection Provisions Related to Family Violence

The British Columbia Child, Family and Community Services Act (CFCSA) delegates child protection workers to assess reports, provide support services, provide a family development response or investigate as needed and collaborate with other service providers, such as police, school personnel, health practitioners, etc. to help ensure the safety and well-being of children. Other legal interventions which may be applied to family violence cases include, but are not limited to:

  • Offer support services to parent(s) and children;
  • Applications for a CFCSA section 28 Protective Intervention Order to protect a child from contact with someone or a section 29 Supervision Order providing child protection workers the authority to supervise the care of the child, breaches of which are enforceable under section 127 of the Criminal Code;
  • Section 8 agreements under the CFCSA where a friend or family member not involved with the violence is given care for any children;
  • Under section 30 of the CFCSA, the authority to remove a child if their health or safety is in immediate danger, or there is no other less disruptive measure to protect the child; and,
  • Authority for police to enter a premise to ensure the safety and well-being of a child or youth.

Police

Policies

  • Violence Against Women in Relationships (VAWIR) Policy – is a provincial policy framework;
  • RCMP “E” Division Violence in Relationships (VIR) Policy.
  • Government of British Columbia – Model Domestic Violence Operations Policy.
  • Municipal Police Department Domestic Violence Policies.

Protocols

VAWIR Policy including the Protocol for Highest Risk Cases.

The VAWIR policy is a comprehensive provincial policy framework which sets out the roles and responsibilities of service providers across the justice and child welfare system that respond to domestic violence cases including Police, Crown counsel, Corrections, Victim Services, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Court Services, Family Justice Services, and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program.

The Protocol for Highest Risk Cases, included in the VAWIR policy, outlines the responsibilities of justice and child welfare system partners for the delivery of a coordinated response to domestic violence cases designated by police as being highest risk. The protocol emphasizes the importance of the timely sharing of information in these cases, which may include the sharing of:

  • Risk assessment findings;
  • Court outcomes including bail and release conditions;
  • Breaches of conditions; and
  • Other relevant information pertaining to the accused/offender or victim.

Key protocol partners include Police, Crown counsel, Corrections, Victim Services and Child Protection Workers.

Referral Policy for Victims of Power-based Crimes: Family Violence, Sexual Assault, and Criminal Harassment

This policy requires police and police-based victim service programs to refer all victims and survivors of power-based crimes to community-based victim service programs in an appropriate and timely manner.

Safety Issues Protocol (SIP) between RCMP “E” Division and the Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (CCWS) Program.

The SIP allows community-based responders (e.g. victim service programs, transition house programs, etc.) who have concerns related to the RCMP that may be affecting a women’s safety, to relay those concerns to the RCMP in order to address them in a constructive manner at the local level.

In 2009, the Police Services Division began the development of a comprehensive training project for police who investigate domestic violence. Course content development included input from police experts across British Columbia, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Victim Services, Crown, Community Corrections, Community Agencies, Protection Order Registry and the Bail Options Website. The online course called Evidence-based, Risk-focused Domestic Violence Investigations, promotes continual risk assessment in domestic violence investigations. This course is mandatory for police and since its launch, over 8,600 frontline police officers and supervisors in British Columbia have taken it. All new Judicial Institute of British Columbia police recruits and RCMP cadets are required to take this course. The course is also being adopted in at least four other territories and provinces across Canada.

A second course in this series, called Assessing Risk and Safety Planning, was launched in July 2013. It is being developed using the same inter-ministerial and interagency collaboration practices as the first course. This online course introduces a standardized template for writing risk-focused Reports to Crown Counsel (RCCs). Specialist training on more structured risk assessment processes (e.g. B-SAFER) is also available to police officers seeking advanced training in this area.

Crown

Policies

  • SPO 1 Spousal Violence Policy – Crown Counsel Policy Manual. This policy reflects the key aspects of the VAWIR policy (see above) concerning cross-agency coordination and communication, as well as management strategies for highest risk cases. It reflects a current understanding of the dynamics and risks of domestic violence and the needs of victims.

Protocols

  • VAWIR Policy including Protocol for Highest Risk Cases – see above.

Child Protection

Policies

Protocols

  • VAWIR Policy including Protocol for Highest Risk Cases – see above.

Service-Based Responses

Victim Services

In British Columbia, the majority of victim service programs funded by the provincial government are contracted to local government and non-profit organizations. There are three main types of victim service programs:

  • Police-based victim service programs;
  • Community-based victim service programs; and
  • Victim court support programs.

Victim service programs focus on five major areas of service delivery:

  • Critical incident response;
  • Criminal justice information and support;
  • Safety planning;
  • Information and referrals; and
  • Emotional and practical support.

Services are free of charge.

Shelters

British Columbia funds a network of transition house programs (shelters) that includes three main types:

  • Transition house programs;
  • Safe homes; and
  • Second-stage housing programs.

Shelters are operated by non-profit community organizations and are typically open to women and children who have experienced violence or are at risk of experiencing violence. Services are free of charge.

Programs for Children Exposed to Family Violence

British Columbia funds a number of Children Who Witness Abuse (CWWA) counselling programs across the province for children aged 3-18 who have been exposed to domestic violence in their homes. These programs also provide services to non-offending parents/caregivers. Services are operated by non-profit community organizations and are free of charge.

Abusive Partner Programs

The British Columbia Corrections Branch operates a comprehensive Family Violence Prevention Program that is delivered to medium and high risk sentenced spousal assault offenders in custody and in the community. The program includes a 10 week pre-treatment Respectful Relationships (RR) module delivered by Corrections staff, followed by a 17 week Relationship Violence Program (RVP) module delivered by contracted service providers. Evaluation results indicate that when delivered in the community, participation in Respectful Relationships followed by the Relationship Violence Program, reduced spousal assault recidivism by up to 50% over a two year tracking period.

Supervised Access

The Ministry of Children and Family Development may provide supervised access for parents whose children are in the care of the ministry. For the public at large, supervised access is available through community organizations typically on a fee-for-service basis.

Parent & Child Education/Information

Numerous publications are available online through the provincial Victim Services website as well as the province’s dedicated Domestic Violence website. Information is also available through the Legal Services Society, Justice Education Society and Clicklaw.

Other Services

  • VictimLink BC Helpline – is a confidential, anonymous, multilingual 1-800 helpline that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. VictimLink BC provides information and referrals to all victims of crime and immediate crisis support to victims of family and sexual violence.
  • Crime Victim Assistance Program – is a statutory program that provides financial assistance and other benefits to eligible victims of violent crime, immediate family members, and witnesses.
  • Victim Notification Program/Victim Safety Unit – Provides registered victims with ongoing and timely updates about their case and notification of changes to the custodial status of offenders.
  • Stopping the Violence Counselling Programs – Provide individual and/or group counselling for women who have experienced childhood abuse, sexual assault or violence in their relationships.
  • Outreach/Multicultural Outreach Programs – Identify and connect women in crisis and their dependent children with the supports and services they need through referrals, accompaniment, advocacy and local transportation.
  • Priority Placement Program – This program, operated by BC Housing, supports low-income women who have experienced violence with getting priority access to subsidized housing in BC Housing developments.
  • Employment Program of British Columbia – Introduced in April 2012, this program amalgamates a number of different employment programs under a single umbrella. Survivors of violence or abuse are one of eight specialized populations that are receiving services through the program.

Court-Based Responses

Linking between Civil and Criminal Justice Systems in Domestic Violence Cases

  • Protection Order Registry (POR) – The POR is a confidential database containing all civil and criminal protection orders issued in British Columbia. The goal of the registry is to contribute to the reduction of violence against women, vulnerable adults, youth and children through support of the enforcement of civil and criminal protection orders. Protection orders issued in British Columbia courts or by the police are sent to the registry and are entered in the registry database on the same day they are received and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Family Law Act adds as part of the best interest of the child test, consideration of any relevant civil (including child protection) or criminal proceedings relevant to the child’s safety or well-being. This is intended to promote greater information sharing between the criminal, civil/ family justice system when a court is making parenting arrangements for a child.

Tools/Processes to Ensure Safety

Structured Risk Assessment Tools

  • B-SAFER (Brief Spousal Assault Form for Evaluating Risk) – British Columbia has selected the B-SAFER tool as the standard, advanced tool for structured domestic violence risk assessment conducted by police in select highest risk cases. In highest risk domestic violence cases where a B-SAFER is used, police are expected to share the results of any B-SAFER risk assessment with criminal justice and child protection colleagues.
  • The Community Risk Needs Assessment (CRNA) and Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA) are validated risk assessment tools utilized by probation officers to guide case management decisions with sentenced domestic violence offenders. When properly applied and interpreted, these tools provide guidance in determining the level and form of interventions required to reduce an offender’s potential to re-offend. Risk assessment tools are applied as part of a continuous process that commences at first contact and they remain a priority throughout the offender’s involvement with Community Corrections.
  • Ministry of Children and Family Development delegated child protection workers conduct a Safety Assessment on all incidents that are assigned for follow-up. This assessment is completed before leaving a child in the home at the first point of contact with the family. The Safety Assessment assesses 13 safety factors, one of which is Intimate Partner Violence Exists in the Family. The Family and Child Strengths and Needs Assessment further assesses for domestic violence for all cases that continue into the Family Development Response Protection Service Phase and ongoing Protection Services.
  • Family Justice Services Assessment Form – All clients referred to a family justice counsellor for information or dispute resolution services concerning their family law matters complete a comprehensive assessment which screens for the following: risk of family violence, child protection issues, mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, and financial issues. This assessment is used to determine whether mediation is an appropriate dispute resolution process for a particular family, and to facilitate effective referrals that address the family’s needs. The comprehensive assessment process is also being used by family justice counsellors preparing court-ordered custody and access reports. In this context, the assessment screens for family violence issues and flags other issues that may impact the parties’ abilities to care for their children.

Checklists

  • Summary of Domestic Violence Risk Factors (SDVRF) Job Aid for Police – This job aid is to be used to guide the risk assessment process conducted by police in all cases of domestic violence. All front-line police officers and supervisors in British Columbia are required to take the Evidence-based, Risk Focused Domestic Violence Investigation online course in order to learn how to apply the SDVRF. The SDVRF is not a checklist but serves as a guide to promote evidence-based, risk-focused investigations. The SDVRF is included in the standardized investigative and Report to Crown Counsel template that is being implemented along with the second online course in this domestic violence training series for police.
  • RCMP Domestic Violence Investigation Guide (DVIG) – The RCMP DVIG is the RCMP version of the SDVRF and is linked to the RCMP VIR policy. The DVIG and SDVRF cover the same material and leverage the same online training material.
  • Factors to Consider when Domestic Violence Safety Planning – This resource, developed by the Victim Services and Crime Prevention Division of the Ministry of Justice in partnership with BC Housing and in collaboration with service providers, details risk factors to consider when safety planning in domestic violence cases. The resource is available for use by victim service workers, outreach and multicultural outreach workers, transition house workers (including safe homes and second-stage housing workers), stopping the violence counsellors and children who witness abuse workers. It builds on the SDVRF tool used by police.
  • The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) enrolment form asks for details of any protection orders and requests additional comments from the applicant, including any concerns about safety because of the enforcement of the maintenance order. The FMEP Intake Checklist, used by staff for newly enrolled files, includes a step to check with the recipient regarding any concerns about enforcement, and to determine whether the case should be flagged “caution” in the Case Management System. When FMEP staff receives a threat or a report of potentially violent or threatening behaviour a critical incident form is completed and follow up contact is made with clients and the police.

Screening for Family Violence

  • Is Your Client Safe? A Lawyer’s Guide to Relationship Violence – The province has partnered with the Legal Services Society and Ending Violence Association of British Columbia to develop a brochure and complementary fact sheets for family law lawyers on the topic of screening clients for domestic violence.
  • Parenting After Separation program – Program materials contain information about family violence and who to contact for further assistance. The program is offered in-person in English and online in English, Chinese and Punjabi.
  • Family Justice Counsellors – Operational policy requires an initial screening for family violence with all clients who contact a Family Justice Centre. Two standard questions are asked to ascertain whether the client has ever had concerns for the safety of themselves or their children, and whether there is an immediate risk of family violence. Additional questions are asked if the client responds affirmatively. Responses are documented in the electronic case management system.

Clients referred to a family justice counsellor for further information or to discuss dispute resolution options complete the Family Justice Services Assessment Form, which includes a comprehensive screening for family violence, and related issues including level of conflict, debt, substance abuse and mental health issues. Clients who disclose family violence are referred to appropriate resources, including the police, legal assistance, safety planning and victim services.

  • Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) – see above.
  • Family Law Act – All family dispute resolution practitioners (including lawyers, mediators, parenting coordinators and arbitrators) have a duty under s. 8 to screen for family violence in all family law cases and use that assessment to direct the family processes accordingly. Mediators, parenting coordinators and arbitrators must meet minimum training and practice standards, as required under the regulations, including a minimum 14 hours of family violence training.

Coordinating Mechanisms

Information Sharing Protocols

  • See VAWIR Policy including Protocol for Highest Risk Cases above. Several communities in British Columbia have developed local inter-agency information sharing protocols.
  • The Family Law Act adds as part of the best interest of the child test, consideration of any relevant civil (including child protection) or criminal proceedings relevant to the child’s safety or well-being. This is intended to promote greater information sharing when a court is making parenting arrangements for a child.

Inter-Agency Protocols

  • VAWIR Policy including Protocol for Highest Risk Cases – see above.

Coordinating Committees

  • Violence Against Women (VAW) Steering Team – The VAW Steering Team is the focal point of coordination and collaboration within the British Columbia government on the issue of violence against women and its impacts on children and families. The Team engages in cross-ministry planning, information sharing and implementation of initiatives aimed at strengthening the health, social, and justice system responses to this issue. Membership is comprised of representatives from the following areas of government: Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD); BC Housing; Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training; and Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
  • Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (CCWS) Provincial Working Group – The provincial government funds CCWS, a program of the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, to assist local justice and child welfare system partners to develop new models or improve existing models of cross-sector coordination. As part of its work, CCWS hosts a provincial working group comprised of representatives from key public sector stakeholders and non-profit community organizations to address systemic issues of concern in communities across the province related to coordination and women’s safety. For more information visit www.endingviolence.org/ccws.

Family Violence Action Plans

2010 Domestic Violence Action Plan

In January 2010, the province announced a Domestic Violence Action Plan in response to recommendations from the Lee/Park Coroner’s Inquest and the Representative for Children and Youth’s report on the death of Christian Lee. The focus of the Action Plan was on enhancing and integrating the response to domestic violence by justice and child welfare system partners. Released in March 2010, key components of the Action Plan included:

  • BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel (held in March 2010);
  • Creation of a Domestic Violence Unit in the Capital Region (established in July 2010);
  • Update to Provincial Violence Against Women in Relationships (VAWIR) policy including development of a new Protocol for Highest Risk Cases (finalized in December 2010);
  • Standardized community supervision (bail) conditions (included as Appendix in revised VAWIR policy);
  • Standardized advanced risk assessment tool for police (B-SAFER selected);
  • Cross-sectoral training on risk assessment (B-SAFER) (police, Crown, MCFD, victim services);
  • Update to Best Practice Approaches for Child Welfare Workers (finalized in November 2010);
  • Creation of public website (domesticviolencebc.ca launched in September 2010);
  • Model domestic violence operations policy for police (finalized in January 2011); and
  • Enhanced linkages between the PRIME and JUSTIN systems for better tracking of domestic violence files between the police and courts (finalized in April 2011).
Taking Action on Domestic Violence in British Columbia (September 2012)

The Provincial Office of Domestic Violence led the development of an action plan, with specific targets and timelines, in response to the recommendations in the Representative for Children and Youth’s Honouring Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon report that set a course towards a coordinated and strengthened approach to domestic violence.

Future Domestic Violence Plans

In collaboration with community stakeholders, the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence is leading the development of a comprehensive three-year provincial plan that will continue to strengthen the response to domestic violence by improving the coordination and collaboration across the system of supports and services. The plan will be ready for release in 2013.

New Initiatives (Non-Justice)

Provincial Office of Domestic Violence – In response to the Representative for Children and Youth’s report into the deaths of Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon Schoenborn at the hands of their father, the provincial government created the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence in March 2012. The Office provides sustained leadership within government to ensure there is accountability to a coordinated systemic approach to domestic violence in British Columbia.

Key Reports

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