Federal Funding of Provincial and Territorial Child Support, Support Enforcement and Child Custody and Access Projects

ONTARIO

PAA 1: PROJECT COORDINATION

Family Initiatives Project Team

Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To ensure the effective coordination and integration of Ontario's family justice initiatives.
Description
Under the direction of the project director, this team is responsible for intergovernmental planning and collaboration, financial management and reporting, coordination of public information services, legal and policy advice, training for members of the bench and bar, and court staff. Since its inception, the team's responsibilities have been expanded to include management of Family Mediation Services and Family Law Information Centres, and expansion of the Unified Family Courts.

Project Support

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To ensure quality services and to support coordination activities.
Description
Family Responsibility Office staff liase with agency management, legal staff, federal officials and other provinces and territories, and monitor and evaluate the impacts of new initiatives on the Maintenance Enforcement Program. In addition, the Manager/Program Analyst analyzes and recommends improved procedures, operational processes and service improvements to reduce problems and maintain accepted levels of customer service.

PAA 2: FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL-TERRITORIAL CONSULTATIONS ON FAMILY LAW

National Consultations on Custody, Access and Child Support

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To participate in the federal-provincial-territorial public consultations on child-centred family law issues.
Description
The Family Initiatives Project Team was a partner in the national paper-based consultations coordinated through the Family Law Committee. Federal officials, with IER Planning, Research and Management Services, undertook in-person sessions in Thunder Bay, Toronto, London and Ottawa between June 6 and June 22, 2001 with the participation of the Project Team.

PAA 3: FAMILY JUSTICE ENHANCEMENTS AND INNOVATIONS

Family Case Management Clerks

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To ensure that family law clients in the court system are aware of family court services and receive appropriate assistance with forms and procedures.
Description
Under the Family Law Rules, family case management clerks are required in the Ontario Court of Justice and in Family Court to ensure that all clients are made aware of Family Court services, including alternatives to litigation, and that they receive appropriate assistance with the court forms and proceedings. The 65 clerks vet cases to confirm that parties have filed the appropriate documents, advise them of alternatives to litigation, make referrals to community resources, and schedule a hearing or case management conference for cases that are ready to go forward. The case management clerks offer these services immediately after a case is filed and before a judge is involved, which gives the parties an opportunity to reconsider their dispute resolution and settlement options before the litigation process begins. The timing of these services distinguishes the work of case management clerks from that of Family Law Information Centre staff, who provide clients with options for resolving their disputes and organizing their case before their case is filed.

Child Support Intake Services

Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To meet the public's need for information about child support guidelines.
Description
Located at each court, intake clerks provide special assistance to clients whose cases involve a claim for child support or a variation application. The clerks distribute information kits, respond to enquiries, process court documents and requests for copies of orders, and gather statistics for monitoring activities. Intake clerks are being phased out, however, as Family Law Information Centres and case management clerks are brought on stream.

Supervised Access Service Mandatory Information Program (Superior Court of Justice, Toronto)

Duration
1999-2001
Goal
To provide a safe, child-focussed setting for supervised visits.
Description
In 1999, Ontario began to make supervised access services available through non-profit organizations. The centres provide a safe, neutral setting for supervised visits between a child and a non-custodial parent or others, when there is concern for the safety of the child or the custodial parent. Centre staff will refer families to community services, but do not themselves provide counselling, mediation, assessment or other family services. The number of centres grew from 14 in 1999 to 36 in 2001 and will continue to grow until 2002-2003.
Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To provide information to divorcing and separating parents about the court process and alternatives.
Description
The Superior Court requires that all litigants in contested cases attend a family law information session before continuing the court proceedings. The sessions, offered by lawyers and mediators, provide information about separation and divorce, legal procedures, options for dispute resolution and community resources. The video Separate Ways is shown in the sessions. Planned as a pilot project to end in October 1999, the Court has continued to offer the service and, with financial assistance from the federal and provincial governments, is having it evaluated by an expert from York University. The evaluation was scheduled to be completed in 2001.

Information Sessions (Ontario Court of Justice, Toronto)

Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To provide information to divorcing and separating parents about the court process and alternatives.
Description
In 1998-1999, the Ontario Court (Toronto) and York University, with funding from the Donner Foundation, set up a program of evening information sessions for family law clients. The sessions cover issues related to family law, the court process, and the impact of divorce and separation on children. Since 1999-2000, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice Canada have contributed funding to the project to cover administration costs, an evaluation, and the development of a specialized session for high conflict families.

Mediation Roster

Duration
1999-2001
Goal
To help divorcing and separating parents attending mandatory information sessions locate qualified mediators.
Description
In addition to its information sessions, the Superior Court has established a roster of mediators available to parents who have attended the mandatory information sessions. The mediators are admitted to the roster based on criteria established by the bench, bar and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The mediators also receive some training on standards and policies. While the program was implemented without benefit of special government funding, the Ministry of the Attorney General and Department of Justice Canada did provide funding in 2000-2001 for support staff to develop and administer the roster.

Auto-Orders Pilot Project

Duration
1998-1999
Goal
To pilot test the automation of child support orders in family law proceedings in all court regions.
Description
The project tested the automated preparation of child support orders in family law proceedings. The use of auto-orders was expected to reduce the time required to issue orders and to ensure they could be effectively enforced. The results of the evaluation indicated that successful implementation would require the expansion of the project to all family orders so the Ministry of the Attorney General decided to defer consideration of such a project.

Dispute Resolution Officer Project

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To resolve cases without recourse to a judicial hearing.
Description
The services of dispute resolution officers are available at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto. Lawyers receiving per diems meet with clients and screen cases with the goal of resolving them without recourse to judicial proceedings.

Guidelines Implementation

Duration
1997-1998
Goal
To enhance existing services to meet the demand for child support variations.
Description
Ontario allocated federal resources to ensure that there were sufficient administrative, judicial and court services in place to deal with the increase in applications for variations in child support orders that followed the coming into force of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

Kingston Mandatory Mediation Referrals Project

Duration
1998-2000
Goal
To provide clients with a more expedient and effective way of resolving issues related to child support variations.
Description
The Kingston pilot was designed to test whether it would be suitable to require litigants in support variation cases to attend a mediation and information session with a mediator. The sessions were designed to give parties a chance to learn about mediation and explore whether mediation would be appropriate in their circumstances. A government-funded family mediation service located at the Kingston Family Court provided the sessions. The project was completed in September 1999.

Family Court Rules

Duration
1998-1999
Goal
To implement new family court rules in all Unified Family Courts and Ontario Court of Justice Family Courts.
Description
Ontario introduced new Family Law Rules in September 1999. The changes include rules and forms that are easier to understand and use, especially for self-represented litigants. The rules emphasize mediation and other alternatives to litigation and make support enforcement easier. The Ministry of the Attorney General trained some 450 court staff in the use of the new rules, while the Law Society of Upper Canada and Canadian Bar Association Ontario organized training for the family law bar, and Community Legal Education Ontario produced self-help kits for Family Court clients.

PAA 4: ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION MECHANISMS TO DETERMINE, VARY OR RECALCULATE CHILD SUPPORT

Family Law Information Centres

Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To provide family court clients with a "single window" for information about the family justice system and family courts.
Description
In Family Law Information Centres located in Unified Family Court sites, information and referral coordinators conduct individual needs assessments for clients and direct them to the appropriate court- or community-based resources. The coordinators are also responsible for keeping resource materials up to date, liaising with community service providers, making referrals to the court-connected mediation service, and organizing the parent information sessions connected with the unified courts. The Centres, which are open to all members of the public, are located in court sites across Ontario, usually in a dedicated space away from the court counter. In this setting, clients have access to resource materials (e.g. family law brochures, videos and kits), and can meet with coordinators or advice lawyers that Legal Aid Ontario has assigned to each centre. The advice lawyers provide summary legal advice to financially qualified clients only. Legal Aid Ontario has approved various initiatives to improve its family law services. In addition to the advice lawyers referred to above, it provides duty counsel in the Family Court of the Ontario Court of Justice and in the Unified Family Courts province-wide. Duty counsel services will also be made available for parents seeking variation orders in Superior Courts.

PAA 5: SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES

Infrastructure Development

Duration
1997-2000
Goal
To develop infrastructure to enhance client services and enforcement case management, improve the timeliness and effectiveness of case administration and enforcement activities, and complement a new cheque processing system.
Description
From 1997 to 1999, following a review of its business processes, the Family Responsibility Office developed a Windows-based interface for its mainframe case management system (MECA). This document management module allows users to attach case documents to MECA screens via desktop document scanning, and personal productivity tools reduce delays and allow users to generate letters and reports. These functions required infrastructure upgrades in order to enhance MECA, the network and security.

FOAEA Upgrade

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To develop systems for the electronic transfer of Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance (FOAEA) data between the Family Responsibility Office and the Department of Justice Canada.
Description
In 1997-1998, the Family Responsibility Office implemented computer data transmission software and associated security and other communications protocols developed by the federal government. It was expected that this system would be augmented by overnight batch filing of FOAEA garnishments by file transfer protocol in 1999-2000, but a solution was not found because of federal Year 2000 issues. Instead, the Family Responsibility Office and the Department of Justice Canada's FOAEA office set up a procedure using encrypted e-mail.

Consultant Services

Duration
1997-2000
Goal
To retain a consulting firm to help with Project Front systems development requirements.
Description
The Family Responsibility Office, in 1997-1998, hired Unisys to develop and implement system upgrades and new applications in the first phase of a multiyear technology plan. Three new functions—a document management module, a graphical user interface, and personal productivity tools—were installed. In the following years, provision was made for enquiry access when the mainframe system is not available and there was the addition of desktop faxing, remote dial-in access, and file tracking capacities.

Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI)

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To reduce the time needed for client service associates to respond to client enquiries.
Description
The Family Responsibility Office began developing an application to integrate computers and the telephone in 1997-1998, with implementation and full integration with the Front system (the office's new technology solution) occurring over the subsequent two years. The system integrates call centre technology with desktop computers, allowing repeat calls to be routed to specific client service associates who have the relevant case information automatically displayed on screen.

National Maintenance Enforcement Survey

Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To provide the required data tables for the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey being conducted by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
Description
Ontario allocated federal funds for the work required to automate the preparation of data tables for the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey database. That work included resolving definitional problems to reconcile Ontario data with the national requirements, scheduling issues for data production, concerns related to the Year 2000, and other problems encountered in Ontario's system, which is an old mainframe holding approximately 172,000 cases. The data extract, which forms the base from which the monthly tables are created, was completed in July 1999 and new monthly tables are now routinely sent to Statistics Canada. In 2000-2001, federal resources were allocated for ongoing data runs and the development, testing and maintenance of the interface.

Trace and Locate Activities

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To consider allowing access to three provincial government databases by locator services.
Description
Having found that access to government databases helped it trace defaulters, the Family Responsibility Office planned to negotiate similar arrangements with organizations such as the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, Teranet Land Titles/Land Registry, the Ontario Government pay and benefits plan, and OHIP. In each case, the Family Responsibility Office and the agency with the database have to negotiate Freedom of Information responsibilities and sign a Memorandum of Understanding. When agreements are reached, the Family Responsibility Office undertakes systems development work as needed to ensure compatibility for electronic access, and trains users.

Collection Agency Pilot Project

Duration
1998-2000
Goal
To test the use of private collection agencies with expertise in debt collection.
Description
This was a 12-month project to assess whether private debt collection companies could collect support payments in cases in which there had been no payment in at least three years. Ontario evaluated the project at the end of the pilot to determine whether the Family Responsibility Office would continue to use collection agencies to track down delinquent parents. Information gleaned from this project on enforcement activities and private-public partnerships is of significant interest to all provinces and territories. The project yielded positive results and the Family Responsibility Office moved to expand the project. Under the revised project mandate, companies selected through a bidding process seek to collect arrears in cases that have been delinquent for six or more months.

Training

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To enhance the Family Responsibility Office's accessibility, customer service and technical, legal and program expertise.
Description
The Family Responsibility Office trained staff in strategies for dealing with difficult clients and collection techniques and law. Systems support personnel and users were trained as new systems and applications were installed. The agency's policy and procedure guidelines were reviewed to ensure that staff have the latest program information and tools.

Remote Access for Panel Lawyers

Duration
1999-2001
Goal
To provide panel lawyers throughout the province with timely access to case management information.
Description
The Family Responsibility Office hires private lawyers to act on its behalf in maintenance enforcement proceedings. To ensure that these panel lawyers, as they are known, have timely case management information throughout the province, the Office has developed a system that gives them access to support enforcement documents in court via remote dial-in access to the mainframe. This system required the development and installation of software and telecommunications solutions capable of ensuring the security and privacy of personal data.

Information Technology and Call Centre Upgrades

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To provide the equipment and hardware to maintain system infrastructure and to upgrade the automated telephone information line.
Description
The Family Responsibility Office purchased upgrades for servers, desktop computers and three high-speed printers. It also installed a new trunk line, as the existing telephone lines were unable to handle the volume of incoming and outgoing calls, resulting in an unacceptable number of busy signals. The new line is dedicated to outgoing calls required for collection and enforcement. The Family Responsibility Office's 24-hour, 7-days-a-week automated telephone information line gives clients access to case-specific enforcement status and payment information, as well as information about enforcement legislation and child support guidelines. To improve the security of personal information on the automated line, the Family Responsibility Office is developing a PIN number system to limit who can gain access to case-specific information. The office has indicated that it will explore the possibility of a Web-based interface that would allow clients to access the case information they currently get on the phone or via the Internet.

Vehicle Permit Suspension

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To prepare the Family Responsibility Office information management system for passage of legislation authorizing suspension of vehicle permits.
Description
In anticipation of the implementation of the vehicle permit suspension procedure, the Family Responsibility Office began planning for the significant changes to its information management system. The suspension procedures will also require changes to the system maintained by the Ministry of Transportation Ontario. System changes are necessary before the project can proceed.

PAA 6: RECIPROCAL ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES

RESO Case Management

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To implement a new case management system for reciprocal enforcement cases.
Description
In addition to its ongoing reciprocal enforcement of support orders (RESO) activities, the Family Responsibility Office undertook three projects.
  • The Office planned for a new case management system to better handle an estimated 12,500 active reciprocal enforcement cases (about 5,000 of these are requests received from other provinces and territories, and the balance are requests made to others). An up-to-date system will allow staff to work faster and with fewer errors to meet required timeframes for out-of-province files. The work started with the development of the case management service delivery model, based in part on a survey of staff and other stakeholders, and design of a detailed program delivery model. Work continues on this project.
  • The Office drafted a formal policies and procedures manual for the Reciprocity Unit based on current and best practices.
  • With the assistance of other provinces and territories, the office updated its database of Ontario residents paying support to people in other provinces and territories.

Electronic Service Delivery PAA 7: POLICY, RESEARCH AND EVALUATION

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To allow RESO payments from smaller jurisdictions (fewer than 200 payments) to be submitted electronically.
Description
In 1999, the Family Responsibility Office introduced E-CLlPS, which allows people and companies to remit support payments using a secure Internet-based program developed in partnership with the Royal Bank. Almost 300 companies now regularly remit payments this way, reducing errors and expediting payments to families. The Office is promoting the use of this application as a reciprocal enforcement interface to allow RESO cases in smaller provinces and territories (with less than 200 payments to remit) to send recoveries electronically to the Family Responsibility Office. The annual registration costs are minimal, approximately $100 each for the five jurisdictions affected.

Child Support Research and Evaluation

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To monitor workload increases, evaluate the province's implementation plan and evaluate the guidelines themselves.
Description
The province hired a firm to develop an evaluation framework, and participates in the national Survey of Child Support Awards under the Divorce Act. The province also set up mechanisms to capture data related to the implementation and impact of the guidelines. In addition, it evaluated the auto-order pilot project (see page 96), the focussed assessment project (see below) and other family justice initiatives, while continuing to contribute to national research planning and development.

Focussed Assessment Pilot

Duration
1999-2001
Goal
To reduce the stress of access-based disputes for children, court delays and costs.
Description
In October 1999, Ontario began a two-year pilot project to test a new approach to resolving the access-based disputes that occur in approximately 20 percent of separations and divorces. The primary aim of the study is to examine the effectiveness of two types of intervention:
  • focussed social work intervention, which seeks to identify the conflict that is underlying the dispute and help the parents come up with a parenting plan in the best interests of the children; and
  • focussed legal representation, which targets the legal issues before the court and provides a legal resolution in the children's best interests.
The project was the subject of research using a randomized, future-oriented, quasi-experimental design to examine the effectiveness of the two interventions, as compared to traditional assessments. The preliminary research findings were positive.[27]

Family Responsibility Office Survey Benchmarking

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To improve Family Responsibility Office services and products.
Description
The Family Responsibility Office reviewed recent client satisfaction surveys undertaken by federal and provincial governments to obtain better demographic information, better understand the reasons for default and compliance, and assess its client service. The survey design called for both focus group sessions and mailed questionnaires.

PAA 8: PUBLIC AWARENESS AND PROFESSIONAL TRAINING

Inquiry Line

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To provide Ontario residents with access to accurate information about child support guidelines.
Description
The automated inquiry line provides toll-free services in English and French. The majority of the callers sought general information and information kits, which are mailed out on request. In the first six months of the line's operation (May to November 1997), an average of 1,850 people called for assistance each month. In the six months ending September 2000, the average had risen to slightly more than 4,000 calls a month.

Family Law Video

Duration
1997-1999
Goal
To provide information about family law and processes and the emotional implications of separation and divorce, and to show parents ways of avoiding protracted disputes.
Description
In 1997, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General produced a 55-minute, broadcast-quality video that focusses on court processes and alternative dispute resolution in both child support and custody and access cases. The video, entitled Separate Ways, is accompanied by a booklet and brochure. The package was designed as a self-study tool and an aid in public information presentations made by family law professionals, such as those involved in the Mandatory Information Project at the Superior Court in Toronto. The video is now available in seven languages in addition to English and French. Sign language and open-captioned French and English versions have also been released, as has a 20-minute sequel on mediation in family law cases.

Family Law Information Sessions Enforcement Communications and Outreach

Duration
1997-1999
Goal
To deliver public information sessions on child support guidelines, family law and the court process to people throughout the province.
Description
The Ministry of the Attorney General developed a curriculum and trained members of the bar to deliver family law information sessions, paying them an honorarium of $70 per hour. The plan called for two train-the-trainer sessions, 24 pilot sessions and 270 presentations in 43 communities. The province promoted the sessions through pamphlets, newspaper advertisements, posters and public service announcements. The project trained 72 lawyers and delivered a series of pilot sessions in June 1997, then began regular sessions in October of that year. There were 230 sessions in 1997-1998. On the advice of the bar, the province discontinued the information sessions in 1998-1999, while providing similar services through the Family Law Information Centres.
Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To better serve Family Responsibility Office clients and stakeholders.
Description
In 2000-2001, the Family Responsibility Office took several steps to improve its outreach and client information services: it reviewed all its print and electronic materials for plain language, made letters, forms and public information materials available in eight languages, installed new equipment to increase letter production, and began distributing forms through its Web site. The Office has also established a staff committee to regularly review and update its Web site. The Family Responsibility Office also became more proactive in disseminating information about its programs to clients and stakeholders by having public information sessions in Thunder Bay, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor, and making provision for clients to arrange meetings with Family Responsibility Office staff to discuss individual cases. Since 1998-1999, Family Responsibility Office representatives have met with members of professional organizations, such as the Family Law Association and the Canadian Bar Association Ontario, and new panel lawyers. It also distributes a guide for family law lawyers.

Public Information Materials

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To develop and distribute public information materials on child support guidelines.
Description
In the early phases of the implementation of child support guidelines and related enforcement measures, the Ministry of the Attorney General developed brochures, information kits and other print materials. These are distributed through the toll-free line, courts, government agencies likely to deal with affected parties, and other channels. The Ministry has continued to distribute these materials, updating and adding to them as necessary to acknowledge intervening developments such as the implementation of the province's new Family Law Rules in 1999-2000.

For more information about Ontario's services and programs, contact:

Ms. Risa Sheriff
Senior Counsel
Civil/Family Policy and Programs Branch
Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General
720 Bay Street, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2K1
Telephone: (416) 326-2464

Ms. Sharon E. van Son
Executive Director
Family Responsibility Office
Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services
PO Box 220
1201 Wilson Avenue
Downsview, Ontario M3M 1J8
Telephone: (416) 240-2477

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