Suggested approach outlines: having initial talk, exploring risks, learning more, promoting safety
The federal justice department has been conducting a limited testing phase of the draft version of its HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers.
The acronym “HELP” stands for the four components of the Department of Justice Canada’s suggested approach for legal advisers: Having an initial discussion about family violence; Exploring immediate risks and safety concerns; Learning more about the family violence to determine what to recommend to the client; and Promoting safety throughout the case.
For the first component, the draft toolkit contains information on i) asking the client about general well-being, including of their children, ii) recognizing indicators of family violence; iii) asking directly about family violence; iv) responding in situations where there is suspicion but no disclosure of family violence; and v) responding to a disclosure.
The draft resource discusses how to respond to immediate danger and make referrals; suggests asking questions about different forms of family violence and explaining to the client why this is pertinent; and notes that separation may lead to an increased risk for family violence.
The resource aims to offer practical guidance to help legal advisers improve their understanding of the complex dynamics of family violence and family law, engage in safe and effective discussions about family violence, acquire the information necessary for the family law case and refer clients to the services and supports they need. It does not aim to replace comprehensive training and education on family violence.
The toolkit will contain supplemental materials such as practice sheets that discuss the steps involved in identifying and responding to family violence and information sheets that explain in more detail the background for certain topics mentioned.
Amendments to the Divorce Act, which came into force on Mar. 1, require judges to consider family violence when dealing with cases involving parenting issues or the best interests of the child. Provincial and territorial family law statutes also have provisions addressing family violence.
The federal justice department has been developing the resource for some time and has consulted family law and family violence experts. The toolkit is currently in a limited testing phase involving 75 practitioners across Canada. Once the toolkit has been finalized and launched, the federal justice department will ask for feedback from the wider family law community.