This consultation paper uses key terms in a broader sense than is usually understood in the legal world. These key terms include “family justice process”, “entry point”, “user” and “worker”. It also uses images such as “cluster of problems” and “silos”. The next subsections will explain what the LCO means by these key terms in the context of this project.

A. Family Justice Process

“Family justice process” can be defined in many ways. It can be narrowly understood as the family court process. A slightly broader understanding may include court-related services such as court-based information and mediation services, as well as out of court processes involving lawyers such as collaborative law. However, a much broader understanding of the family justice process involves every step that needs to be taken, including the thought process, for someone to identify and resolve a family challenge or problem that has a legal as well as other dimensions, to come to have a sense of closure in terms of its resolution and a feeling that justice has been done. This definition forces us to think about people’s informal networks, about connections between social, health and legal services and about barriers to access to justice more generally. As stated above, the LCO will concentrate on the “early stages” of this more broadly defined process.

B. Entry Points

“Entry points” into this broadly defined family justice process framework are multiple and diverse. An entry point can be any person, service or physical location that someone needing help with family matters may encounter. Other research projects have used the term “access point”, which has a similar meaning.[8] Examples of the earliest informal entry points may include a friend who happens to know a community centre for women, someone’s mailbox containing a court document, and a school bulletin board where a parent saw a posting about free family law information sessions. More formal entry points may include court-based Family Legal Information Centres (FLICs) and the Parent Information Sessions they offer, the 9-1-1 emergency phone line as well as a lawyer’s office. During consultations, the LCO would like to hear about what entry points people have come across while looking for a solution to their family problems or when attempting to design their family relationships to avoid future problems. It would also like to know what workers think may be key entry points for users where services are not yet offered. The LCO expects to learn about a wide range of entry points, especially since entry points are closely linked to people’s diverse identities and community connections.

As an example of culturally specific entry points, Iranian registrars and Ontario municipal offices currently serve as entry points for members of the Ontario Iranian communities. An Iranian registrar office is where a person would go to receive help with Iranian and Canadian marriage and divorce.[9] The registrar office might not be the initial entry point, however. Most people would learn about registrar offices through their informal networks. Others could, for example, go to an Ontario municipal office and get information about how to get married under Canadian law. They might also ask how they can get married under Iranian law. The municipality would then refer them to a list of religious officials authorized to solemnize marriages and provide contact information for the religious official chosen by the user.[10] These two entry points, the Ontario municipal office and the local Iranian registrar are therefore directly connected. Iranian Ontarians rely on them to formalize their relationships.

Once the LCO identifies entry points like these, it will ask whether quality services are offered at these entry points and whether these entry points are the best locations to reach out to particular user groups. In the case of Iranian registrars, LCO research revealed that religious officials who run these registrars may be trained in Iranian law but not necessarily in Ontario and Canadian law.[11] It may therefore be important for the province of Ontario to regulate services offered at these entry points so that workers obtain relevant training. The LCO also found that other locations may be more relevant to reach out to certain subgroup of the Ontario Iranian population. Schools, for example, may be more appropriate to reach out to Iranian women who do not go out a lot but definitely go to their children’s schools.[12] Analyzing a wide variety of entry points will help the LCO identify best practices at the early stages of family problem resolution. The LCO invites consultation participants to share other culturally specific examples of entry points into the family justice system.

C. Users and Clusters of Problems

The targeted user population of this research includes all Ontarians, regardless of whether they already used the system or not. From an access to justice perspective, the LCO recognizes the diversity of needs across Ontario and will develop case studies that reflect the experiences of various user groups. It will conduct an intersectional analysis of submissions received by consultation participants.[13] Moreover, the LCO will seek to identify the specific “clusters of problems” experienced by each user group when facing a family problem.

The notion of clusters of problems has been used in previous research.[14] In short, when users experience family problems, they do not only experience legal problems. They experience a range of problems of different natures that are interrelated: mental health, financial and legal problems, for example. Depending on their situation, different user groups will experience different clusters of problems and it is therefore important to consider these differences before thinking about solutions. Similar considerations apply to workers.

D. Workers and Silo Problems

If a cluster can be a useful image to think about the problems of users, silos can be a useful one to think about those of workers. Many workers within the family justice system face heavy workloads, time management issues and lack of resources that make it very difficult to work collaboratively with other professionals, regardless of their desire to do so.[15] In addition, their professional roles and work culture may not necessarily help foster a collaborative environment.[16] As a result, many work in silos. The LCO is therefore interested in learning more about the various difficulties workers experience in trying to respond to users’ needs. When considering how public legal education materials and high quality referral services may help fill gaps between these silos, for example, the LCO will also take into account the limits of their workplace environment and ask what systemic changes are necessary to be able to implement recommended changes. Perhaps in some cases, workers will need to broaden their horizons to be able to work collaboratively. They may also have to change their usual practices and have more frequent contact with other members of the community to be able to make effective referrals.

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