In the previous chapter, multidisciplinary family services approaches were examined with a particular focus on community health centres and the early learning initiative in Ontario. This chapter shifts to the fuller vision of multidisciplinary paths to family justice, which is characterized by the integration of low-level legal services into multidisciplinary family services models that do not have legal services as their primary orientation. The focus, more specifically, is on the provision of low-level legal services revolving around legal information, legal consultation, and very informal community dispute resolution within a non-legal model for family services. These low-level legal services are ones that help to meet the needs of families where the family problems and family challenges are at a very early stage. Their provision in a multidisciplinary family services model are designed to be proactive and preventative. They constitute early and multiple entry points for families into the family justice system in Ontario. If, however, these legal services are effective, they will result in very limited further interaction with the family justice system – in particular the courts — by many of the families who are provided with the services.
Why Integrate Legal Services into the Multidisciplinary Delivery Model
The principal reason for integrating some legal services into a multidisciplinary family services model is that many of the problems and challenges that families in Ontario face have some sort of legal dimension. This is obviously the case when marriages and other forms of intimate relationships breakdown. Legal issues such as property division and income support as well as child support, custody and access abound. Many of the other challenges and problems faced by Ontario families likewise have a legal dimension: immigration, housing, and employment. Therefore, if a multidisciplinary family services team of professionals genuinely wants to help families with their problems or challenges, it makes sense to acknowledge the important value a legal professional could add to the team.
This logic was widely accepted by other professionals working on multidisciplinary family services teams when we interviewed them. They virtually all reported working with families who would have or did benefit from having some measure of legal information, legal consultation, or informal dispute resolution. From their perspective, these families did have among their pressing needs legal needs. And given the commitment to meeting these needs in a holistic multidisciplinary way, collaborating with legal professionals is a reasonable extension of the delivery model.
Multidisciplinary collaborative teams result in much more predictability in the quality of the service provided. People working on the team are experts in their particular job. The way information is shared among the team allows the family to only have to tell their story once. This avoids inconsistencies and the risk that something may be left out when the individuals are required to retell their story again and again. This sort of collaboration is also valuable as a preventive tool, especially in the case of domestic violence. The failure to put together a complete picture of what is going on is regularly cited as an explanation for domestic violence deaths; multidisciplinary collaborative teams are much more likely to put together all of the pieces of the puzzle and reduce the frequency of these deaths. As well, because these teams handle many different kinds of problems, not just legal ones, there is a comforting anonymity for the family members to enter into a multidisciplinary family services site.
Indeed, there is a compelling perspective that the absence of this sort of multidisciplinary professional collaboration constitutes a type of barrier to justice. For without the collaboration the legal dimension of the issue may be invisible to both the person in need and the community at large. As Law Society of Upper Canada Treasurer W.A. Derry Millar observed in 2009, overcoming a barrier to justice can, “be as basic as identifying a problem as a legal problem.” A legal services component to the family services can help, in other words, to make the legal need visible. People who need family services do not always identify themselves as being at that point of crisis and would not think to seek out help from the police or a lawyer, or in the case of victims of domestic violence a women’s shelter. They are much more likely to turn for help to a more holistic multidisciplinary family service such as a community health centre, a family counselling centre, or an early learning centre. Once they have taken this step, in order to resolve the situation, there has to be a sense of closure in terms of a resolution and a belief that justice has been done.
Not only are legal needs often a component of the family challenges or family problems that multidisciplinary service delivery teams address, but also the legal needs cannot be separated from the other needs of the family. This means that in some instances it is deeply problematic to respond to the legal need without also addressing those other needs. John McCamus, Chair of Legal Aid Ontario, notes, “We recognize that we need to come up with ideas that will help both the legal and social service communities work more effectively together, with existing resources.”
FLICs and Community Legal Clinics
There exist at present in Ontario two very important publicly funded and accessible networks – community legal clinics and Family Law Information Centres — that provide legal services for families in Ontario. There are 80 community legal clinics, including 17 specialty clinics, funded by Legal Aid Ontario. These clinics are designed to provide low-income individuals in Ontario with high quality legal aid services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. There are 68 Family Law Information Centres (FLICs) housed in courthouses across the province of Ontario. FLICs provide individuals, regardless of income, with pamphlets and publications on family law concerns in Ontario, legal services, the court process and paperwork, as well as linking them to resources in the community. Various required forms are also readily available in all FLICs. Some FLICs also have advice lawyers available for low income individuals to provide referral services for mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution as well as legal information.
Many of the professionals on multidisciplinary family services teams told us that they have recommended to families with identified legal needs that they go to local community legal clinics for help. The general view of these legal clinics by non-legal professionals was very positive. There are, however, several features about these referrals that should be noted:
· Because the community legal clinics are available only for individuals with low incomes, they are unable to service all families in Ontario.
· The community legal clinics are not part of the interdisciplinary family services teams, which means that in practice the team does not follow up the recommendations they make. Indeed, it is extremely doubtful that any community legal clinic would even reveal that a particular individual had made contact with them.
· Community legal clinics do not operate everywhere in Ontario.
· Perhaps most importantly, there is a clear sense that the kind of help that community legal clinics offer is unlikely to be especially proactive and effective at preventing conflict.
It is imagined that whatever legal services might be provided through a multidisciplinary family services delivery team, these services should be viewed as complimentary to the ones provided by community legal services.
A similar point can be made about the Family Law Information Centres.