On Thursday October 16th and Friday October 17th, 2014, The AFCC Ontario Chapter held its 6th Annual General Meeting & Conference, entitled Exploring Relevant Issues Facing Our Family Courts.
To kick the event off, the New Professionals committee, chaired by Ms. Angela Greenberg hosted the event “What Experienced Professionals Wish they Knew When They Were New.” Presenters included: Justice Templeton of the Superior Court of Justice, Unified Family Court Division, London, ON; Justice Tobin of the Ontario Court of Justice, Windsor, ON; Dr. McGrory, psychologist practicing in Windsor, ON and newly appointed Justice Gerri Wong. The event was well attended by multi-disciplinary professionals from across Ontario. During this presentation, the presenters were asked a number of pre-selected questions such as:
- • If you see that the litigants have reached an impasse and it’s your assessment that the court process isn’t assisting, what, if anything, can you do? (Question for Justice Templeton, & Justice Tobin)
- • As a psychologist, how do you determine what your client needs if it’s outside of your area of expertise? What are the different processes available to a psychologist in a family law context? (Question for Dr. McGrory)
- • What types of Family law cases are appropriate for a referral to a third party professional? In what capacity? When would you involve a third party professional in a Family law file? (Question for Justice Wong)
In addition, audience members were able to ask their own specific questions to the panel of presenters. The information presented was interesting, informative and helpful for new professionals working in the family law realm.
The conclusion of the New Professionals Event led to the social event. This event provided the wonderful opportunity for fellow family law professionals to mingle and connect with friends and colleagues with the opportunity of making new connections, in an informal setting, along with some delicious hors d’oeuvres.
Friday’s conference commenced with the Annual General Meeting. Our new President, Dr. Rachel Birnbaum is joined by Ms. Andrea Himel as President Elect, Dr. Dan Ashbourne as Vice President, Justice Paulseth as Past President and Secretary and Steven Benmor as Treasurer. We welcomed in our new board members: Ms. Seema Jain, Dr. Jay McGrory, Ms, Linda Popielarczyk and Justice Geraldine Waldman. Thank you for your time and commitment in volunteering to our Board!
Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto, of the Ontario Court of Appeal, was our keynote speaker. Justice Benotto’s address was thought provoking yet inspirational. She spoke of the many challenges Ontario families unfortunately continue to face in the court system and the severe Access to Justice Crisis. Justice Benotto pointed out the complexity and interdisciplinary nature of working with families in the family court system. In these settings, it is not uncommon to see the intersection of criminal or immigration issues and family law and/or psychology and family law. Justice Benotto candidly highlighted the areas that are still continuing to develop in our court system but stressed the drastic improvements that have been made over the years. She provided members of the audience with multiple pointers they can utilize to help further reduce the Access to Justice issues.
Justice Benotto encouraged family law professionals to keep up the good work, remain positive and not to be afraid of stepping forward or encountering any inevitable setbacks. She closed with an apt quote, from Theodore Roosevelt, which reflects this thinking “Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe.” Thank you Justice Benotto!
Our next speakers, Dr. Ramona Alaggia, Dr. Csiernik and Joey Gareri presented “Challenges and Possibilities Where Family Breakdown Includes Addiction.” In this presentation, the speakers provided factual information about the biological, psychological and social components drug use has on individuals and the mechanisms by which it becomes an addiction. Relevant information about the different forms of drug testing available and what information these tests provide was explained. The crux of this presentation, which the speakers emphasized, was the importance of understanding how and at what point does addiction and drug use impact parent capacity? For mental health practitioners, we continue to question the idea of knowing “when do we intervene.” Unfortunately, research in this area continues to be limited. What we do know is that there is more inter-parental conflict when addictions are present, the conflict that is present is more intense and there is increased risk of domestic violence. Research has already established a heightened risk of domestic violence post-separation, thus, when addictions are added to the mix, it can become a lethal combination. The speakers highlighted the multiple systemic challenges facing families where addiction is present, and provided information about available community resources available utilizing a harm reduction model and evidence based models.
Our next speakers, Justice George Czutrin, Dr. Rob Nicholson, Ms. Linda Popielarczyk and Ms. Andrea Himel presented “Special Considerations for Special Needs Children.” Factual information was provided on how diagnostic requirements for children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDD’s) have changed throughout the years in the DSM. Further, speakers provided information about the presenting characteristics of children with NDD’s and the multiple stresses and challenges parents of children with NDD’s face (e.g., emotional, psychological, financial etc.).
Tips on what information should be included in parenting plans of parents with children who suffer from NDD’s was provided. For instance, it is of utmost importance to ensure the principle of ‘continuity of care.’ This can be assured by including clauses in the parenting plan that touch on: 1) communication protocols between the parents; 2) protocols for obtaining information from medical professionals; 3) protocols for the administration of medication; and 4) having a dispute resolution mechanism in place, such as a mediator or parenting coordinator.
Our next speakers, Justice Schnall, Kenna Dalrymple, Ko Bhamra and Joshua Peters presented “Mental Health Issues In The Court: Untangling The Web.” Presenters provided information about the role of the Youth Therapeutic Court in London, ON. This court identifies and supports youth who suffer from serious diagnosed or suspected mental illness. The goals of this program are treatment and rehabilitation and access to community resources. In cases where youth have been charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and suffer from a serious mental illness, one potential outcome is for the Crown Attorney to divert the youth from the formal court process. In this program, youth offenders work collaboratively with the Youth Therapeutic Court Clinician to develop a diversion contract. This document sets out terms such as where the youth will live, their commitment to therapy and doctor’s appointments, as well as the potential consequences if they don’t abide by the terms they set out.
Next, D Smith, Dr. Rex Collins, Susan Abercromby, Tracey Lipp and Louise Vandenbosch presented “Healing Ruptured Relationships”. The presentation began with an overview of case law for different outcomes cases of alienation, including when the child is left with the alienating parent, when the child is removed (or has restricted access to) the alienating parent, and when the court engages child protection agencies. Dr. Collins provided a detailed example of a family he encountered in his clinical practice where the children resisted parental contact. Dr. Collins provided insight on the clinical modalities he utilized and shared the multiple challenges he faced; challenges that are not surprising to the mental health professionals in this field. Lastly, a Therapeutic Access Program (TAP) designed to restore and repair the relationship between children and an estranged parent was introduced. This program is based in London, ON and utilizes an attachment informed model emphasizing emotional safety of the children and parents. The speaker provided information about the how the program works, who provides therapy and how families are referred. In addition, information about New Ways for Families another program for high conflict families was provided.
Lastly, Alf Mamo and Dr. Peter Jaffe spoke about how domestic violence is often disguised as “conflict” in court cases. The speakers discussed the need to for family law professionals to use appropriate screening tools, risk assessment tools and provide safety-planning information. Their presentation was both thought provoking and engaging!
The day concluded with a reminder to attend next year’s Seventh Annual AFCC-O conference in Toronto, Ontario at the Toronto Reference Library. Please mark your calendars for October 22nd and 23rd, 2015. We look forward to seeing you all there!
Written by: Shely Polak