Department of Justice     


8. Interagency Cooperation

(a) The Framework Requirements for Interagency Cooperation

The Framework recognized that domestic violence is a complex societal problem that requires a community-wide response involving not only justice agencies but also the Departments of Health and Community Services, as well as community agencies and services involved in helping and treating victims and perpetrators. The Framework called for improved collaboration and cooperation among all organizations and individuals with a role to play in responding to family violence.(1)

It required that justice representatives participate in the development and implementation of protocols in community-based interagency committees throughout the province and that protocols "be clearly articulated and published so that each agency and the public are aware of the role of each of the partners."(2)

Following the adoption of the Framework, Interagency Committees on Family Violence throughout the province provided local interagency coordination, while overall coordination at the provincial policy level, training, public education and interagency support was provided by the FVPI. The Department of Justice Family Violence Committee provided planning and coordination in the justice arena.

(b) The 1999 Evaluation Report

The 1999 Evaluation Report indicated that the Department of Justice had made regular status reports to the FVPI Committee regarding the Framework for Action.(3)

This had provided an opportunity for other government departments and community representatives to offer input and recommendations. The interagency committees had performed a similar function in all regions of the province.(4)

The 1999 Evaluation Report found that the Community organizations throughout the province had given strong support to the Framework and that under the leadership of the FVPI, interagency committees on family violence had participated in the training of criminal justice workers and in managing victim support service projects.(5)

However, gaps in service and inadequate coordination of services were identified,(6)

and the 1999 Evaluation Report confirmed the need for all participating government departments and community agencies to commit themselves to the mission of the FVPI and to be accountable for the achievement of agency-specific objectives related to the mission of the FVPI.(7)

The 1999 Evaluation Report also recognized the important leadership role of government. It recommended that "the Deputies' Committee on Social Policy reconfirm the mandate of the FVPI and establish the necessary accountability framework."(8)

(c) 2001 Review

(i) Elimination of the Family Violence Prevention Initiative

Despite the above-noted recommendation of the 1999 Evaluation Report, the FVPI was cut as part of the 2000 budget cuts. Focus group participants from all sectors commented very favourably on the extent to which the Framework had initially served to improve relationships within Communities and communications among agencies, and on the critical leadership role that the FVPI had played in this respect. Many justice and non-justice representatives cited the withdrawal of funding for the FVPI as "sending the wrong message" and as "poor evidence of government commitment to resolve the problem of family violence," noting with irony the amounts of money spent on inquiries and studies of the issue. All participants agreed that the elimination of the FVPI had made interagency cooperation more difficult, and, therefore, less likely to occur.

Participants recognized that interdepartmental collaboration in the justice arena continues through ongoing departmental committees and the establishment of an Interdepartmental Family Violence Committee. However, no mechanism now exists to provide overall coordination of community and Department of Justice activities. Participants recommended that there be a family violence coordinator in every region to oversee and coordinate local activities and services, and that the FVPI be restored, or that, at least, there be a family violence coordinator appointed as a focal point of responsibility in the Department of Justice to oversee ongoing policy development, accountability, training, and other aspects of the Framework. These are ongoing functions that need to be carried out. Concern was expressed that the lack of coordination that has resulted from the elimination of the FVPI undermines the hard work that has taken place, including that undertaken by individuals as part of a personal initiative in the field to improve the effectiveness of the system to date.

(ii) Confidentially of Information as an Obstacle to Cooperation

Apart from the lack of overall leadership and co-ordination resulting from the elimination of the FVPI, focus group participants identified several other obstacles to interagency co-operation. One of the major obstacles identified by police, Victims' Services staff, Community Services representatives, and transition house staff was the perceived confidentiality of information. This is an obstacle, for example, in situations where children are involved and have witnessed acts of domestic violence. Such situations raise concerns for the safety of the victim, for the safety of children, and about the woman's right to autonomy and privacy. Such situations often involve numerous agencies including police, Community Services, Victims' Services, and transition house staff. Confidentiality concerns may likewise inhibit cooperation among police, Corrections staff, and men's treatment services. The different and competing interests and concerns of the agencies involved, the priority attached by each agency to its own role and philosophy, and the caution exercised by each agency against improper disclosure of information within its domain results in the failure to share information. Yet the information is often vital to ensuring a comprehensive, co-ordinated response to very complex and difficult domestic violence cases.

Many participants from justice agencies and community organizations identified the need for protocols and confidentiality agreements among justice agencies, between justice agencies and community organizations and the Department of Community Services. It was noted that the development of such protocols and confidentiality agreements could require the establishment of clear priorities as between the safety of individuals and the right to privacy, for example, and might involve lawyers from Community Services and the Department of Justice to determine where there are genuine legal obstacles to information sharing under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or otherwise. Where obstacles do exist, lawyers might develop sound mechanisms for overcoming them. Representatives from the Department of Justice indicated that some interagency protocols were attempted early on after the Framework was adopted, but that those protocols are not solid. Representatives of community agencies emphasized that they must be involved in the development of protocols and that Victims' Services cannot take the place of community organizations in their development.

(iii) The Impact of Funding Cuts on Interagency Cooperation

The extent to which interagency co-operation is working varies around the province. Cape Breton is an area where it appears to have worked very well, according to participants from Cape Breton and from all other areas of the province. In some senses the co-operative environment in Sydney is legendary in other parts of Nova Scotia and is viewed as the model which other areas should strive to emulate. In Cape Breton there was an interagency committee established very early on, whereas in some other areas such as metro Halifax, perhaps due in part to the number of players involved, co-operation was much more difficult and it took much longer to get the interagency committee off the ground, although it does exist now. The Province provided seed money initially to support collaboration among justice agencies and community agencies. In Sydney they co-operated on how they were going to use the money through the Cape Breton Interagency Project. This co-operation was an important means of building trust and sharing information. There was a management board for the interagency project which assisted in the development of confidentiality agreements, information-sharing protocols and quality control mechanisms. Participants from Cape Breton indicated that when the funding for the Cape Breton Interagency Project was cut by the Province, it was a terrible blow. Nevertheless, they are struggling to continue with small grants here and there.

Participants from all parts of the province and from all justice agencies and community organizations felt strongly that the Province should be providing funding to facilitate and support interagency cooperation, and that leadership at the highest levels is vital. A significant number of participants from community organizations indicated that, despite problems early on, inter-agency co-operation among police and community organizations is working and that relationships among most agencies have improved, with the exception of their relationship with the Department of Justice itself, which was at a low point when funding for community projects was cut and which has never recovered since.

(iv) Failure of Framework to Include Community Services

A major gap identified by participants with respect to the interagency co-operation piece of the Framework is the fact that the Department of Community Services is not covered by the Framework. As a consequence, information sharing, case planning and coordination are difficult both at the point of initial involvement of police and with Corrections at the point of decision-making about release. Section 22(2)(i) of the Children and Family Services Act states that a child may be in need of protective services where "the child has suffered physical or emotional harm caused by being exposed to repeated domestic violence by or toward a parent or guardian of the child, and the child's parent or guardian fails or refuses to obtain services or treatment to remedy or alleviate the violence."(9)

Protocols specific to the reporting of children exposed to domestic violence exist in Nova Scotia. While Child Protection-Transition House-Men's Intervention protocols exist and all Child Protection agencies are required to have a protocol with police in place in Nova Scotia, participants noted that protocols may not be current, practice is inconsistent, there is evidence of lack of reciprocal reporting between police and Child Protection, training has not been completed on these protocols, and more work needs to be done to ensure a consistent and coordinated response on the part of Child Protection and police.

Concern was expressed by police that when they report to Child Protection that a child has witnessed domestic violence, they receive no information back from Community Services on follow-up to their report. On the other hand, Community Services representatives indicated that the information they receive from police and Victims' Services is minimal, and that they require more detailed information including information on "no-contact" provisions in an undertaking for the release of an accused.

Further concerns, from a different perspective, were expressed by victims, Victims' Services representatives, and transition house staff who noted that section 22(2)(i) of the Children and Family Services Act serves as a disincentive to battered women to seek assistance. Participants explained that victims who seek help expose themselves to charges of failing to protect their children and to the risk of having their children apprehended as children in need of protection. Victims and victims' service agencies stressed the need to find ways to minimize this disincentive and to maximize remedial resources available to both women and children, so as to prevent both women and children from remaining trapped in violent families.

(v) Interagency Cooperation in Other Jurisdictions

Coordination Mechanisms

Most jurisdictions have some variety of local and provincial coordination mechanisms to address family violence through either government interdepartmental committees, local interagency committees, and in fewer instances, case conferencing mechanisms or committees. The effectiveness of these vehicles at any given time depends upon many factors, including the commitment of the individual members and the leadership provided.

Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island have each had a five year strategy on family violence renewed for another five years. Newfoundland has a "Committee of Ministers" that meets three to four times a year and a Provincial Coordinating Committee comprised of six government and six community representatives, as well as six regional committees with government-community partnership in different stages of development. The Newfoundland government has provided funding for each regional committee to hire a coordinator to: (a) improve and coordinate services, communicate policy, address policy and systemic issues; and (b) to carry out public awareness and prevention activities.

Prince Edward Island has a Premier's Action Committee on Family Violence which provides leadership and support at the highest level. The mandate of this Committee has just been extended for another five years. As well, Prince Edward Island has five regional interagency committees, comprised of multiple service providers. These committees coordinate services locally. Outreach workers are employed by interagency committees in three sites and deliver services through transition houses.

Alberta has an Office for the Prevention of Family Violence that provides leadership and a focal point for coordination of family violence activities. Ontario has two inter-ministerial committees at the assistant deputy minister and policy/program levels to coordinate violence against women prevention initiatives led by the Ontario Women's Directorate. As well, there is a joint interministerial committee on domestic violence chaired by Justice Baldwin to implement Ontario's Domestic Violence Justice Strategy. Ontario also has domestic assault review teams which do reviews of probation cases.

Some jurisdictions do not have one central focal point of responsibility for overseeing coordination among government agencies and community organizations, or have weaker links among government departments making coordination difficult. Much of the coordination, public education, policy and protocol development, and training across departments and disciplines, takes place under the leadership of regional interagency committees. Some of these committees, like the ones in Newfoundland, employ staff, either directly or indirectly, to coordinate services, in addition to the service agency representatives who sit on the regional committees.

The telephone consultations with representatives from other provinces revealed that coordination has long been recognized as an essential element in ensuring that the vast array of services are effective in responding to domestic violence. Respondents stressed that coordination needs to happen at all levels in order to be successful and that it takes staff and a commitment of resources to do the work. Respondents also stressed the desirability of providing interagency coordination committees with a mandate to coordinate which is enforceable and supported by real commitment at the top. Coordination is difficult in part because it operates, by definition, across professional disciplines and departmental boundaries, and outside line authority. Typically, the coordination function comes with responsibility that is not accompanied by the authority to effect it. Respondents agreed that accountability mechanisms tend to be weak if not supported by senior management of multiple departments and stakeholders. When coordination works, it is in spite of this and is usually the product of years of partnership and trust-building efforts.

Coordinating Efforts to Combat Domestic Violence with Efforts to Protect Children

Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta all have statutory provisions similar to section 22(2)(i) of Nova Scotia's Children and Family Services Act. Protocols specific to the reporting of children exposed to domestic violence exist in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta. Respondents in other jurisdictions recognize that battered women are deterred from coming forward and seeking assistance when they realize that seeking protection from their abusive partner increases the risk that their children may be taken away. Scholars who have written on the subject of domestic violence have pointed out that in many cases, the victim stays with an abusive partner not because she does not care for the child, but rather because she believes that staying is the best way to provide them with continued financial support, shelter, and education.(10) As well, statistical analyses indicate that the point of separation is often the point at which the risk of death or serious physical injury is the greatest.(11)

Victims themselves report that threats of harm escalate when the batterer suspects the victim may be considering leaving.

Of course, not all battered women are completely innocent victims and domestic violence workers must be aware of the need to protect children, but so must child protection workers be aware of the dynamics of domestic violence. Some jurisdictions have succeeded in bringing domestic violence workers and child protection workers together to develop strategies to assist women to protect their children. In some jurisdictions such as parts of Massachusetts and Oregon, specialists in both fields have come together to exchange information, to provide cross-training, and to develop protocols for case handling and service provision.(12) In Maine, in-house domestic violence experts are placed at each child protective service office, to provide ongoing training and consultation.(13)

In Massachusetts and Oregon, child protection workers provide some services to the non-violent parent and domestic violence workers provide some services for abused children through their programs.(14)

In Massachusetts, in the two area offices that piloted Domestic Violence teams comprised of a domestic violence worker and a child protection worker, there appears to have been a reduction of out-of-home placements for abused children whose mothers were also abused.(15) These types of programs may provide a means of protecting and supporting both women and children and of minimizing the disincentive that section 22(2)(i) of the Children and Family Services Act creates for women in need of assistance. It is worthy of note that in Ontario, there are protocols in place for cooperation between Children's Aid Societies and violence against women workers and that there is joint training as well.

(d) Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding Interagency Co-operation

The 1999 Evaluation Report recognized that government had an important leadership role to play and recommended that the Deputies' Committee on Social Policy reconfirm the mandate of the Family Violence Prevention Initiative and establish the necessary accountability framework. Virtually all focus group participants in the current review acknowledged the very valuable role the FVPI had played in facilitating and supporting interagency cooperation and expressed serious concern about the elimination of it in the 2000 Provincial budget.

Other Canadian jurisdictions have recognized that coordination must take place at all levels to be effective and that it takes staff and a commitment of resources to do the work, as well as leadership and support at the highest level.

It is recommended that the Province support and strengthen, with senior level commitment, the coordination of family violence activities, within and external to the Department of Justice, involving both government and community stakeholders.

This initiative should build on the partnerships created by the Family Violence Prevention Initiative and the commitment of the Interagency Committees on Family Violence around the Province, as well as the efforts of those involved in the initial implementation and training under the Framework.

Confidentiality concerns, cultural differences, and the resulting refusal to share vital information pose significant obstacles to ensuring a comprehensive, co-ordinated response to complex and difficult cases involving various justice sectors, community agencies, and the Department of Community Services. It is therefore recommended that existing interagency protocols among police, child welfare, transition houses, Corrections and men's treatment programs be reviewed and that, where required, new interagency protocols be developed and confidentiality agreements concluded to facilitate the sharing of information necessary to protect and support victims and their children. Priority should be given to reviewing, revising and reinforcing protocols in place between child protection and police to improve information sharing, case planning and coordination.

Focus group participants and respondents from other jurisdictions stressed that battered women are deterred from coming forward and seeking assistance when they realize that s. 22(2)(i) of the Children and Family Services Act, or its equivalent in other jurisdictions, and protocols specific to the reporting of children who witness domestic violence, expose them to the risk of having their children taken away. It is important to find ways to minimize this disincentive and to maximize remedial resources available to both women and children, so as to prevent them from remaining trapped in violent families. It is therefore recommended that, as in Ontario and in several jurisdictions in the United States, specialists in child protection and in domestic violence be brought together to exchange information, to provide cross-training, and to develop protocols for case handling and service provision.

1. 1Supra note 10 at 8.

2. 2Supra note 10 at 8.

3. 3Supra note 14 at 8.

4. 4Supra note 14 at 8.

5. 5Supra note 14 at 38.

6. 6Supra note 14 at 43.

7. 7Supra note 14 at 43.

8. Supra note 14 at 43.

9. S.N.S. 1990, c.5.

10. 10Supra note 24 at 35.

11. 11See M. R. Mahoney, "Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation" (1991) 90 Mich. L. Rev. 1, 65-71. See also J. Zorza, "Recognizing and Protecting the Privacy and Confidentiality Needs of Battered Women" (1995) 29 Fam. L. Q. 273, 274.

12. 12See L.Y. Aron & K. K. Olson, "Efforts by Child Welfare Agencies to Address Domestic Violence: The Experience of Five Communities" (1997) 33 Urban Institute at 52-61, 79-80, cited in Epstein, supra note 24 at 37, n.181.

13. 13K. Concannon, "'Other Maine:' The Way Life Shouldn't Be" Bangor Daily News (23 October 1997), cited in Epstein, supra note 24 at 37, n.181.

14. 14Aron & Olson, supra note 196.

15. 15Aron & Olson, supra note 196 at 67-68.


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