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B.C. family law collaborative seeks new approach to deal with adverse childhood experiences

A multisector effort has been launched in British Columbia aimed at transforming the family justice system.

PHOTO: Stock
A multisector effort has been launched in British Columbia aimed at transforming the family justice system by focusing on a new approach to dealing with childhood traumas.

The Transform the Family Justice System (TFJS) collaborative, led by Access to Justice B.C., seeks to address the impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as parental separation, witnessing intimate partner violence and abuse and neglect. All these ACEs feature in the family justice system, and in many situations, the traditional adversarial court process escalates conflict and exacerbates their impacts.

The work of the collaborative is to align and co-ordinate complementary efforts, across and beyond the justice sector, directed at redesigning the family justice system. It seeks to reduce toxic stress, strengthen core life skills and capacity to manage conflict and stress, strengthen support for families, maximize holistic approaches to family well-being and reduce personal, social and justice sector costs.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby

“It’s not an easy thing to change how the justice system operates, and I am greatly encouraged by the strong support across the board for the collaborative’s efforts to transform family justice,” said Attorney General David Eby. “We have to focus on overall family well-being, and together we need to make sure the system works for the people who most need its help.”

Both the Doctors of B.C. and the provincial law society are joining the effort and exploring opportunities for collaboration between B.C.’s doctors and lawyers to raise awareness of ACEs and to work together to promote the well-being of their patients and clients. Indigenous peoples in B.C. are disproportionately impacted by this public health issue and the collaborative is committed to inclusion of Indigenous peoples in its processes, and to the integration of Indigenous law and perspectives into the redesign of family justice in B.C.

B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman said the shift to focusing on achieving family well-being means “putting families, rather than courts, at the centre, a holistic approach that will change the way we do things.”

“While courts will continue to play a vital role for families, families’ legal issues are often secondary to their social, relationship, parenting and financial issues,” he said. “For the collaborative to succeed, it needs to be a multisector initiative.”

As the work of the collaborative proceeds, organizers hope people will begin to see individuals thinking differently about the family justice system and family well-being, with those working with families involved in the justice system being better informed about ACEs and resilience.

Ian Burns at


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