Family Matters No. 98 - November 2016

Context

The Responding to Family Violence study’s discussion of Family Law DOORS
Rae Kaspiew and Rachel Carson

Abstract

Background information about the DOORS discussion that is addressed in The Family Law DOORS article.

The Responding to Family Violence (RFV) study was one part of a very significant research program that examined the impact of the 2012 family violence amendments. The core components of the Evaluation were:

  • pre- and post-reform surveys of separated parents: 2012 (n = 6,119) and 2014 (n = 6,079) (Experiences of Separated Parents Study); and
  • pre- and post-reform quantitative studies based on data collected from court files (n = 1,892) (Court File Analysis in the Court Outcomes Project).

The RFV study was another component of the Evaluation. It was designed to examine the views and experiences of family law system professionals, to support understanding of the practice dynamics in the family law system after June 7, 2012.

All components of the Evaluation were designed to support an assessment of what, if any, change had occurred as a result of the 2012 family violence amendments, in the way that matters involving family violence and safety were dealt with in the family law system.

In addition to capturing the views and practices of professionals, the data gathered in the RFV survey were intended to support an interpretation of the findings of the other two primary components of the Evaluation.

The RFV survey was commissioned and funded by the Attorney-General's Department (AGD). It was open for completion in December 2013 and concluded in late February 2014. The RFV Report was submitted to the AGD on 19 December 2014.

The survey examined an extensive range of issues relating to the effects of the 2012 family violence reforms. While it was undertaken on an "opt-in" basis, recruitment specifically targeted Family and Federal Circuit Court judicial officers/registrars (n = 37), and legal (n = 322) and non-legal (n = 294) family law professionals experienced in the matters covered in the survey. The survey content was determined by research questions specified by the AGD.

The RFV survey sample is not represented as being random, nationally representative or comprising participants selected for their experience using Family Law DOORS (FL-DOORS). Nevertheless, the sample of participants included those who reported knowledge of and/or experience using FL-DOORS, as well as those who had rarely used or who decided not to use FL-DOORS, and those were unaware of FL-DOORS.

Practices and attitudes to screening were only one of several areas of focus. More specifically, AIFS did not intend to evaluate FL-DOORS or its application. Only four survey questions focused specifically on FL-DOORS, in the context of a very substantial survey that was designed to examine the overall impact of the 2012 reforms.

Participants were asked specific questions about FL-DOORS because its release coincided with the time period when the 2012 family violence reforms came into operation. FL-DOORS, which was announced by media release on 31 January 2013, was a new element in the system, and as such it was important to understand how it was being used.

FL-DOORS' distribution commenced in March 2013, with the government was providing $500,000 for the production, distribution and training in FL-DOORS. In the lead-up to the RFV survey, information sessions, webinars and training sessions were held during the period August−November 2013 and face-to-face training sessions funded by the AGD and provided by the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia took place between September and November.

The survey questions relating to FL-DOORS asked participants' whether they were using FL-DOORS, how they were using FL-DOORS and whether they had any comments to make about FL-DOORS. Comments on other screening tools were also sought and are referred to in the RFV Report (Kaspiew et al., 2015a, pp. 66–69) but given that the survey was directed at evaluating the 2012 amendments and not risk screens, there was no capacity in an already very lengthy survey to extend the survey with additional questions.

The use of both closed questions and open-ended text boxes was an approach used throughout the survey so that quantitative insights could be supplemented by more detailed insights supplied by practitioners. These comments provide an important opportunity to understand practitioner thinking about a range of issues including FL-DOORS. Both the quantitative questions and qualitative responses provided insight into views and experiences of FL-DOORS, as it did, for example, about the Form 4 / Notice of Risk.

The overall conclusions from the Evaluation of the 2012 family violence amendments are contained in the Synthesis Report (Kaspiew et al., 2015b), which brings together evidence from all three components of the Evaluation. The RFV report clearly states that the RFV study embodies only one aspect of the Evaluation program. The Synthesis Report stated that:

The evidence considered in this chapter indicates that an increased emphasis on identifying family violence and child abuse concerns was evident across the system, particularly among lawyers and courts. However, the evidence also indicates that refinements in practice in this area are required and the development of effective screening approaches has some way to go. (p. 44)

References

  • Kaspiew, R., Carson, R., Coulson, M., Dunstan, J., & Moore, S. (2015a). Responding to family violence: A survey of family law practices and experiences ("RFV Report"). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Kaspiew, R., Carson, R., Dunstan, J., Qu, L., Horsfall, B., De Maio, J. (2015b). Evaluation of the 2012 family violence amendments: Synthesis report. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.