Responding to family violence

A survey of family law practices and experiences
Evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments – October 2015

6. Responding to harm and risk of harm

This chapter sets out the responses of family law system professionals to the risks and harm factors relating to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns. It begins with a discussion of participants' reflections on the family law system's capacity to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse and whether the 2012 family violence reforms may have affected this capacity. The discussion then focuses more specifically on changes to response practices since the family violence reforms, and professionals' assessments of their own capacities in this regard. This is followed by a discussion of participants' qualitative responses about changes to the ways in which family law professionals respond to family violence as a result of the family violence reforms. The chapter concludes with a summary of the patterns emerging from the data.

6.1 Capacity to respond to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns

As outlined in Chapter 1, the family violence reforms were intended to encourage effective responses by family law system professionals to family violence (and risk of family violence), child abuse and child safety concerns.

This section first considers the views of participating professionals regarding the capacity of the family law system to respond or deal adequately with allegations of family violence and child abuse. After setting out the general reflections of the participant groups on this issue, the discussion considers participants' more specific views of the effects of the 2012 family violence reforms on professionals' capacities to respond to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns. In considering the issue of whether the family law system adequately responds to and deals with matters involving child safety and family violence, the discussion moves beyond the questions of screening and assessment that were discussed in Chapter 4, to an examination of views on adequate responses. This question has different dimensions, including whether the parenting arrangements made in this context respond appropriately to any issues in relation to family violence and child safety that might be identified. An additional element is the extent to which family law system mechanisms support parents to address and resolve issues of concern.

In this context, part of the backdrop to the issues considered in this chapter is an ongoing debate about whether the 2012 family violence reforms provide sufficient guidance in relation to the question of what considerations should inform the making of parenting arrangements when concerns about family violence and child safety are pertinent to families. The lack of specific guidance in the Part VII framework was highlighted by Professor Richard Chisholm in 2009 in his Family Courts Violence Review and has continued to be the subject of commentary and debate (e.g., Rhoades et al., 2014; Strickland & Murray, 2014). Recent research by Rhoades and colleagues (2014) on FLA Part VII has highlighted a range of concerns about the workability of the Part VII legislative framework, including the need for more guidance about what issues should be considered in making parenting arrangements when findings about family violence are made.

6.1.1 General reflections on family law system capacity

All professional participant groups were asked to reflect on the period of time since the introduction of the family violence reforms and to consider the capacity of the legal system, lawyers and FRCs to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse.

Table 6.1 indicates that while a substantial proportion (41%) of the aggregate sample of participants provided affirmative responses to the proposition that the legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, 49% of the sample disagreed with this proposition (mostly disagreed: 32%; strongly disagreed: 17%). The vast majority of participating judicial officers and registrars (81%), and smaller proportions of lawyers (46%) and non-legal professionals (27%), mostly agreed with this proposition. Non-legal professionals reported the highest level of disagreement, with 37% and 19% of this participant category mostly or strongly disagreeing respectively.

Table 6.1: Agreement that legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, by professional group, 2014
  Judicial officers Lawyers Non-legal Aggregated
No. % No. % No. % No. %
Notes: Professionals were asked: "Thinking about the period since the family violence reforms were introduced, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? The legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 1 2.7 4 1.3 7 2.4 12 1.9
Mostly agree 30 81.1 148 46.3 78 26.8 256 39.5
Mostly disagree 4 10.8 99 30.9 107 36.8 210 32.4
Strongly disagree 0 0.0 52 16.3 56 19.2 108 16.7
Cannot say 2 5.4 17 5.3 43 14.8 62 9.6
Total 37 100.0 320 100.0 291 100.0 648 100.0

The observations made here in relation to the aggregate response patterns are consistent with the response patterns identified in Table 4.1 with respect to the legal system's capacity to screen adequately for family violence and child abuse. Points of difference emerge, however, in relation to the higher proportions of affirmative responses from judicial officers and registrars and the higher proportions of negative responses from non-legal professionals.

Comparative data from the Institute's Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms (Kaspiew et al., 2009) show that there were slightly higher affirmative responses in the 2014 lawyer sample when compared with the FLS 2008 data. Table 6.2 shows that 48% of lawyers participating in the 2014 survey reported that they mostly or strongly agreed that the legal system had been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse as compared with 43% of the FLS 2008 sample. The same proportion of participating lawyers in the 2014 and 2008 samples strongly disagreed (16%) with the proposition that the legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, although 51% of the 2008 sample compared to 47% of the 2014 sample responded negatively overall.

Table 6.2: Comparison of agreement that the legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, 2008 and 2014
  FLS 2008 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked in 2008: "Thinking about the period since the 2006 reforms, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? The legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse". Lawyers were asked in 2014: "Thinking about the period since the family violence reforms, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? The legal system has been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Family Lawyers Survey 2008; Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 12 3.8 4 1.3
Mostly agree 125 39.2 148 46.3
Mostly disagree 111 34.8 99 30.9
Strongly disagree 52 16.3 52 16.3
Cannot say 19 6.0 17 5.3
Total 319 100.0 320 100.0

When reflecting on the capacity of lawyers to adequately deal with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse since the enactment of the family violence reforms, Table 6.3 demonstrates that half of the participating lawyers mostly or strongly agreed with the proposition. These views contrasted with non-legal professionals' assessments of the capacity of lawyers to adequately deal with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, with only 13% answering in the affirmative on this issue. While 31% of the judicial sample reported that they mostly agreed, a substantial proportion (19%) mostly disagreed and almost half of the sample were unable to express a view on this issue. These observations are consistent with the response patterns identified in Table 4.3 with respect to the capacity of lawyers to adequately screen for family violence and child abuse.

Table 6.3: Agreement that lawyers are able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, by professional group, 2014
  Judicial officers Lawyers Non-legal Aggregated
No. % No. % No. % No. %
Notes: Professionals were asked: "Thinking about the period since the family violence reforms were introduced, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? Lawyers have been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 0 0.0 6 1.9 0 0.0 6 0.9
Mostly agree 11 30.6 154 48.1 38 13.0 203 31.3
Mostly disagree 7 19.4 86 26.9 99 33.9 192 29.6
Strongly disagree 1 2.8 33 10.3 54 18.5 88 13.6
Cannot say 17 47.2 41 12.8 101 34.6 159 24.5
Total 36 100.0 320 100.0 292 100.0 648 100.0

Table 6.4 indicates that a slight majority of non-legal professionals (51%) mostly or strongly agreed that FRCs had been able to adequately deal with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse in the period since the family violence reforms. One in five of the non-legal professional sample indicated that they mostly disagreed (20%) and a further 11% strongly disagreed with this proposition (with this category of participants including professionals working in FRCs: n = 11). Substantially fewer positive responses were provided by judicial participants (mostly agree: 11%) and lawyers (mostly or strongly agree: 21%), though the vast majority of the judicial sample (78%) and a substantial proportion of lawyers (34%) were unable to express a view on this proposition, which once again suggests that there remains a significant level of uncertainty among the judicial and legal participants about the operation of FRCs.

Table 6.4: Agreement that FRCs are able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, by professional group, 2014
  Judicial officers Lawyers Non-legal Aggregated
No. % No. % No. % No. %
Notes: Professionals were asked: "Thinking about the period since the family violence reforms were introduced, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? Family Relationship Centres have been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 0 0.0 7 2.2 29 10.0 36 5.6
Mostly agree 4 10.8 61 19.1 119 40.9 184 28.4
Mostly disagree 3 8.1 83 26.0 58 19.9 144 22.3
Strongly disagree 1 2.7 59 18.5 31 10.7 91 14.1
Cannot say 29 78.4 109 34.2 54 18.6 192 29.7
Total 37 100.0 319 100.0 291 100.0 647 100.0

On this question, Table 6.5 also shows that lower levels of disagreement regarding the capacity of FRCs to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse arose in the 2014 lawyer sample (strongly disagree: 19%; mostly disagree: 26%) when compared with the 2008 FLS sample (strongly disagree: 21%; mostly disagree: 30%). A higher proportion of lawyers indicated in 2014 that they mostly or strongly agreed (21%), with this proposition, with similar proportions of participants in both samples indicating that they were unable to express a view on this issue.

Table 6.5: Comparison of agreement that FRCs are able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse, 2008 and 2014
  FLS 2008 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked in 2008: "Thinking about the period since the 2006 reforms, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? Family Relationship Centres have been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse". Lawyers were asked in 2014: "Thinking about the period since the family violence reforms, to what extent do you agree or disagree that the following statements describe your view? Family Relationship Centres have been able to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse".
Sources: Family Lawyers Survey 2008; Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 1 0.3 7 2.2
Mostly agree 35 11.0 61 19.1
Mostly disagree 97 30.4 83 26.0
Strongly disagree 68 21.3 59 18.5
Cannot say 118 37.0 109 34.2
Total 319 100.0 319 100.0

6.1.2 The effects of the 2012 reforms on the family law system's capacity to respond to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns

The analysis in the previous section examined professionals' general reflections on the capacity of the legal system, lawyers and FRCs to respond to family violence and /or child abuse/child safety concerns in the post-family violence reform context. Participating judicial officers and registrars, lawyers and non-legal professionals were also asked to consider more specifically whether the family violence reforms had given rise to improvements in the capacities of the various groups of family law professionals to respond to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns. Consistent with the analysis in section 4.1.2, the capacities of judicial officers, registrars, ICLs, non-ICL lawyers, family consultants, single experts and FDR practitioners were canvassed in this regard and are examined below.

Figure 6.1 outlines the responses provided by judicial and legal participants in relation to each category of family law professional. Overall, two-thirds of judicial participants (66%) and three-quarters of participating lawyers (75%) indicated that there had been an improvement in responses by judicial officers/registrars. More specifically, almost one-half (46%) of participating judicial officers and registrars reported that the family violence reforms had almost always (17%) or often (29%) led to an improvement in judicial responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns. Similarly, 44% of participating lawyers reported that they almost always or often observed such improvement. These findings are consistent with the response patterns outlined earlier in section 4.1.2 of this report with respect to judicial and legal professionals' perceptions of improvements in judicial officers'/registrars' screening for family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns.

Figure 6.1: Legal professional's views of the extent of improvement in professionals' responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns, by professional group, 2014

Figure 6.1: Legal professional's views of the extent of improvement in professionals' responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns, by professional group, 2014. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Professionals were asked in 2014: "In your experience, have the family violence reforms led to an improvement in responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns by: [each professional group]". FC = family consultants; SEW = single expert witnesses. Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding. Judicial officers/registrars: n = 35; Lawyers: n = 263-266.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014

In relation to improvements in ICLs' responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns, Figure 6.1 indicates that, consistent with the response patterns outlined in sections 4.1.2 (Figure 4.1) and 4.1.3 (Figure 4.3), lawyers were the most positive of each of the surveyed professional groups, with 37% indicating that the family violence reforms had almost always (12%) or often (25%) led to an improvement among ICLs. Just over one-third of participating lawyers (36%) reported that the family violence reforms had sometimes led to an improvement. Judicial officers and registrars responded more positively with regard to improvements in ICLs' capacities to respond to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns than they did when reflecting on ICLs' screening capacities, but slightly less positively than in relation to their assessment capacities. While approximately one-quarter of judicial participants (26%) were unable express a view on improvements in ICL responses, more than one-quarter (29%) indicated that the family violence reforms had almost always or often led to an improvement in ICLs' responses to these risks and harm factors.

Once again consistent with the response patterns emerging in the discussion of data presented in Figures 4.1 and 4.3, lawyers were the most positive group of participating professionals when questioned about whether there had been an improvement in their non-ICL colleagues' responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns. Figure 6.1 shows that 30% of participating lawyers indicated that this was often or almost always the case, and a further 46% reported that they sometimes experienced these improvements. A substantial proportion of the judicial sample were unable to express a view on this proposition (31%), although they were more likely to express a view about non-ICL lawyers' responses as opposed to their screening capacities.

In relation to improvements in the responses of non-legal professionals to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns, Figure 6.1 shows that judicial participants were the most positive in their reflections on improvements in the responses of family consultants and single experts, with 43% indicating that they had almost always (23%) or often (20%) experienced the family violence reforms as leading to an improvement. A further 23% of judicial participants indicated that this was sometimes the case. Participating lawyers were also positive, with more than one-third indicating that they had almost always (10%) or often (26%) experienced an improvement in the responses of family consultants and single experts, with a further substantial proportion (35%) considering this to sometimes be the case. Although positive, these responses are less emphatic than lawyers' views on improvements in the capacities of family consultants and single experts to screen for family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns.

Figure 6.1 also indicates that the vast majority of judicial officers and registrars were unable to express a view on whether the family violence reforms had led to an improvement in responses by FDR practitioners (74%), although lawyers were able to provide significant insight into this question. Over one-quarter of participating lawyers indicated that in their experience, the family violence reforms had often (22%) or almost always (8%) led to an improvement in responses by FDR practitioners, and a further 32% indicated that the reforms had sometimes led to an improvement. Recent research by the Allen Consulting Group (2014) has identified that "continued and increased" collaboration between FRCs providing family dispute resolution and legal assistance services extending beyond the Legal Assistance Partnerships Program (see Moloney et al., 2011), may facilitate greater capacity to respond to families characterised by circumstances involving family violence (p.28). Further discussion of the protocols and procedures of non-legal professionals when providing services in the context of family violence and child safety concerns will be considered in section 6.2.2.

Due to the length of the 2014 non-legal professional survey and the absence of a question on this issue in the 2009 Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) (thereby eliminating any requirement to maintain consistent wording), participants in this group were simply asked to answer this question in the affirmative or negative. Figure 6.2 indicates that while 28% of non-legal participants indicated that the family violence reforms had led to an improvement in responses by judicial officers and registrars, 24% answered in the negative and almost one-half were unable to express a view. Once again, these findings are consistent with the response patterns outlined earlier in sections 4.1.2 (Figure 4.2) and 4.1.3 (Figure 4.4) of this report with respect to improvements in judicial officers' screening and assessment capacities respectively. Non-legal professionals agreed that ICLs had improved their capacity to respond to these risks and harm factors, in similar proportions (33%) to those who had identified improvements in ICLs' screening and assessment capacities (see Figures 4.2 and 4.4), although 46% were unable to express a view on this proposition. Non-legal professionals were again least positive in their reflections on improvements in the responses of non-ICL lawyers, with 33% answering in the negative, although 52% reported that they were unable to answer this question.

Figure 6.2 demonstrates that, consistent with the responses relating to screening and assessment capacities, the highest proportion of affirmative responses (61%) were provided by participating non-legal professionals when reflecting on whether the family violence reforms had led to an improvement in the responses of FDR practitioners. Of note, mediators and FDR practitioners constituted 27% of the non-legal professional participant sample for this item. A substantial proportion (37%) of these non-legal professionals (with family consultants and single experts constituting 16% [n = 38] of the non-legal sample) also responded in the affirmative about the capacity of family consultants and single experts in this regard, although 41% indicated that they were unable to express a view on this proposition.

Figure 6.2: Non-legal professionals' views on whether professionals' responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns have improved, by professional group, 2014

Figure 6.2: Non-legal professionals' views on whether professionals' responses to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns have improved, by professional group, 2014. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "In your experience, have the family violence reforms led to an improvement in the responses to concerns about family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns by: [each professional group]". FC = family consultants; SEW = single expert witnesses. Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding. Non-legal professionals: n = 252-254.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014

6.2 Response practices of family law professionals since the 2012 family violence reforms

The discussion in this section will now focus more specifically on participants' observations of any changes in responses in terms of outcomes involving parenting arrangements made since the inception of the family violence reforms. It will then consider professionals' self-assessments of their practices in responding to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns.

6.2.1 General reflections on changes to parenting outcomes in the family law system arising from the family violence reforms

Each participant category was asked for their views on whether the family violence reforms had resulted in an increase in the following parenting arrangements (whether made by agreement between the parties or by way of judicial determination):

  • supervised changeovers or for changeovers to take place at neutral venues;
  • supervised time arrangements; or
  • arrangements for no parenting time.

Figure 6.3 indicates that close to a majority of the aggregate sample of participants (49%) agreed that the family violence reforms resulted in more arrangements for supervised or neutral venue changeovers. A substantial proportion of the aggregate sample disagreed (24%), with over one-quarter of the sample (28%) reporting that they were unable to express a view on this proposition. While agreement was largely consistent across each participant category, 24% of the judicial participants and 30% of lawyers disagreed, compared to only 16% of non-legal professionals. A greater proportion of non-legal professionals were unable to express a view on this proposition (34%), compared to judicial officers (30%) and lawyers (21%).

Figure 6.3: Agreement that the family violence reforms have resulted in changed parenting arrangements, by professional group, 2014

Figure 6.3: Agreement that the family violence reforms have resulted in changed parenting arrangements, by professional group, 2014. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Professionals were asked: "Based on your experiences since the family violence reforms, do you agree or disagree with the following statements: The family violence reforms have resulted in more arrangements for changeovers that are supervised or at a neutral place; The family violence reforms have resulted in more supervised time arrangements; The family violence reforms have resulted in more arrangements for no parenting time with one parent". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding. Judicial officers/registrars: n = 36-37; Lawyers: n = 320-321; Non-legal professionals: n = 289-292; Aggregated professionals: n = 646-650.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014

Figure 6.3 also indicates that 44% of the aggregate sample of participants agreed that the family violence reforms had resulted in more supervised time arrangements. Consistent with the responses relating to changeover arrangements, a substantial proportion (26%) disagreed with this proposition, with almost one-third of the sample (30%) being unable to express a view on this proposition. There were, once again, consistent levels of agreement of lawyers and non-legal professionals on this question, with 44% of lawyers and 46% of non-legal professionals agreeing that the family violence reforms had resulted in more supervised time arrangements. However, only 24% of judicial officers and registrars agreed with the proposition. Similar levels of disagreement emerged among judicial and legal participants on this issue, with just under one-third of both the judicial and legal sample mostly or strongly disagreeing that the family violence reforms had resulted in more supervised time arrangements. Interestingly, a higher proportion of the judicial sample (43%) compared to the non-legal (36%) or legal sample (23%) were unable to express a view on this proposition.

Each of the professional participant groups were also asked for their views on whether the family violence reforms had resulted in more arrangements for no parenting time. Figure 6.3 indicates that in contrast to participants' perceptions of changes in relation to parenting arrangements involving supervision or changeover at a neutral venue, only 21% of the aggregate sample of participants agreed that the family violence reforms had resulted in more arrangements for no parenting time. A greater proportion (41%) of the aggregate sample disagreed, with over one-third of the sample (38%) reporting that they were unable to express a view on this proposition. While levels of agreement were largely consistent across each participant category, judicial officers and registrars were less likely to agree, with only 17% mostly agreeing and none strongly agreeing. Both judicial and legal participants indicated higher levels of disagreement (47% and 46% respectively), compared with 34% of non-legal professionals disagreeing. Importantly, almost one-half of the non-legal professionals (45%) were unable express a view on this issue, compared with 36% of judicial officers/registrars and 32% of lawyers.

More specifically, participating lawyers were also asked whether they perceived courts to be prioritising safety from family violence and child abuse when making interim orders to a greater degree than they did prior to the family violence reforms. Table 6.6 indicates that a majority of the lawyers (60%) agreed that this was so. A substantial minority of the sample (29%) disagreed with this proposition. Only 12% of participating lawyers were unable to express a view on this issue.

Table 6.6: Agreement by lawyers that since the family violence reforms courts have prioritised safety to a greater degree when making interim orders, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked: "In your experience, do courts now prioritise safety from family violence and/or child abuse when making interim orders to a greater degree then before the family violence reforms?"
Sources: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 38 14.1
Mostly agree 123 45.7
Mostly disagree 55 20.5
Strongly disagree 22 8.2
Cannot say 31 11.5
Total 269 100.0

On this issue, judicial officers and registrars were also asked to provide open-ended responses regarding their approach to making interim orders in children's matters since the family violence reforms.

Some judicial participants (e.g., JO43, JO68) reported that family violence was now considered at an earlier stage than prior to the reforms; for example:

The reforms have certainly moved the question of family violence up the scale, albeit that it has always been a focus, but it is much better understood by the parties (generally the victim), the profession and the experts - this in turn means a better informed court. (JO34, FCoA, judge)

There were some judicial participants who reported that they were now more likely to act protectively at the interim hearing stage:

I feel there is stronger legislative support to prioritise safety over [the] "right to parental relationship" within the amendments, which I appreciate. Accordingly, I am probably more robust when assessing risk during interim hearings. That is, even though I am unable to make any findings at that stage of the court process, I may be less inclined to order any time with the alleged abusive parent, even supervised time, which was often the compromise position in the past, even though I was well aware of the risks associated even with supervised time, depending on the nature of the alleged past abuse. (JO50, FCC, judge)

[I am] more inclined to be protective of the children having regard to the expanded definition especially coercive and controlling violence and all its various forms, e.g., financial, use of motor vehicle, occupation of premises and restriction as to work, and require such matters to be addressed by injunctive orders. (JO43, FCC, judge)

I will often delay making orders about time, which are not agreed until after the Case Assessment Conference with the consultant and considering their memorandum. (JO58, FCoWA, magistrate)

Other judicial participants reported that their approach remained as it was prior to the family violence reforms:

I consider that I was alert to the serious issue of family violence and the attendant risks to children prior to the amendments. (JO46, FCC, judge)

Best practice prior to and following the amendments is identical. (JO54, FCC, judge)

The responses from judicial participants suggest that although their general approach remained unchanged, they were engaging in more overt enquiries about the risks:

I don't think my general approach has changed as I have always been of the view that greater weight must be given to protection from harm if the primary considerations in s 60CC(2) might suggest different outcomes. I do ask about risk issues more overtly now. (JO70, FCC, judge)

A small number of judicial participants (e.g., JO60) identified challenges such as increases in the length of proceedings at the interim hearing stage, together with difficulties in the smooth progress of cases at that stage; for example:

Inevitably, family violence is denied and the fact finding pathway at a final hearing is often difficult, and impossible at an interim level. The reforms have gone a long way but are not sufficiently widely known to be as effective as they could. (JO43, FCC, judge)

6.2.2 Responses of family law system professionals to harm or risk of harm

Judicial officers/registrars and lawyers

Participating judicial officers, registrars and lawyers were asked to reflect on professional practices when responding to identified harm or risk of harm. The relevant survey questions focused on practices relating to the use and effectiveness of the Form 4 Notice; practices relating to the preparation and presentation of affidavit material, family reports and memoranda; practices in relation to submissions made by lawyers; recommendations made by family consultants and single experts; and judicial practices in response to the filing of Form 4 Notices. Each will be considered in turn below.

Use and effectiveness of Form 4 Notice

As discussed in Chapter 4 at section 4.2.5, at the time of data collection, interested persons (including parties to the proceedings or ICLs) were required to file (and serve) a Form 4 Notice where alleging child abuse or risk of child abuse (FLA s 67Z) or where alleging family violence or risk of family violence as a consideration relevant to decision making about Part VII orders (FLA s 67ZBA). This Form 4 Notice allowed for the provision of a summary of the acts or omissions that were alleged to constitute abuse and/or family violence, the facts alleged to constitute any risk of these forms of harm, and the identification of relevant affidavit evidence in this regard. This section examines professional practices relating to the use and effectiveness of Form 4 Notices in responding to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns.

Judicial survey participants were asked for their views on whether Form 4 Notices were (since the family violence reforms) filed in all litigated parenting matters, and lawyers were asked whether they now filed Form 4 Notices in all litigated parenting matters. Table 6.7 indicates that a majority of the aggregate sample (56%) disagreed, with higher levels of disagreement reflected in the judicial sample (64%), although a slightly higher proportion of lawyers (34%) than judicial officers (30%) reported that they strongly disagreed.

Table 6.7: Agreement that Form 4 Notices are now filed in all litigated parenting matters, as reported by judicial officers/registrars and lawyers, 2014
  Judicial officers Lawyers Aggregated
No. % No. % No. %
Notes: Judicial officers and registrars were asked: "Please indicate the extent of your agreement with the following statements about the current Form 4 Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence: Form 4 Notices are now filed in all litigated parenting matters". Lawyers were asked: "Please indicate the extent of your agreement with the following statements about the current Form 4 Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence: I file a Form 4 Notice in all my litigated parenting matters". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 3 9.1 29 11.7 32 11.4
Mostly agree 7 21.2 49 19.8 56 20.0
Mostly disagree 11 33.3 54 21.9 65 23.2
Strongly disagree 10 30.3 83 33.6 93 33.2
Cannot say 2 6.1 32 13.0 34 12.1
Total 33 100.0 247 100.0 280 100.0

Of relevance to this issue is Strickland and Murray's 2014 post-family violence reform study of the extent to which the reforms are meeting their objectives. Their report indicated a "marked increase" in filings of Form 4 Notices, by reference to FCoA and FCCoA court filings data from the financial years of 2007-08 and 2012-13 (p. 59-60). Strickland and Murray suggested that this increase "may be attributable to greater awareness of the family law reforms generally and the need to file the Form 4 specifically, and in the Form 4 being the mechanism through which the prompt action requirements in s 67ZBB of the Act become operative" (p. 60). Resourcing was identified as an issue in the context of increases in filings of Form 4s and the "prompt action" requirements triggered as a result (p. 72). Strickland and Murray found that while Form 4s were effective in adducing the required information, the time taken to respond and the number of cases that required such a response gave rise to substantial issues in practice (p. 73). These issues will be considered further below in the context of the qualitative data from judicial and legal participants in our study.

On the question of the effectiveness of responses, Table 6.8 indicates that a majority of lawyers (51%) disagreed that filing a Form 4 Notice resulted in safer parenting arrangements for parents and children. Over one-quarter of lawyers (29%) agreed with this proposition, with about one in five participants in the sample being unable to express a view in this regard.

Table 6.8: Agreement by lawyers that filing a Form 4 Notice results in safer parenting arrangements for parents and children, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked: "Please indicate the extent of your agreement with the following statements about the current Form 4 Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence: Filing a Form 4 Notice results in safer parenting arrangements for parents and children".
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 12 4.8
Mostly agree 59 23.7
Mostly disagree 67 26.9
Strongly disagree 59 23.7
Cannot say 52 20.9
Total 249 100.0

Lawyers were also asked whether they perceived courts to take notice of Form 4 Notices. Table 6.9 shows that a slight majority of participating lawyers (51%) indicated that they thought that courts do take notice of Form 4 Notices. A substantial minority (36%) reported that they thought that courts do not take any notice of Form 4 Notices, with a further 13% of the sample being unable to express a view on this question.

Table 6.9: Agreement by lawyers that courts do not take any notice of Form 4 Notices, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked: "Please indicate the extent of your agreement with the following statements about the current Form 4 Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence: Courts do not take any notice of Form 4 Notices". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 30 12.2
Mostly agree 58 23.5
Mostly disagree 82 33.2
Strongly disagree 45 18.2
Cannot say 32 13.0
Total 247 100.0

Judicial and legal participants were also asked to comment more generally on the current Form 4 Notice in open-ended survey responses. A small number of judicial participants raised concerns about the capacity of prescribed child welfare authorities to effectively respond to Form 4 Notices:

The definitions are very wide and [the] gulf between "notifiable" risks in the FLA and those at the state protection level - wider. [This] has led to pressures on the state welfare agencies seeking to process increased Form 4s. [The] agency staff have no understanding of the FLA requirements. [They are] unable to respond in a timely manner to requests for information. [The] states [are] ill prepared - misunderstandings. [The] definitions [are] very difficult for litigants and others to understand. In some registries (i.e., Dandenong, Parramatta) most parenting matters would include some risks. [It is] difficult to prioritise and get timely information - sheer volume. (JO39, FCoA, registrar)

Judicial perspectives on this issue are considered further in section 6.3.1.

Numerous lawyers expressed frustration at the lack of effect they observed from the filing of a Form 4 Notice, in relation to both the response of the court to Form 4 Notices and in relation to the effects of the Notice on the parenting arrangements made:

I file the Form 4 as required. In my experience the Form 4 has not resulted in safer parenting arrangements. (L187, lawyer)

[The Form 4 Notice] makes little difference to the progress of the matter. (L192, lawyer)

I have NEVER had one dealt with in an open manner, with a clear outcome, or a communicated outcome. I file them as we are obliged to do so (when criteria met). This does not mean that I believe they have any use. I do not want my client criticised for not doing so when they meet the criteria for a Form 4 to be filed. Once filed; never heard of again. I have also seen a lot of vague, poorly completed ones and the Form 4 process abused. However, I have not seen the outcome of a Form 4 so, who cares what they contain - a judicial officer[?] Clearly not in my experience. (L82, lawyer)

The judicial reaction to them is so varied in all but very clear cases of abuse that it's often risky filing one. (L32, lawyer)

The Notices don't mean that court cases are dealt with faster because the court has no more resources. (L64, lawyer)

Usually they are dismissed the first time at court where one is filed. I have also applied to legal aid to complete a form but legal aid was refused. In another matter the other side was ordered to file one but did not. (L85, lawyer)

It is a shocker of a form. I find that if I need to involve [child protection authority] or my client deals with [child protection authority] direct. The Form 4 is part of the problem about information overload that statutory authorities have to deal with - as the Carmody inquiry identified in Qld. (L443, lawyer)

Consistent with judicial participants, the response quoted directly above indicates that some lawyers (e.g., L135) were also cognisant of the effect that the increase in filing Form 4 Notices had upon prescribed child welfare authorities, with other lawyers expressing disappointment in the response of such authorities where Form 4 Notices had been filed:

[The child protection authority] often only provide a one or two line response letter, which is very unhelpful. (L181, lawyer)

I do not believe that there is any greater attention paid to a case where a Form 4 is filed. The [child protection authority] continue to be habitually unresponsive. (L205, lawyer)

I have acted for parents for 20 years. I have had ONE SINGLE CASE in that 20 year period where [child protection authority] responded to a Notice of Risk. And that was six months after I had filed it and the court had already made orders to protect the child. (L64, lawyer)

The state prescribed authority rarely takes any notice of them in my experience. In the rare cases where the state has been required to participate, the ICL has had to chase them up, or a separate order has been made in cases where the court was of the view that the prescribed authority should voice an opinion or consider intervening. (L261, lawyer)

Affidavit material

Judicial and legal participants were asked to reflect on the effects of the family violence reforms on the preparation and presentation of other court documentation. In particular, they were asked to reflect on whether, in their experience, they considered there to be more detail on a range of specified issues in affidavit material since the family violence reforms were introduced.

The data presented in Figure 6.4 show that a majority of the aggregate sample (57%) agreed that since the reforms, there was almost always or often more detail on family violence issues in affidavit material. A further 29% of the aggregate sample reported that this was sometimes their experience. This finding is consistent with the expectation of some commentators that a positive outcome of the family violence reforms would be a greater attention to detail when presenting evidence of family violence before the court (e.g., Parkinson, 2012, p. 16). Interestingly, a greater proportion of lawyers (24%) selected almost always compared to their judicial counterparts (14%), with 44% of the judicial participants, as opposed to 33% of the lawyers, reporting that there was often more detail on family violence issues in the affidavit material (data not shown).

Figure 6.4: Legal professionals' reports on frequency of more detail in affidavit material since the family violence reforms, by type of family violence, 2014

Figure 6.4: Legal professionals' reports on frequency of more detail in affidavit material since the family violence reforms, by type of family violence, 2014. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Professionals were asked: "In your experience, since the family violence reforms, is there more detail on the following issues in affidavit material: Family violence; Exposure of children to family violence; Child abuse and/or child safety". Judicial officers/registrars: n = 36; Lawyers: n = 263; Aggregated professionals: n = 299. Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.

Source: Survey of Practices 2014

Similarly, Figure 6.4 also indicates that a majority of the aggregate sample (57%) responded that there was almost always or often more detail on the exposure of children to family violence issues in affidavit material since the family violence reforms. A further 30% of the aggregate sample reported that this was sometimes their experience. This finding is also consistent with some commentators' expectations that a positive outcome of the family violence reforms would be a greater attention to detail in evidence provided to the court of children's exposure to family violence (e.g., Parkinson, 2012, p. 16-17). Once again, a greater proportion of lawyers (24%) selected "almost always", compared to 17% of judicial officers/registrars, and 39% of the judicial sample chose "often", as opposed to 33% of the lawyer sample (data not shown).

The same response pattern is identified in relation to the detail regarding child abuse or child safety concerns in affidavit material. Once again, Figure 6.4 shows that a majority of the aggregate sample (56%) reported that there was almost always or often more detail included. Again, a further 30% of the aggregate sample reported that this was sometimes their experience. Similar proportions of judicial officers/registrars and lawyers indicated that this was almost always (22% and 24% respectively) or often (31% and 33%) the case (data not shown).

Family reports and memoranda

Legal participants were also asked for their views on changes in the content of family reports and memoranda from family consultants and single expert witnesses in the period since the family violence reforms. Figure 6.5 indicates that over one-third of the aggregate sample (40%) thought that there were almost always or often changes to the content of reports and memoranda. A further 36% reported that this was sometimes their experience. Judicial officers and registrars were more emphatic than lawyers in their affirmative responses, with 33% of the judicial sample reporting that more information was almost always included, with a further 17% reporting that this was often the case (data not shown).

Figure 6.5: Legal professionals' reports on frequency of changes in information and recommendations addressing concerns in family reports/memoranda, 2014

Figure 6.5: Legal professionals' reports on frequency of changes in information and recommendations addressing concerns in family reports/memoranda, 2014. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Professionals were asked: "Since the family violence reforms, have the family reports/memoranda of family consultants and single expert witnesses provided the following: More information about family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns; and: Recommendations that address the implications of information about family violence and/or child abuse/safety concerns for parenting arrangements". Percentages may not sum 100.0% due to rounding. Judicial officers/registrars: n = 36; Lawyers: n = 262-263; Aggregated professionals: n = 298-299.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014

Figure 6.5 indicates that 41% of the aggregate sample agreed that family reports or memoranda almost always or often provided recommendations that addressed the implications of information about family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns since the family violence reforms. A further 34% reported that this was sometimes their experience, with 16% reporting that this was rarely or never the case. Once again, judicial officers and registrars were more emphatic than lawyers that since the reforms, family reports or memoranda almost always (36%) or often (25%) provided recommendations that addressed the implications of information about family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns. Nevertheless, 25% of lawyers answered often and 13% answered almost always in this regard (data not shown).

In addition, family consultants and single experts were specifically questioned about whether they had changed their approach to making recommendations in family law matters since the introduction of the family violence reforms. More than one-half of the participating sample (57%) said they had not changed, while 31% indicated that they had (data not shown). A further 11% said they were unable to express a view on this issue (data not shown).

The open-ended survey responses of family consultants and single experts also provided further insight into this issue. Some family consultants reflected on the greater emphasis that they placed on the discussion of the evidence of risks or harm and the effects of this evidence on their recommendations in their reports:

[Since the family violence reforms, I have provided] more definitive reported evidence and recommendations; more emphasis on emotional abuse, undermining other parent's relationship with child. (NL183, FCC, family consultant)

[Since the family violence reforms, I have been] more explicitly describing the patterns of violence. (NL24, FCC, family consultant)

Some of participating family consultants and single experts reported that since the family violence reforms, they considered that they had become more cautious in terms of the parenting orders that they recommended, and that there was a greater likelihood of recommending parenting arrangements that involved no time or limited time with a parent:

There would be now more instances where I would recommend sole parental responsibility and no or limited time in my family reports. (NL19, FCC, family consultant)

[I would now make] more recommendations for no time with a violent/abusive parent. (NL56, FCoA, family consultant)

[I have] been more prepared to advocate for higher safety for children and more often recommendations for no contact between speculated or admitted offending parent and child/ren. NL129, FCC, family consultant)

The greatest change is probably around the issue of parental responsibility and being more thoughtful as to what I recommend. (NL21, FCoA, family consultant)

I am more mindful of [family violence] when making recommendations regarding shared care. (NL315, private practice, single expert)

Interestingly, one family consultant indicated that they were now more likely to refrain from making specific recommendations:

[There is now] greater likelihood of a recommendation of judicial determination of the matter, because my role does not have the capacity to make findings of fact when the accounts of the parents conflict regarding family violence. (NL485, FCoA, family consultant)

Submissions or requests made by lawyers

Legal participants were asked for their views on submissions or requests made by lawyers in response to risks or harm factors. Table 6.10 indicates that slightly more than one-quarter of the legal sample (27%) said that as a result of the family violence reforms, they more frequently advocated for statutory child protection services to intervene in proceedings. However, a majority of participating lawyers (54%) said they had not and 20% indicated that they were not able to express a view on this question.

Table 6.10: Whether lawyers reported advocating more frequently for statutory child protection services to intervene in proceedings since the family violence reforms, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked: "As a result of the family violence reforms, I more frequently: Advocate for statutory child protection services to intervene in proceedings".
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Yes 65 26.6
No 131 53.7
Cannot say 48 19.7
Total 244 100.0

Table 6.11 indicates that 31% of participating lawyers reported that they more frequently advocated for statutory child protection services to take action or to provide support for the child or another family member, although a majority reported that they had not done so (53%) and 17% were unable to express a view on this issue.

Table 6.11: Whether lawyers reported advocating more frequently for statutory child protection services to take action/provide support since the family violence reforms, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked: "As a result of the family violence reforms, I more frequently: Advocate for statutory child protection services to take action/provide support for the child or other family member".
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Yes 75 30.7
No 128 52.5
Cannot say 41 16.8
Total 244 100.0

Judicial officers and registrars were asked for their views on whether lawyers (including ICLs) were, as a result of the family violence reforms, more likely to advocate for statutory child protection services to take action or to provide support for the child or young person. As Table 6.12 shows, a majority of judicial officers (56%) either mostly or strongly disagreed with this proposition, with a further 17% indicating that they were unable to express a view in this regard.

Table 6.12: Judicial officers'/registrars' agreement that lawyers have been more likely to advocate for statutory child protection services to take action/provide support since the family violence reforms, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Judicial officers/registrars were asked: "Please indicate the extent of your agreement or disagreement with the following propositions in relation to the practice of lawyers (including Independent Children's Lawyers) in the period since the family violence reforms. As a result of the family violence reforms, legal practitioners, including Independent Children's Lawyers, are now more likely to: Advocate for statutory child protection services to take action/provide support for the child/young person".
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 1 2.8
Mostly agree 9 25.0
Mostly disagree 16 44.4
Strongly disagree 4 11.1
Cannot say 6 16.7
Total 36 100.0

 Table 6.13 presents lawyers' responses to the proposition that, as a result of the family violence reforms, they made more frequent requests to the court to make evidence processes less traumatic for victims of family violence. A majority of participating lawyers (56%) responded that they had not, with a further 21% indicating that they were unable to express a view in this regard.

Table 6.13: Whether lawyers reported making more requests to the court to make evidence processes less traumatic for victims of family violence since the family violence reforms, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Lawyers were asked: "As a result of the family violence reforms, I more frequently: Make a request to the court to make evidence processes less traumatic for victims of family violence".
Sources: Survey of Practices 2014
Yes 55 22.6
No 136 56.0
Cannot say 52 21.4
Total 243 100.0

Judicial officers and registrars were also asked for their views on whether, as a result of the family violence reforms, lawyers (including ICLs) were more likely to request that processes for leading evidence and for undertaking cross-examination be conducted in a way that minimises trauma for people who had experienced family violence and abuse. As Table 6.14 shows, only 14% of the judicial participants agreed with this proposition, with 67% disagreeing and a further 19% unable to express a view on this question.

Table 6.14: Judicial officers'/registrars' agreement that lawyers have been more likely to make requests to the court to make evidence processes less traumatic for victims of family violence since the family violence reforms, 2014
  No. %
Notes: Judicial officers and registrars were asked: "Please indicate the extent of your agreement or disagreement with the following propositions in relation to the practice of lawyers (including Independent Children's Lawyers) in the period since the family violence reforms. As a result of the family violence reforms, legal practitioners, including Independent Children's Lawyers, are now more likely to: Request that processes for leading evidence and conducting cross-examination be conducted in a way that minimises trauma for people who have experienced family violence and abuse".
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 0 0.0
Mostly agree 5 13.9
Mostly disagree 15 41.7
Strongly disagree 9 25.0
Cannot say 7 19.4
Total 36 100.0
Judicial practices

As a follow-up to the questions asked about lawyers' practices, judicial officers and registrars were asked for their views on the proportion of children's matters where they would conduct proceedings in a way that minimised trauma to people who had experienced family violence, especially in relation to evidence being led and to the conduct of cross-examination. Table 6.15 shows that while slightly more than one-quarter of participants were unable to express a view on this question, 27% of judicial participants reported that they conducted about three-quarters or more of children's matters in this manner. A further 12% reported that they did so in about one-half of their children's matters, and 27% reported that they did so in up to about one-quarter. Only 6% of the judicial sample reported that they did not conduct proceedings in such a way.

Table 6.15: Judicial practices in proceedings involving children's matters, frequency reported by judicial officers and registrars, 2014
  Conduct proceedings to minimise trauma Order to attend child-oriented program Order to attend relationship service
No. % No. % No. %
Notes: Judicial officers and registrars were asked: "In approximately what proportion of children's matters would you: Conduct proceedings in a way that minimises trauma to people who have experienced family violence, especially in relation to evidence being lead and the conduct of cross-examination; Order parties to attend a child inclusive conference, child dispute conference or child responsive program under s 11F of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth); and Order parties to attend a community based relationship service - such as counselling, anger management or parent education (e.g., Parenting Orders Program and Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program)". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Survey of Practices 2014
None 2 6.1 1 3.0 0 0.0
Up to about one-quarter 9 27.3 16 48.5 12 36.4
About a half 4 12.1 5 15.2 8 24.2
About three-quarters or more 9 27.3 9 27.3 11 33.4
Cannot say 9 27.3 2 6.1 2 6.1
Total 33 100.0 33 100.0 33 100.0

Table 6.15 also presents the reported proportions of cases in which judicial participants would order parties to attend a child-inclusive conference, a child dispute conference or a child-responsive program pursuant to FLA s 11F. Almost one-half of the sample (49%) reported that they did so in up to about one-quarter of their children's matters. A further 15% reported that they made these FLA s 11F orders in about one-half of these matters, and 27% reported that they did so in about three-quarters or more of these matters.

In addition, Table 6.15 presents the reported proportions of cases in which judicial officers would order parties to attend community-based relationship services, such as counselling, anger management or parent education programs (e.g., Parenting Orders Program or the Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program). Just over one-third of the sample (36%) reported that they did so in up to about one-quarter of their children's matters. A further 24% reported that they made these orders in about one-half of these matters and 33% reported that they did so in about three-quarters or more of these matters.

Non-legal professionals

Non-legal professionals were asked to reflect on their responses to risks or harm factors, with specific questions for this participant group focusing on the nature and effectiveness of protocols and procedures in place for dealing with family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns and the services provided in the context of these risks and harm factors.

Protocols and procedures for dealing with child abuse and neglect

Table 6.16 indicates that the vast majority of participants (96%) in both the 2009 Survey of FRS Staff and in the 2014 post-family violence reform sample reported that they had protocols or procedures in place to deal with child abuse and neglect. Table 6.17 presents participants' views on whether the protocols or procedures were appropriate for dealing with child abuse and neglect to safeguard the families using their service. Similar proportions of participants in both samples reported that they strongly agreed (2009: 60%; 2014: 58%) with this proposition or that they agreed/mostly agreed (2009: 38%; 2014: 35%) with this proposition.

Table 6.16 indicates that the vast majority of non-legal professionals in both the 2009 sample (94%) and the 2014 sample (96%) reported that they had protocols or procedures in place for dealing with disclosures of family violence. Table 6.17 also presents participants' views on whether the protocols or procedures in place were appropriate for dealing with family violence to safeguard the families using their service. Similar proportions of participants in both samples reported that they strongly agreed (60%) with this proposition or that they agreed/mostly agreed (2009: 38%; 2014: 34%) with this proposition.

Table 6.16: Existence of protocols and procedures in services for dealing with child safety and family violence concerns, as reported by non-legal professionals, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009 and 2014: "Do you have protocols and procedures for dealing with child abuse and/or neglect?", and "Do you have protocols and procedures for dealing with disclosures of family violence?". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Protocols and procedures for dealing with child abuse and/or child neglect
Yes 822 96.3 225 95.7
No 5 0.6 5 2.1
Can't say/not applicable 27 3.2 5 2.2
Total 854 100.0 235 100.0
Protocols and procedures for dealing with family violence
Yes 801 93.7 227 96.2
No 15 1.8 5 2.1
Can't say/not applicable 39 4.5 4 1.7
Total 855 100.0 236 100.0
Table 6.17: Appropriateness of service protocols and procedures for safeguarding families with child safety and family violence concerns, non-legal professionals' reports, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements: The service has appropriate protocols and procedures in place for dealing with child abuse and neglect that safeguards the families that use this service" and "The service has appropriate protocols and procedures in place for dealing with family violence that safeguards the families that use this service". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements: The service has appropriate protocols and procedures in place for dealing with child abuse and neglect that safeguard families that use this service" and "The service has appropriate protocols and procedures in place for dealing with family violence that safeguard families that use this service". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Protocols and procedures are appropriate for dealing with child abuse and child neglect
Strongly agree 491 59.7 135 57.5
Agree (2009) & Mostly agree (2014) 309 37.6 83 35.3
Disagree/strongly disagree (2009) & Mostly/strongly disagree (2014) 13 1.6 10 4.3
Can't say/not applicable 9 1.1 7 3.0
Total 822 100.0 235 100.0
Protocols and procedures are appropriate for dealing with family violence
Strongly agree 481 60.0 140 59.6
Agree (2009) & Mostly agree (2014) 303 37.8 79 33.6
Disagree/strongly disagree (2009) & Mostly/strongly disagree (2014) 11 1.4 8 3.4
Can't say/not applicable 7 0.9 8 3.4
Total 802 100.0 235 100.0
Services provided in the context of family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns

As noted at section 5.4, non-legal professionals working in the family dispute resolution context were asked whether FDR services were provided in cases where child abuse and neglect allegations had been raised. The findings discussed in that section are again relevant in the context of professionals' responses to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns. As Table 5.4 indicated, while in the 2009 sample participants were relatively evenly split, a greater proportion of participants in the 2014 sample (55%) indicated that FDR services were provided in cases involving allegations of child abuse and neglect. Non-legal professionals were also asked for their views on whether FDR services were provided in cases where family violence allegations had been raised. As Table 5.4 indicated, similar proportions in both the 2009 and 2014 samples (81% and 83% respectively) confirmed that FDR services were provided in cases involving allegations of family violence. These responses, which are consistent with earlier research indicating that FDR services are commonly provided in the context of allegations of family violence (e.g., Kaspiew et al., 2009), confirm the relevance of observations noted at section 6.1.2 in relation to the potential benefits of continued and increased collaboration between FDR and other services to facilitate greater capacity to respond when working with families in these circumstances (Allen Consulting Group, 2014).

Practices relating to notifications

Non-legal professionals were asked for their views on their practices relating to required notifications in cases involving family violence or in circumstances involving disclosures of child abuse and/or child neglect.

Table 6.18 indicates that a greater proportion of participants in the 2014 sample (77%) compared to the 2009 sample (65%) reported that they strongly agreed with the proposition that they knew who to contact when safety concerns relating to family violence for clients or their children were identified. The vast majority of the remaining participants responded that they agreed/mostly agreed (2009: 29%; 2014: 21%) with this proposition.

Table 6.18: Agreement by non-legal professionals that they know who to contact when safety concerns relating to family violence are identified, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements: I know who to contact when safety concerns relating to family violence for clients or their children are identified". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements: I know who to contact when safety concerns relating to family violence for clients/callers or their children are identified". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Strongly agree 555 65.1 180 76.9
Agree 245 28.7 49 20.9
Disagree 9 1.1 1 0.4
Strongly disagree 0 0.0 2 0.9
Cannot say/do not know 8 0.9 1 0.4
Not applicable 21 2.5 1 0.4
Not answered/illegible 15 1.8 - -
Total 853 100.0 234 100.0

Similarly, Table 6.19 indicates that a greater proportion of participants in the 2014 sample (86%) confirmed that they were legally mandated to report disclosures of child abuse and/or neglect, compared to 80% of the 2009 sample. The vast majority of the remaining participants indicated that mandatory reporting requirements did not apply to them (2009: 15%; 2014: 12%).

Table 6.19: Knowledge of mandatory child abuse and/or neglect disclosure laws, non-legal professionals, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009 and 2014: "It is a mandatory legal requirement for me to report disclosures of child abuse and/or neglect".
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Yes 683 79.9 202 85.6
No, I do deal directly with clients but mandatory reporting does not apply to me 126 14.7 29 12.3
Cannot say/do not know 13 1.5 1 0.4
Not relevant, I don't deal directly with clients 33 3.9 4 1.7
Total 855 100.0 236 100.0
Non-legal professionals assessments of their capacity to respond

Non-legal professionals were asked to rate their own capacity in various respects to respond to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns. Non-legal participants were consistently positive regarding their capacities in this regard.

Table 6.20 shows that 33% of the 2009 sample and 40% of the 2014 sample rated their capacity to work with families where children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect as excellent. Comparable proportions reported their capacity as good (2009: 39%; 2014: 39%) or average (2009: 10%; 2014: 9%).

Table 6.20: Non-legal professionals' self-assessments of their work with families where children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Rate your ability to do the following in your work for this service: Work with families where children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please rate your ability to do the following in your work: Work with families where children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Excellent 282 33.0 92 40.0
Good 333 39.0 89 38.7
Average 89 10.4 21 9.1
Poor 7 0.8 2 0.9
Very poor 2 0.2 1 0.4
Cannot say/do not know 20 2.3 1 0.4
Not applicable 122 14.3 24 10.4
Not answered/illegible 0 0.0 - -
Total 855 100.0 230 100.0

Similarly, Table 6.21 shows that 33% of the 2009 sample and 37% of the 2014 sample rated their capacity to work with families where children were at risk of child abuse and/or neglect as excellent. Similar proportions of each of these samples reported their capacity as good (2009: 38%; 2014: 41%) or average (2009: 10%; 2014: 9%).

Table 6.21: Non-legal professionals' self-assessments of their work with families where children are at risk of child abuse and/or neglect, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Rate your ability to do the following in your work for this service: Work with families where children are at risk of child abuse and/or neglect". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please rate your ability to do the following in your work: Work with families where children are at risk of child abuse and/or neglect". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Excellent 281 32.9 86 37.4
Good 325 38.0 94 40.9
Average 84 9.8 21 9.1
Poor 9 1.1 3 1.3
Very poor 4 0.5 1 0.4
Cannot say/do not know 22 2.6 0 0
Not applicable 117 13.7 25 10.9
Not answered/illegible 13 1.5 - -
Total 855 100.0 230 100.0

However, the data presented in Table 6.22 indicate slightly less confidence on the part of the 2014 sample in relation to their capacity to work with clients who have had allegations of child abuse and/or neglect made against them (albeit slightly greater than in 2009), with 34% of the 2014 sample and 32% of the 2009 sample rating their capacity to work with these clients as excellent. A greater proportion of the 2014 sample reported their capacity as good when compared with the 2009 sample (2009: 38%; 2014: 44%), with similar proportions of participants in each sample reporting their capacity in this regard to be average (2009: 13%; 2014: 12%).

Table 6.22: Non-legal professionals' self-assessments of their work with clients/callers who have had allegations of child abuse and/or neglect made against them, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Rate your ability to do the following in your work for this service: Work with clients who have had allegations of child abuse and/or neglect made against them". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please rate your ability to do the following in your work: Work with clients/callers who have had allegations of child abuse and/or neglect made against them". Percentages may not total 100.0% due to rounding.
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Excellent 274 32.1 79 34.2
Good 324 37.9 102 44.2
Average 111 13.0 27 11.7
Poor 15 1.8 3 1.3
Very poor 4 0.5 1 0.4
Cannot say/do not know 24 2.8 2 0.9
Not applicable 103 12.1 17 7.4
Not answered /illegible 0 0.0 - -
Total 855 100.0 231 100.0

In relation to non-legal professionals' assessments of their capacities in responding to families characterised by family violence or risk of family violence, the data represented in Table 6.23 indicates that a higher level of confidence was reported by both the 2009 and 2014 samples when compared with the self-assessments of non-legal professionals in cases where families were characterised by issues relating to child abuse or child safety concerns. Almost one-half of the 2009 sample (49%) and 54% of the 2014 sample rated their capacity to work with clients who had experienced family violence as excellent. A slightly greater proportion of the 2014 sample reported their capacity as good when compared with the 2009 sample (2009: 35%; 2014: 38%), with similar proportions of participants in each sample reporting their capacity in this regard to be average (2009: 5%; 2014: 3%).

Table 6.23: Non-legal professionals' self-assessments of their work with clients/callers who have experienced family violence, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Rate your ability to do the following in your work for this service. Work with clients who have experienced family violence". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please rate your ability to do the following in your work: Work with clients/callers who have experienced family violence".
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Excellent 414 48.5 124 53.7
Good 300 35.1 87 37.7
Average 42 4.9 7 3.0
Poor 4 0.5 1 0.4
Very poor 2 0.2 1 0.4
Cannot say/do not know 9 1.1 0 0.0
Not applicable 83 9.7 11 4.8
Not answer /illegible 0 0.0 - -
Total 854 100.0 231 100.0

Table 6.24 reflects similarly high levels of confidence in the reports of both the 2009 and 2014 samples in their self-assessments of their capacity to work in cases where clients were at risk of experiencing family violence. Almost one-half of the 2009 sample (47%) and 50% of the 2014 sample rated their capacity as excellent. A greater proportion of the 2014 sample reported their capacity as good when compared with the 2009 sample (2009: 34%; 2014: 40%), with similar proportions of participants in each sample reporting their capacity in this regard to be average (2009: 6%; 2014: 4%).

Table 6.24: Non-legal professionals' self-assessments of their work with clients/callers who are at risk of experiencing family violence, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Rate your ability to do the following in your work for this service: Work with clients who are at risk of experiencing family violence". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please rate your ability to do the following in your work: Work with clients/callers who are at risk of experiencing family violence".
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Excellent 400 46.9 116 50.0
Good 293 34.4 93 40.1
Average 48 5.6 9 3.9
Poor 3 0.4 1 0.4
Very poor 1 0.1 1 0.4
Cannot say/do not know 11 1.3 0 0.0
Not applicable 85 10.0 12 5.2
Not answered/illegible 12 1.4 - -
Total 853 100.0 232 100.0

The data represented in Table 6.25 indicate less confidence on the part of non-legal professionals when reflecting on their capacity to work with clients who have had allegations of family violence made against them, with 40% of the 2009 sample and 39% of the 2014 sample rating their capacity to work with these clients as excellent. A greater proportion of the 2014 sample reported their capacity as good when compared with the 2009 sample (2009: 38%; 2014: 45%), with slightly more participants in the 2009 sample reporting their capacity in this regard to be average than those participants in the 2014 sample (2009: 10%; 2014: 7%).

Table 6.25: Non-legal professionals' self-assessments of their work with clients/callers who have had allegations of family violence made against them, 2009 and 2014
  Survey of FRS Staff 2009 Survey of Practices 2014
No. % No. %
Notes: Non-legal professionals were asked in 2009: "Rate your ability to do the following in your work for this service. Work with clients who have had allegations of family violence made against them". Non-legal professionals were asked in 2014: "Please rate your ability to do the following in your work: Work with clients/callers who have had allegations of family violence made against them".
Sources: Survey of FRS Staff (FRSP Services) 2009; Survey of Practices 2014
Excellent 342 40.1 89 38.5
Good 321 37.6 103 44.6
Average 83 9.7 15 6.5
Poor 6 0.7 3 1.3
Very poor 1 0.1 1 0.4
Cannot say/do not know 12 1.4 3 1.3
Not applicable 89 10.4 17 7.4
Not answered/illegible 0 0.0 - -
Total 854 100.0 231 100.0

6.3 Effects of the family violence reforms on family law professionals' response to family violence: Qualitative insights

Judicial officers, registrars and lawyers were asked for their views in open-ended survey questions about any changes to the way in which family law professionals screen/identify, assess and respond to family violence as a result of the family violence reforms. In this section, the comments relevant to professionals' responses to family violence will be canvassed.

6.3.1 Judicial officers/registrars

A number of judicial participants (e.g., JO63, JO39, JO57) described an increase in the reporting of family violence in family law proceedings as a result of the family violence reforms; however, significant resourcing issues were identified in this context, with observations made by some judicial participants (JO29; JO39; JO57; JO63) about the difficulties for prescribed child welfare authorities to respond in a timely manner to the resultant increase in notifications. On this issue, the comments of JO39 noted earlier in sections 4.2.5 and 6.2.2 are of particular relevance as they describe the pressures on prescribed child welfare authorities arising from increased Form 4 filings, and this participant is quoted at greater length below:

The difficulty is getting information on child abuse from prescribed welfare agencies before the FCC at an early date - the change in the definition has resulted in more Form 4s which adds to their administrative load - they cannot respond in a timely fashion. FCC Judges [are] impeded as [there is] no legal aid funding … no timely responses from welfare agencies - large numbers of SRLs [Self Represented Litigants] - [and] limited family consultant resources - [The FCC is] doing what they can by seeking to introduce a Notice of Risk in ALL PARENTING matters - [There is] still underreporting of risk and [the] Notice of Risk should address this - but [I am] conscious of the workload of welfare agencies and [of] working locally to try and get some information sharing at an early date … State agencies do not have the resources to respond in a timely manner to Form 4s - courts [are] issuing more s 69ZW - [there is a] wonderful pilot in Vic. with a co-located [child protection] officer making real efforts to facilitate exchange - Judges have agreed on common form orders and only request … intervention when no viable carer. [The] FCC [is] doing what it can to get information earlier. (JO39, FCoA, registrar)

As noted earlier at 4.3.1, JO29 (FCoWA, magistrate) also observed that "police and child protection authorities have insufficient resources to respond and there is only 'aspirin and band aids' in the family court medicine kit". Two registrars of the Family Court of Australia also made the following observations:

The child protection authorities (state-based) now receive many more Notices of Abuse than they did previously. All must be assessed and this is taking valuable resources and time for child safety officers and the state governments do not have the resources to manage this significant increase in workload. (JO63, FCoA, registrar)

In addition, the number of Form 4s now being filed are creating a significant burden on the local department as many do not meet the requirements under the state legislation to investigate. If the numbers increase much further there is a risk that the Form will simply be treated as an administrative process receiving a very limited response, if any, from the department thereby negating the benefits of the Form 4. (JO57, FCoA, registrar)

This resourcing issue was also identified as affecting the responses available to the courts:

It is all very well to place onerous obligations on courts and others - but when there are no resources to assist the court once risks have been identified - that is the difficulty. [It is] rare for welfare agencies to intervene … Increasing reporting of risks and identification at an early date [is] clearly useful, but limited ICL resources, unlikely to have welfare intervention … [The] courts [are] left to make difficult determinations with limited resources. Matters coming to the courts [are] more complex with increasing risk factors. (JO39, FCoA, registrar)

Insights from lawyers' open-ended responses relevant to this issue are discussed at 6.3.2 below.

Finally in relation to the judicial sample, numerous participants in this category also reported that there had been no changes to the ways in which family law professionals responded to family violence. For example:

The amendments largely codify what was the practice of competent family law practitioners, and for the competent practitioner have made little real difference, other than as to how case management is packaged. (JO52, FCoWA, judge)

6.3.2 Lawyers

Consistent with judicial participant comments noted at the outset of 6.3.1, a number of lawyers reported changes in professionals' responses to family violence as a result of the family violence reforms. These lawyers reported an increase in the reporting of family violence in family law proceedings and in the detail in affidavit material, together with an increase in referrals to relevant services. For example:

Notices of abuse are more detailed, affidavits are more detailed and early warm referrals to related agencies are on the increase, from my perspective. (L104, lawyer)

Some lawyers also described the effects of the family violence reforms on making safer arrangements for children and on raising family violence in the litigation process:

The changes have placed responsibility on legal professionals to take family violence into account when giving advice and this has in turn led to better arrangements being made for children. (L498, lawyer)

The reforms have been an opportunity to put family violence more confidently on the table, and in my experience it has probably meant less litigation about time with children where there is family violence. But the extent to which it is being taken seriously or even talked about is patchy. (L505, lawyer)

Other lawyers reported that the effect was particularly apparent where there existed clear and independent evidence of the relevant family violence, although it was acknowledged that this was not the norm in the majority of cases. For example:

The impact of the changes is strong when there is clear independent evidence of violence. However the impact is more difficult to identify in the majority of cases where the allegations of violence [is] denied or minimised by the other party. Most cases do not ever go to a hearing where the allegations are tested, and so the issue is about negotiating appropriate arrangements that are as safe as they can be in the context of contested allegations. I don't think that the changes have made much difference to this majority of cases. (L121, lawyer)

The issue is evidence - family violence is easier to screen/identify, but still difficult to prove/substantiate. (L425, lawyer)

Unless there is clear evidence of physical violence it is sometimes not taken seriously. Claims of emotional and psychological abuse, unless severe and supported by something like notes from a counsellor/mental health professional, are sometimes dismissed with little investigation. (L113, lawyer)

Indeed, many lawyers expressed disappointment in the lack of substantive effect that the family violence reforms had on outcomes for families and in relation to securing parenting arrangements that were more consistent with the best interests of children and that prioritised their protection from harm. Some lawyers directed their criticism towards the responses of courts in these circumstances:

The reforms provided a guideline for lawyers to bring to the attention of the judiciary circumstances in the lives of a client that would constitute an incidence of family violence. However, in my experience, even where those incidents were embodied in affidavit evidence, little more than lip service was given to the significance of the impact on a child of family violence when it came down to practical arrangements for parenting. Initially, the reforms were very exciting. It is now just another disappointment along the road to seeking protection from the victims and witnesses of family violence. (L205, lawyer)

The need to protect children from harm and exposure to family violence is given a lower priority than the notion of children having a close and meaningful relationship with both parents. Expressions of concern by mothers are too often dismissed in favour of spending time orders regarded as necessary for the close and meaningful relationship. Mothers are concerned about the negative judgement of them that follows their expression of a desire for none/minimal contact with a partner who has a history of violence against women. Judges are too dismissive of a parent's expressed concerns about family violence. (L382, lawyer)

The reforms and thus courts (in the absence of strong and usually independent evidence) fail to adopt a precautionary approach to FV at the interim stage and give little weight to child attachment issues; the court will say those issues are for trial. Therefore the child-centred parent is often best advised to avoid, or at least delay, legal proceedings and rely on FDR. (L344, lawyer)

Of relevance to the question of changes in professionals' responses to risks and harm factors, as discussed in detail at 6.2.2, some lawyers were critical of, and expressed their frustration with, what they described as the delayed or no response of courts and prescribed child welfare authorities to the filing of Form 4 Notices. However, there were a small number of these lawyers (L135 and L443) who, similar to the judicial responses discussed at 6.3.1, acknowledged the effects of the lack of resources on the capacity of child welfare authorities to respond.

Some participating lawyers did not reserve their criticism for the courts or child protection system but also described their disappointment at the responses of family consultants/single experts and of lawyers or with the family law system as a whole:

There is still a tendency to minimise violence experienced by women and children, especially by family consultants. This is despite extensive histories reported by women of the violence and its impacts and information provided regarding fear by children of the violent parent. This often strongly affects the outcome of parenting orders where, despite the changes to the FLA, children and women continue to be placed in situations which place them at risk. (L501, lawyer)

There is a significant disconnect between what lawyers and family report writers say and what they do. While everyone in the family court system … pays lip service to the idea that exposure to violence is bad for children, they take no discernible steps to prevent it. Unless a child has suffered significant physical injury at the hands of a parent, there is almost never any consideration given to the effects of other types of family violence on the child or children. (L396, lawyer)

Respondent lawyers [are] often dismissive of family violence concerns and constantly rubbish on about family violence being raised as an issue to stop one parent from having a relationship with the child. (L79, lawyer)

Single expert witnesses and judicial officers still prioritise shared care above children's safety. (L46, lawyer)

Lawyers acting for the alleged perpetrators rarely acknowledge the violence or volunteer to attend programs and usually adopt a very adversarial approach. There also seems to be a lack of understanding of the dynamics of violence and the affects on parenting and the continued exposure of the mother (usually) to abuse at changeovers, which is witnessed by the children. (L198, lawyer)

I don't think that the legal profession understands the significance of the changes to the legislation in the re-prioritising of the risks of family violence over and above the question of a meaningful relationship. Often in mediation conferences, there is greater attention to resolving the matters to appease both parties rather than properly addressing the issues of family violence. Often the family violence issues are avoided given that the FDR practitioner would have to terminate the conference once raised therefore preventing a carefully weighed assessment of family violence and the risks thereafter. (L339, lawyer)

A number of lawyers providing a response on this issue described the effects of the reforms as "symbolic", "cosmetic" and as merely increasing paperwork without any change in outcomes, or in some instances, as giving rise to detrimental outcomes. For example:

Everyone now spends more time in filling out paperwork (Notices of Risk, etc.) but this has not helped at all with actually protecting children from violence and may in fact have made it worse as resources are being diverted into paperwork. (L64, lawyer)

There are a lot more Notices of Risk of Child Abuse filed, but I query whether this is an improvement. Sometimes, they are purely filed to facilitate legal aid being granted and they can delay the making of interim parenting orders before some FCC judges. (L135, lawyer)

It's mostly cosmetic and just involves filing another form. (L50, lawyer)

[There is] little difference apart from the extra forms required to be completed. (L120, lawyer)

There appears to be greater use of the "risk" form when filing parenting proceedings where family violence is an issue, but there doesn't seem to be any actual change in the outcomes or the approaches of parties/their solicitors following the reforms. (L391, lawyer)

The reforms have meant longer affidavits, more subpoenas, longer court delays, longer investigations and less agreement between parents. (L336, lawyer)

6.4 Summary

This chapter has examined findings from the Survey of Practices relevant to the responses of family law professionals in cases involving family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns.

Consistent with the findings reported in Chapter 4, the data in this chapter demonstrate a divergence between the reflections of judicial participants, lawyers and non-legal professional groups on the capacity of the legal system, lawyers and FRCs to deal adequately with cases involving allegations of family violence and child abuse in the post-family violence reform context. While a substantial majority of judicial participants (84%) considered that the legal system dealt adequately with such cases, markedly lower levels of agreement were reported by lawyers (48%) and non-legal professionals (29%). A similar response pattern also emerged in relation to the assessments of lawyers and FRCs, with lawyers being the most positive on the capacity of their own profession to respond adequately in such cases, and non-legal professionals being the most positive on the capacity of FRCs to respond adequately. Of note, comparative data available from the Institute's Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms (Kaspiew et al., 2009) indicate an increase in positive reflections on the legal system's capacity in this regard.

The discussion in this chapter also analysed data from more specific survey questions that canvassed any improvements in the capacities of judicial officers, registrars, ICLs, non-ICL lawyers, family consultants, single experts and FDR practitioners to respond to family violence, and/or child abuse/child safety concerns as a result of the family violence reforms. The analysis of these data indicate that, consistent with the response patterns outlined in Chapter 4, participating lawyers were the group that consistently responded most positively in relation to improvements in the capacities of each category of professional, with judicial and non-legal participants generally endorsing improvements in the capacities of various professionals where they were able to express views on the relevant propositions. Variations in this response pattern emerged, however, with respect to improvements in the capacity of FDR practitioners to respond to family violence and/or child abuse/child safety concerns, with non-legal professionals being more positive than other participant groups in this regard.

The analysis in this chapter also considered participants' observations of any changes in responses to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns since the inception of the family violence reforms. The data demonstrate that in relation to parenting arrangements involving supervised changeover, changeover at a neutral venue and supervised time, close to a majority of the aggregated sample confirmed that the family violence reforms had resulted in more of these arrangements, although lower proportions of participants reported an increase in arrangements for no parenting time. A majority of participating lawyers (60%) also agreed that courts now prioritised safety to a greater degree when making interim orders.

Significant insight into professional practices in responding to risks and harm factors also emerged in this chapter. A majority of the participating lawyers disagreed that their filing of Form 4 Notices was effective in yielding appropriate responses; that is, responses involving safer parenting arrangements for parents and children in cases involving these risks and harm factors. Open-ended survey data from some participants also pointed to the repetitive and cumbersome nature of the Form 4 Notice, and the limited effect that the filing of the Notice was perceived to have on the responses of courts, responding parties and prescribed child welfare authorities to secure safer outcomes for children and family members.

Quantitative and qualitative data also provided insight into the effects of the family violence reforms on professional practices in the preparation of court documentation in responding to family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns. For example, judicial and legal participants reported an increase in the details provided of family violence, the exposure of children to family violence and child abuse and child safety concerns in affidavit material since the family violence reforms, with increases also identified in relation to the information about family violence, child abuse and child safety concerns contained in the family reports and memoranda of family consultants and single experts, and in their recommendations to address the implications of this information.

More generally, participants' open-ended survey responses about any changes to the ways in which family law professionals responded to family violence as a result of the family violence reforms, also indicated that while some judicial and legal participants described changes that they had observed, other participants in these categories were mixed in their view on this question or reported that they had observed no change in professionals' responses as a result of the reforms. Lawyers' open-ended responses provided particular insight into the disappointment experienced by those participants who observed a lack of effects arising from the reforms in terms of effective responses to family violence, and in particular on the making of safer parenting arrangements.

Comments made by judicial and legal participants in relation to resourcing issues and the difficulties arising for prescribed child welfare authorities to respond in a timely manner to requests for information and to Form 4 Notices, may be alleviated to some degree by increased collaboration and information exchange (Productivity Commission, 2014). Of note, terms of reference were issued by Attorney-General Brandis in October 2014 to the Family Law Council for advice to be provided on matters including the "opportunities for enhancing collaboration and information sharing within the family law system, such as between the family courts and family relationship services … and between the family law system and other relevant support services such as child protection" (Family Law Council, 2014). The Family Law Council is due to report to the Attorney-General on this reference by December 2015.