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Programme 1.4: Family relationships

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The objective of this programme is to contribute to Outcome 1 by protecting and promoting the rule of law and building a safe, secure and resilient Australia. Details of financial results for administered items are provided in Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements.

Achievements contributing to programme deliverables

During 2013–14, the Australian Government provided $156.3 million to 69 not-for-profit community-based organisations and one business to provide nine different types of services throughout Australia—to assist Australian families during and after separation and divorce.

Improving the effectiveness of the justice system

The department has been working with the states and territories, the family law courts and legal aid bodies to improve collaboration between the child protection and family law systems to achieve the best outcomes for children. Key initiatives were to establish a taskforce to examine the sharing of experts' reports between the child protection and family law systems and a secure national collaboration website for stakeholders in the child protection and family law systems for information-sharing.

The department has progressed intercountry adoption reforms, as part of the Australian Government's response to the report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption. As a result of the department's work, the South Africa–Australia intercountry adoption programme was opened. The department also progressed amendments to the Family Law (Bilateral Arrangements–Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1998, to allow adoptions from Australia's non-Hague Convention partner countries to be treated in a manner equivalent to adoptions from partner countries. This means that families adopting through the Taiwan and South Korea programmes can have their adoptions recognised in Australia without needing to go to a state or territory court. The amendments also affect Ethiopian adoptions not yet finalised in Australia.

Evaluations and reviews

Sharing of experts' reports between the child protection and family law systems

In 2013, the department established a taskforce to examine the sharing of experts' reports between the child protection and family law systems—chaired by Professor Richard Chisholm (former Family Court Judge). Professor Chisholm drafted a report which made recommendations for legislative and practise changes to facilitate the sharing of experts' reports (which will promote information-sharing to ensure the best outcomes for children). Professor Chisholm's report was published on our website (www.ag.gov.au).

Role of independent children's lawyers in the family law system

In November 2013, the department published a report commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies which examined the role of independent children's lawyers in the family law system. The study provided valuable information about how they are used within the family law system, how they are regarded, and the experiences of children and families involved in cases where an independent children's lawyer was appointed.

Survey of recently separated parents 2012

The department commissioned a study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies about the views and experiences of over 6,000 separated families, called the Survey of Recently Separated Parents 2012. A central aim of the survey was to gain a more detailed understanding of parents' experiences of, and system responses to, family violence and concerns about child safety. The study was released in November 2013.

Post-separation parenting, property and relationship dynamics after five years

The department commissioned the Australian Institute of Family Studies to undertake a third wave of the Longitudinal Study of Separated Families (LSSF) entitled Post-separation parenting, property and relationship dynamics after five years.

The LSSF is a national study of parents with a child or children under 18 years of age who separated after the 2006 family law reforms were introduced, and who were registered with the Child Support Programme (now in the Department of Human Services) in 2007. The LSSF provides an understanding of family dynamics, pathways taken through the family law system, care-time arrangements, property division, child support arrangements and children's wellbeing five to seven years after the family's separation. This was released in June 2014.

Evaluation of family violence amendments to the Family Law Act 1975

The department commissioned an evaluation of the 2012 family violence amendments to the Family Law Act 1975, examining their impact on the family law system. The evaluation, which is being undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, will build upon earlier research studies including the LSSF and the Survey of Recently Separated Parents 2012, and also involves interviews with family law practitioners and clients.

Purchaser-provider arrangements

The Department of Social Services managed contractual arrangements with organisations funded to provide family law services under the Family Support Programme. This arrangement was delivered under a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Social Services and ourselves. The Family Support Programme commenced on 1 July 2011 and brought together a number of existing family, children and parenting services, most of which received funding through the Department of Social Services portfolio. During 2013–14, the Family Support Programme worked with and supported families, nurturing children, especially those considered to be vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Results against key performance indicators

Table 9: Results against key performance indicator, Programme 1.4

Key performance indicator
Results
Improved access to justice in family matters

2013–14: Achieved—trend information is not available as this is a new key performance indicator set out in the Portfolio Budget Statements

During 2013–14, the Australian Government provided $156.3 million to 69 not-for-profit community based organisations and one business to provide nine different types of services throughout Australia—to assist Australian families during and after separation and divorce. The continuing high uptake of these services provides improved access to justice in family matters. The nine service types are:

  • 65 Family Relationship Centres with 91,081 clients
  • 65 Children's Contact Services with 53,471 clients
  • 40 Family Law Counselling services, 7,660 Parenting Orders Programme services with 10,973 clients
  • 28 Post Separation Cooperative Parenting services with 6,623 clients
  • 18 Family Dispute Resolution services with 19,657 clients
  • 42 Regional Family Dispute Resolution services with 8,635 clients
  • 18 Supporting Children after Separation Programme services with 11,026 clients
  • Family Relationship Advice Line
    • Information and advice component—with 61,514 calls
    • Telephone and Online Dispute Resolution Service—with 4,262 sessions
    • Legal Advice Service—with 12,601 calls.
Most family law service types experienced increases in client numbers or calls in 2013–14, with the largest percentage increase of around 12 per cent occurring in Family Relationship Centres and Family Dispute Resolution services.

 

The department has progressed significant intercountry adoption reforms, as part of the Australian Government's response to the report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption. As a result of the department's work, the South Africa–Australia intercountry adoption programme was opened. The department also progressed amendments to the Family Law (Bilateral Arrangements–Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1998, to allow adoptions from Australia's non-Hague Convention partner countries to be treated in a manner equivalent to adoptions from partner countries.

The department developed the Family Law TermFinder, in partnership with Macquarie University and the Australian National University. It is an accessible and reliable plain language translation tool of the most common terminology used in family law. Family Law TermFinder enhances access to justice in family law matters by assisting separating and separated families to better understand the terminology used in the family law system. Family Law TermFinder has also been translated into five community languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Arabic and Spanish), so Australian families from non-English speaking backgrounds can access the resource.

The department funded the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, to develop a resource for lawyers on the 1980 Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. It will assist in improving the skills of the profession and will provide greater consistency in management of these Hague matters.

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