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Showing posts with label FAMILY SERVICES. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FAMILY SERVICES. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

THE CT JUDICIAL BRANCH FAMILY CIVIL INTAKE FORM: IS IT A PATRIARCHAL TOOL OF OPPRESSION!

*Ms. Doreen Ludwig, author of "Motherless America" provided the original inspiration for this article as well as a considerable amount of the material included in the article.  The Divorce in Connecticut website would like to acknowledge Ms. Ludwig's outstanding contributions on behalf of Protective Mothers and their children.

INTRODUCTION
This website has often spoken about the fatherhood funding provided by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services which has been pouring into the States by the billions and billions of dollars.  We have tracked how much of that money has been spent supporting abusive fathers in their custody battles in CT Family Court.  

In the early days of spending on fathers, the CT Judicial Branch took on the development of the Family Civil Intake Screen, a form which Family Services now uses to screen people when they apply to them for services.  The CT Judicial Branch is incredibly proud of this form.  In fact, this Intake Screen has been shipped around as a model of excellence to other State Family Court systems throughout the country.  

But is the Intake Screen worth the paper it is written on?  Is it merely another tool of the father's rights movement to harry, bully and oppress women in Family Court not only throughout Connecticut but also throughout the country?   For the better part, I would say the answer to that last question is yes. 

THE HISTORY OF THE INTAKE SCREEN
The mid 90s and on into the 2000s was the timeframe within which CT power brokers were involved in the systematic alteration of the Family Court system to accommodate policies which favor fathers, switch custody to fathers even in cases of abuse, expand the Judicial Branch’s access to fatherhood funding, and thereby enrich family court professionals.  

In 1996, the Clinton administration passed the Welfare Reform Act.  In 2001 Governor Rowland established the Governor's Commission on Custody, Divorce, and Children which issued its report in 2002.  The names of the members of that task force are a who's who of names that have come up repeatedly in outrageous divorce cases where protective mothers lost custody of their children in extremely unjust circumstances. 2002, the year in which the Commission report was issued, marks the beginning of the massive increase in Family Court custody battles which took place in the subsequent decade.  

According to a Pace Law Review article on the Screen published in 2007, work on the the Family Civil Intake Screen began in 2002.  It was then tried out in pilot programs in select courtrooms in 2003 and 2004, and then rolled out in the Family Court system statewide in 2005.  There was then a followup study on the effectiveness of the Screen which the Branch conducted in 2009. (Just for context, the multi-agency memorandum of understanding between all CT State agencies to promote the interests of fathers was signed in 2010.) Conclusions in the followup were generally positive, but were they justified?

THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE INTAKE SCREEN
In its followup, the CT Judicial Branch tried to draw conclusions regarding the Family Civil Intake Screen as to whether it is or is not effective.  For them, effectiveness has meant more fathers gaining access to their children, and more mothers silenced through a new focus on "cooperation" and "agreement" rather than fitness to parent.

According to their results, they were able to reduce caseloads considerably and save the CT Judical Branch a good deal of money, up to $400,000.  I rather suspect that's a drop in the bucket to an Agency as well funded as the CT Judicial Branch.  Be that as it may, along the way, they also attempted to draw conclusions about whether Family Services itself is effective.  

However, doing so is actually quite impossible because there is no consistency regarding who among divorcing couples is and is not referred to Family Services, which, by the way, is free of charge.  

In other words, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to who receives Family Services and who does not;access to these services doesn’t appear to be income based.  I am aware of some very wealthy people who have used Family Services and many who are not.  Although there are signs that indicate you are not allowed to go in front of a judge before meeting with a Family Services Counselor many do in spite of the rule.  Other people never see a Family Services Counselor at all, ever.

Compounding this problem is the fact that it is impossible to determine exactly how you get referred to Family Services in order to take the intake screen.  If you look at the CT Judicial Branch website under Family Services, Item #19 appears to state that you would first take the Intake Screen and then get a Court Order for services while Item #21 appears to state that you would get the Court Order first and then take the Intake Screen to obtain services.  Bottom line, the guidelines are written in such a confusing way, who knows what is the proper approach to  obtaining services.  This means that all sorts of people, particularly those who are self represented, must be falling through the cracks and not getting the help they need. Many are probably getting help, but not necessarily through the application of the Intake Screen, which makes any conclusions regarding the Screen and its value fundamentally inaccurate.

THE BASIS FOR DEVELOPING THE SCREEN
The CT Judicial Branch decided that it needed to develop a Family Civil Intake Screen because of what it described as a dramatic increase in the number of high conflict custody disputes starting in 1996.  In the early 1990s the numbers of divorce cases was quite low.  However, according to the CT Judicial Branch, since the early 2000s, approximately 30,000 new divorce cases are filed each year. 1/3 of them, or 10,000 or so, end up in custody battles.  This is hardly the minority of individuals that the Branch would like us to believe has difficulties in Family Court.  

The problem of the massive increase in high stakes custody battles started with the Federal Government’s gender biased promotion of father’s rights which really took off as of 1996.  For instance, one reason the Pace Law Review article on the Screen cites for the increase in custody battles is that nowadays society has a much greater recognition of the importance of fathers in bringing up kids.  This is the result of massive father’s rights propaganda paid for with fatherhood funding money.  Another reason is that the increased focus on paternity tests and fathers paying child support has had motivated access and visitation programs to attempt custody switches in favor of fathers. The article also directly mentions father's rights organizations and gender related political interests that have led fathers to sue for custody at record numbers.

The CT Judicial Branch's current emphasis on the forcible removal of mothers from the lives of their children via accusations of PAS and other charges such as the refusal to co-parent effectively has led to a substantial increase in single father led homes.  Meanwhile, these fathers are freely allowed to exclude mothers from the lives of their children, even when those mothers were the primary caretakers of those children for years.  Fathers are not censured for PAS type behavior or the failure to co-parent in the way mothers are, and they are given free rein to do as they please in family court, which includes refusing to obey court orders.

THE SCREEN IS A FATHER’S RIGHTS INSTRUMENT
The triage program was developed by consultants from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, or what is more commonly known as the AFCC in coordination with employees of the CT Judicial Branch.  According to Doreen Ludwig, author of the highly regarded book "Motherless America", "The AFCC has roots in the father's rights movement, promotes an agenda of maximizing custody awards for fathers regardless of their parental caregiving history, fitness or ability." She also states "AFCC members have built a family court industry which ignores the existence and effects of, abuse on children, supplanting protection and autonomy for targets of the abuse with calls for conciliation." 

The names on this project are Peter Salem who is a founder of the AFCC, Dr. Robin Deutsch, Dr. Janet John Johnson, Attorney Andrew Shepherd, and Dr. Marsha Kline, all members of the AFCC. Dr. Pruett herself was the head of the AFCC at the time this project was being coordinated. Additionally, I find it alarming that AFCC member Janet Johnston played a central role in creating this Intake Screen because she is a father's rights person known for criticizing women who defend themselves from domestic violence and redefining domestic violence as common couples violence. You can see her victim blaming influence very clearly in the Intake Screen.  

The authors of the article discussing the Intake Screen insist that it is research based and evidence based. What does that mean? It appears that this means the creators of the Family Civil Intake Screen consulted with their own people in order to acquire the information they felt they needed to create the Screen. This includes AFCC members working at the CT Judicial Branch or their associates.  They did not consult with litigants who were actually receiving the services and would actually be taking the Screens.    

If you then look at the extensive bibliography at the end of the Pace Law article on the screen, it looks as though all the professionals that they consulted, with few exceptions, are members of the father's rights movement as well.  Most notably, they consulted 7 of Janet Johnston’s research papers.

WHAT DOES THE SCREEN MEASURE?
The primary difficulty with the Family Court Intake Screen is that all it does is investigate how effectively they communicate and co-parent and ignores issues related to abuse. In general, the Family Civil Intake Form appears to reflect DHHS policy to increase custody for fathers and to ignore child abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, anger issues or domestic violence.  Thus, the Screen doesn’t measure or evaluate the level of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse present in the relationship.  

A protective mother who refuses to work well with an abuser is likely to get a very poor rating in the Screen.  Furthermore, the Screen investigates whether one or the other parent has the tendency to make unilateral decisions.  There is no consideration as to whether one parent always made unilateral decisions in a particular family because one party did all of the child care and the other was uninvolved. 

Once the screening has taken place, the primary services that Family Services offers is mediation and conflict resolution which experts have generally stated is not advisable in situations where there has been domestic violence.  Most people have found that Family Services doesn’t care whether there has been proven domestic violence, the department will still push mediation services regardless.  Other than that, Family Services will provide custody evaluations and also issue focused evaluations, but both rarely take into account the trauma that survivors of domestic violence experience.  This results in outcomes that are unfavorable to victims of domestic violence and their children.

CONCLUSION

Despite widespread lip service to the damage that domestic violence does to mothers and children in the State of CT, statewide policies that favor men continue to dominate our Family Court system. While there appears to be considerable funding for fatherhood programs and support for fathers in their custody battles, there is little support for mothers.  

When Arianna Oyola attempted to obtain a restraining order for herself and her child, there were no financial resources available to her to provide an attorney or a domestic violence advocate to assist her.  Later, the father who had violated at least two previous restraining orders, threw the baby off a bridge in Middletown. 

The Family Civil Intake form is merely another means that the Fatherhood movement here in CT has used to continue to oppress women and discriminate against them and their children. Now this form is being marketed to other States and used to expand policies which favor fathers over mothers and continue to burden and oppress victims of domestic violence. As advocates, we need to take steps to reverse this trend.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CHANGES TO CT PRACTICE BOOK SEC. 25-60 RE FAMILY SERVICES EVALUATIONS PUT LITIGANTS AT RISK!

PAGE 42-43 SUGGESTED PRACTICE BOOK REVISION-THIS WOULD BE ADDED TO SECTION 25-60 ON FAMILY COURT PRACTICE AND POTENTIALLY RESTRICT LITIGANTS' ACCESS TO VITAL INFORMATION NECESSARY TO ARGUE THEIR CASES!  SEE BELOW THE SUGGESTED ADDITION:


"(d) The file compiled by the Family Services Unit in the course of preparing any mediation report or conflict resolution conference report shall not be available for inspection or copying unless otherwise ordered by the judicial authority. The file compiled by the Family Services Unit in the course of preparing an evaluation or study conducted pursuant to Section 25-61 that has been completed and filed with the clerk in accordance with subsection (b) shall be available for inspection only to counsel of record, guardians ad litem, and the parties to the action to the extent permitted by any applicable authorization for release of information; and further provided that copies of documents, notes, information or other material in the file shall only be provided to such individuals if they make the request in writing and certify that it is requested for legitimate purposes of trial preparation and/or trial proceedings in the case in which the evaluation or study was filed. For purposes of this section, the word ‘‘file’’ shall include any documents, notes, information or other material retained by the Family Services Unit in any format.

(e) Any information or copies of the file disclosed pursuant to this section shall not be further disclosed unless otherwise ordered by the judicial authority or as otherwise authorized in this section." 

THE CT JUDICIAL BRANCH'S COMMENTARY ON THIS SECTION'S INCLUSION:

COMMENTARY: The changes to this section clarify what information from Family Services files compiled in connection with the reports, evaluations and studies under this section are subject to inspection and copying and by whom, to whom those copies can be provided, and for what purpose can they be requested. The changes also provide that any information or copies disclosed may not be further disclosed except as otherwise ordered or authorized.* 

*In other words you can be subjected to endless, unnecessary obstruction to your access to vital evidence in your case.  While issues of confidentiality regarding certain documents is important, I think the wording of this revision is so careless it could end up restricting family court litigants from accessing important information they need for their own cases.  If the purpose of this revision is to safeguard confidentiality, it must be rewritten to ensure that it does not inadvertently end up cutting off the parties themselves from being able to review important documents in their cases.  As it looks now, the way this revision is worded, the latter could very easily happen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

UPDATED "FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS" SECTION IN FAMILY MATTERS!

The Connecticut Judicial Branch has updated its "Frequently Asked Questions" section on the judicial website.  To access the new section, please click on the link below:


http://www.jud.ct.gov/faq/family.htm

Friday, May 9, 2014

NEW PROPOSAL FOR CONNECTICUT FAMILY COURT REFORM!

By Jane Addams

I am writing to you to share with you my ideas about how to improve the Connecticut Family court system and to make the divorce/custody experience a healthier one for everyone involved, and also make it more effective and efficient overall.  I would appreciate any feedback on my ideas or assistance in growing these ideas into a bill. 

1.  We need effective Parenting Education Classes, and we need to encourage parents to attend them.

The current Parenting Education Classes that are required for divorce should be improved and extended.  The classes need more in-depth explanations of the impact that parental conflict has on children and the parents.  I also feel that all parents who are engaged in a contested divorce with children or who are involved in the custody process need to be required to engage in co-parenting therapy.  Such co-parenting therapy should extend into the whole time the parties are engaged in the court proceedings. 

I also feel that the loop holes that allow a parent to opt out of the requirement to take a Parenting Education Class needs to be tightened and monitored closely.  The court should make it a priority to ensure every parent is reminded/educated on the potential impact their legal proceedings can have on them and their children.  This will help motivate and those encourage parents who are able to develop insight through the Classes about the effect of their behavior on their children to do better.  For those who need assistance, it will keep these parents focused on doing what is best for their children and themselves which will minimize the negative impact that conflictual parental court proceeding have on children and parents. 

In the end, good attendance at the Parenting Education Classes will make both children and parents healthier.  This will help the court system operate more effectively and efficiently, saving time and money, because it will be less bogged down by motions and cases where parents are not focusing on what is best for their children and themselves.  

It will help prevent, what is unfortunately too common, situations where parents are tying up the  court by using it for revenge.  I base this recommendation on the simple premise that the natural "normal" and healthy human state allows for cooperation and compromise, particularly in regards to making decisions about children. 

Along the same lines, anytime parents can not communicate and develop an agreement, this is an indication that there are underlying "problems" that need to addressed.  And as long as these root issues are not addressed than the conflict will continue, despite any well meaning court order or GAL intervention, etc.




2.  Children should receive counseling if their parents are engaged in high conflict divorce proceedings. 

Children also be required to receive therapeutic support the whole time their parents are engaged in contested court proceedings.  Whenever there is conflict between parents, a child will be caught in the middle and this will absolutely cause painful feelings that need to be addressed immediately or these feelings will have a residual effect on the child. 

Psychological research has shown that the quicker the support a person with emotional/mental issues receives, the more effective the help.  The therapist who is assigned to support the children is not only a person who helps the children process and manage their feelings, this person can also be an advocate for the child, once again, helping everyone involved keep the child's best interest as a priority. 

I base this suggestion on the simple premise that when a child is experiencing additional negativity in her life, then she needs additional positive support to heal from it and prevent it from becoming a residual issue.




3.  Family Relations Counselors should be required to attend CEU training.

I recommend that anyone involved, working for, or contracted by the Family Court system be required to attend CEU training, particularly in regard to sensitivity/psychology/child development/human service classes, with built-in incentive programs that reward healthy and timely handling of cases to help them also stay focused and motivated to keep children's and parent's best interest as top priority. 

I also recommend some sort of moral boosting stress reduction initiative be implemented in the Family Court system  This will help combat the apathy and corruption that is an epidemic in the Family court system.  It is hard for Family Court workers to do their jobs properly if they are stressed out and disconnected from the consequences of their actions.  

And once again, whatever training they receive during the education is not effective to prevent apathy and corruption from seeping into the system.  They need constant reminders as we all do.  I base this suggestion on the fact that the only way to truly improve interactions between people is to ensure that both parties are getting their needs fulfilled.  Parents need help and support to focus on what is best and so do the workers.  I think this idea will help make the Family Court reforms more palatable to all involved. 

I welcome additional thoughts and responses to this proposal.  Please leave your ideas in the comments section below. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

FAMILY SERVICES - COURT SUPPORT SERVICES DIVISION

Section 25-61 of the Connecticut Practice Book 2012 states: "The Family Services Unit shall, at the request of the judicial authority, provide assistance with regard to issues concerning custody, visitation, finances, mediation, case management and such other matters as the judicial authority may direct."  

In the course of this work, the Family Services Unit uses the family relations counselor who, according the the glossary contained in the "The Divorce Handbook" provided by the Judicial Branch, "mediates disagreements and negotiates agreements in divorce cases." And, as the Handbook further states, echoing the mandate of Section 25-61 of the Practice Book, "At the request of the judge, a family relations counselor may evaluate a family situation by interviewing each parent and the children in the family and writing a report for the judge, making recommendations about custody and visitation.  Works at the branch's CSSD Family Services Office."  

Again, I am reading a brochure produced by the judicial branch and it further defines the role of family services stating that it "is to assist the Court and clients in the timely and fair resolution of family and interpersonal conflicts through a comprehensive program of dispute resolution services, evaluation and education."  

What I am not seeing is any mention of who pays for this and how?  If these services are available for free, and I think the vast majority are, why didn't my attorneys let me know about it?  And why did I end up paying for a private evaluator to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars when these evaluative services were apparently available for free at Family Services?  Is this another example of plain old stupid going on in family court, stupid happening because of stupid, stupid, money grubbing attorneys?  

If you are now interested in what this is all about, there is a "Family Services Frequently Asked Questions" page on the Connecticut Judicial Website which is located at the following link:  


  
For those of you who are victims of domestic violence, under these FAQs you can see that services are available to you under Question #4 which has the heading "Criminal Court".  In accordance with Connecticut State law in regard to domestic violence, the only DV that family services recognizes is physical violence.  If there has been verbal or economic abuse, you will have a much more difficult time having it recognized in any way.  

If you are going to say, "I'm a victim of domestic violence." the question you are going to get back is, "When has your ex been arrested?"  If you have no answer to that question because your ex has not been arrested because you cannot be arrested for verbal and economic abuse or for controlling behavior, then you will find little recognition or acknowledgment of the fact that you have been abused.  In fact, you could end up being penalized for even mentioning it because such non physical abuse will come across as simply a "he said, she said" matter or an attempt on your part to be vindictive.  

If you are interested in getting more information in regard to this point, look up online on google and youtube, the domestic violence expert Professor Evan Stark of Rutgers University, author of "Coercive Control:  How Men Trap Women in Personal Life".  See the link: 


When you are referred to Family Services, the first thing they will do is meet with you to conduct the Family Civil Intake Screen.  This involves responding to a series of questions "to identify the level of conflict and complexity of issues between the parties" so that the division can determine what your needs are.  Interestingly enough, as a result of using this screen a Study conducted on behalf of the CSSD and published in 2009 has shown that certain factors are generally associated with high conflict divorce.  Specifically, according to the Study "Mental health and domestic violence issues were highly related to the complexity of a case.  Disparity of facts/views resulted most often in comprehensive evaluations being ordered."  

According to the website, the screening "includes questions about current court orders, past and present parenting concerns, and level of conflict between the parents."  The intention of the screening process is triage, i.e. to identify early on what services you case would benefit from receiving and directing you straight to them, which the Study indicated was the most effective and economical approach to providing services.  

If you are interested in the content of the family services intake screen, you can locate an example by looking at Appendix A at the end of the article entitled, "Triaging Family Court Services:  The Connecticut Judicial branch's Family Civil Intake Screen" by Peter Salem, Debra Kulak and Dr. Robin M. Deutsch and published in the Pace Law Review which is available at the following link:  


The Family Services Division provides considerable services to clients:  Alternative Dispute Resolutions Services, Evaluative Services, and Education, as well as assistance in the disposition of family violence criminal cases (i.e. ones that have ended up in criminal court as opposed to ones where there were accusations which did not result in criminal charges.)  Again, there is a big, big difference as to how cases where there are criminal charges and those where there aren't criminal charges are handled and you have to remember that when you are dealing with family services, as I have said.  Charges of abuse where there is no criminal case will be viewed with skepticism.

Alternative Dispute Resolutions Services include: 
1.  Pre-trial Settlement Negotiations; 
2. Mediation; 
3. Conflict Resolution Conferences; 
4. Conciliation Counseling; 
5. Pre-trial Mediation Settlement Services.  

Then there are the Evaluation Services which include:  
1. Issue-Focused Evaluation; 
2. Comprehensive Evaluation.  

And then finally there is Education which involves the CSSD overseeing and managing the Parent Education Programs that are run throughout the State.  


In criminal cases, the Family Services Division provides  "through a comprehensive assessment and intervention plan to prevent, reduce, and stop the frequency and severity of violence against victim/complainants."  

Both Mediation and Conflict Resolution Conferences are confidential. But still I would get verbal assurance of that every time you go to a session.  It never hurts.


Just this one disclaimer:  as I write this article, I'm just reading off the brochures.  I make no comment in regard to the quality of services.

As a matter of procedure, when you come to trial court, the first thing litigants are asked to do is sign up for a meeting with family relations to see if you can negotiate a solution to your problem in advance of standing before the judge.  Thus, if you do it yourself as a pro se party, or if you watch what your attorney is doing, there is a yellow sheet of paper that you hand in to the clerk in the courtroom where you are going to have your hearing.  Among other things, this  paper asks whether you have met with family relations and whether you have come to any agreement.  You are supposed to respond "yes" or "no" to that question.  Marshalls in the courtroom regularly walk around and check with litigants to see if they have already gone to family relations.  If they haven't, they will direct you there. 

Of course, I've looked at some of these ladies who are family relations counselors and they look as though they have been hit by several trucks, so I am not sure how capable they would be of helping you out, but officially this is what they are supposed to do, so I am letting you know.  

The advantage of working with private mediators is that they are not as overwhelmed simply by the massive numbers of individuals requiring help.  The down side is that private mediators cost considerable sums of money.  And, of course, there is the whole other issue of whether mediation of any kind is called for under circumstances where one of the parties is an abuser.  That is an entirely different conversation which would be extensive and detailed and goes beyond the scope of this current blog.  

I would be interested in hearing what your experiences are.  Have you benefited from family services?  Or do you have a nightmare story to tell!