Development of Voice of the Child Report Guidelines and related materials

The Voice of the Child Report Guidelines represent an important advancement in access to justice for children. Hearing from children to determine their best interests is recognized in legislation, child’s rights conventions and case law. However, guidance in the approaches by which to hear from children has been less clear.

The guidelines create parameters to inform the use of Voice of the Child Reports as a means to hear from children and when ordered, to promote consistent, reliable and sound practice for assessors when developing these reports. This should increase the likelihood of children feeling that they have been heard in the court process. The guidelines could also lead to an improved child-focus in litigation, more agreement and less conflict, all of which should benefit families and children in their familial relationships. 

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Justice Canada, has developed Voice of the Child Report Guidelines and related materials. Such guidelines previously did not exist in Nova Scotia or in Canada and their creation provides novel direction and instruction in this area. These guidelines operate in addition to codes of conduct and ethics and standards of practice for lawyers, social workers and psychologists.

An Expert Advisory Committee comprised of the following members of the judiciary, senior family lawyers, mental health professionals (assessment specialists) and senior court staff from across the province created these materials:

  • Justice Elizabeth Van den Eynden, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, Halifax
  • Justice Carole Beaton, Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Family Division), Halifax
  • Judge Raymond Morse, Family Court, Amherst
  • Pamela Marche, Director, Court Services, Sydney
  • Heather Power, Psychologist, Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia, Halifax
  • Wendy Green, Social Worker, Bedford
  • Debra Reimer, Social Worker, Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, Canning
  • Pamela Morrison, Court Officer and Social Worker, Family Court, Pictou
  • Lynn Connors QC, Lawyer, Kentville
  • Linda Tippett-Leary, Lawyer, Halifax
  • James Leiper, Lawyer, Department of Justice, Halifax
  • Christine Carter, Project Lead, Court Services, Halifax

The guidelines will assist lawyers and assessors with all aspects of requesting, ordering, referring, preparing and presenting Voice of the Child Reports. The appendices portion of the guidelines contain several practice standard documents:

A contains draft court order templates:

  • A1 – A  suggested template for a standard Voice of the Child Report Order,
  • A2  – A template for a Parenting Proposal Form, which may be required by the Voice of the Child Report Order,
  • A3 – An Order for Costs and Fees of Voice of the Child Report, and

B is a Voice of the Child Report Preparation Framework.

Subject to judicial direction, the Voice of the Child Report Order may be used as a precedent for preparing orders for voice of the child reports and reflects the standards of practice set out in the guidelines. Where a judge orders, parties may be required to complete a Parenting Proposal Form. The purpose of this form is to provide the assessor with a brief description of the competing parenting proposals, for example, where Parenting Statements are unclear or parties’ positions on parenting plans have changed.

The Voice of the Child Report Order may be combined with, or stand-alone from, an Order for Costs and Fees of Voice of the Child Report where directed by a judge. This precedent may be used to:

  • confirm the details of the parties’ financial obligations to contribute to the cost of the report (sliding scale deposit and percentage of final fees),
  • set out the parties’ obligations to provide financial information to the court (where an order does not set the parties’ incomes), and
  • confirm the court officer’s ability to set party incomes for the purpose of determining the parties’ financial obligations to contribute to the costs of the report.  

Appendix B contains A Voice of the Child Report Preparation Framework, which was developed for use by assessors with a view to improving and standardizing the practice of report writing for these specialized reports. The judge may order that this template be used by assessors as part of the Voice of the Child Report Order.

To complement the Voice of the Child Report Guidelines, the Advisory Committee has also prepared two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) publications for adult litigants – one to explain the Voice of the Child Report process and the other to assist litigants (and the children involved) to prepare for the process. These plain language documents are expected to significantly improve adult litigants’ understanding of the process and how to prepare themselves and the children for it in an appropriate manner.

Please see the nsfamilylaw.ca website at http://www.nsfamilylaw.ca/other/assessments-voice-child-reports/voice-child-reports.

For more information, contact the Project Lead:

Christine Carter, B.A., LL.B.
Coordinator, Policy and Compliance
Department of Justice, Court Services
PO Box 7, Halifax, NS   B3J 2L6
Telephone: 902 424 3898  
Fax: 902 424 7596  
Email: Christine.Carter@novascotia.ca

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