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Responding to allegations of child abuse in Family Court proceedings: The Magellan Project Daryl Higgins Australian Institute of Family Studies Presentation.

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Presentation on theme: "Responding to allegations of child abuse in Family Court proceedings: The Magellan Project Daryl Higgins Australian Institute of Family Studies Presentation."— Presentation transcript:

1 Responding to allegations of child abuse in Family Court proceedings: The Magellan Project Daryl Higgins Australian Institute of Family Studies Presentation based on a report commissioned by the Family Court of Australia

2 2 Final Report Report released by Family Court 16 October 2007 Available at: institute/pubs/ magellan/index.html

3 3 What is Magellan? The Family Court’s Magellan case-management model is a world-first initiative for improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families in the family law system. It is an inter-agency, collaborative, judge-led approach to case-management approach for responding to allegations of sexual or serious physical abuse. A consortium of agencies in Victoria developed and implemented the new approach in a pilot project of 100 cases, which commenced in The pilot was evaluated in 2001 before the case- management approach was progressively rolled out.

4 4 What is Magellan? /…2 The Magellan case-management pathway consists of a team of Judges, Registrars and Mediators (‘Family Consultants’) who handle the case from start to finish. Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICLs) represent the interests of children. Significant resources (i.e., uncapped legal aid; focused report from CP Department; family report; other expert reports) are directed to the case in the early stages with an aim of resolving the case within six months.

5 5 Background to the need for Magellan Understanding the intersection between child protection and family law Key agencies/systems:  Child protection departments  Juvenile courts  Police & Director of Public Prosecutions  Criminal courts & other courts of summary jurisdiction  Family Court / Federal Magistrates Court  Legal aid commissions see Higgins (2007) Table 3.1 (on p. 35)

6 6 6 Agency/ system Jurisdiction Responsible FocusBasis of decision-making / Burden of proof PoliceState/territoriesLaw enforcementResponsible for investigating alleged crimes and making the case to the DPP to lay charges if there is sufficient evidence to mean a conviction is likely Criminal courts State/territoriesCriminal justice Criminal Standard of proof ( beyond reasonable doubt ) Child Protection Depart- ments State/territoriesProtection of childrenRisk assessment to determine whether there is a significant risk of harm (based on a mix of professional judgment and actuarial decision-making frameworks) Juvenile Courts State/territoriesProtection of childrenCare and protection matters are determined on the civil standard of proof ( balance of probabilities ) Family law system (FCoA and FMC) CommonwealthDetermination of private law disputes between two parties according to the best-interests of the child Civil standard of proof ( balance of probabilities )

7 7 Magellan Evaluation The aim of the evaluation was to examine: the effectiveness of Magellan in responding to allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse in parenting matters in the FCoA; how Magellan is being implemented; and perceptions of key stakeholders regarding its effectiveness, successful features, and any barriers to its successful implementation / improvements.

8 8 Research design Qualitative data from 51 participants (gathered Dec 06 - May 07) Interviews with 9 FCoA Judges (5=F; 4=M) Focus groups were held with:  personnel from the FCoA (Registrars & Family Consultants)  professionals from related organisations who are involved in Family Court cases where allegations of physical/sexual abuse are made: e.g., Legal Aid, Police, state child protection, lawyers, etc. Question examples: What is your understanding of the Magellan protocols, roles and expectations of each of the stakeholders? Do you think Magellan has been implemented and is operating in the manner in which it was planned?

9 9 Research design Quantitative data (collected Mar-Apr 07 on cases finalised prior to 1 July 2006) Case file review and comparison of:  80 finalised “ Magellan ” cases (Melbourne, Brisbane & Adelaide registries)  80 finalised “ Magellan-like ” cases that: were finalised prior to the introduction of Magellan from Sydney & Parramatta registries would have been included in Magellan list if in operation at the time (as determined by experienced Magellan Registrar)  based on criteria currently used for determining eligibility of cases for Magellan, using information available on file at the point the decision whether or not to include the matter in a Magellan list would have been made

10 10 RESULTS Quantitative data from case-file review

11 11 Number and type of notifications A key difference between Magellan and Magellan-like cases was:  The level of information on file about the number of separate notifications to the CP Department Data were missing for 56% of Magellan cases, and 97% of Magellan-like case The number of notifications ranged from 1-15  The level of information on file about the types of abuse notified to the Department

12 12 Key process variables Magellan cases (mean) Magellan-like cases (mean) Number of court events Number of different Judicial officers involved Number of expert/other reports in total Number of family reports Length of trial (days) Number of consent/partial consent orders Court received a specific Magellan Report65.0%0% Department investigated the allegations80.0%26.3%

13 13 Total case duration From date of application to date of case outcome: Magellan-like cases: 471 days (15.4 months) Magellan cases: 332 days (10.9 months) Difference = 133 days quicker (4.6 months) **Magellan cases (excl. Brisbane): 304 days (10.0 months) Difference = 167 days quicker (5.5 months)

14 14 Duration from allegation to case outcome RegistryLength (days)Length (months) Magellan: Melbourne Adelaide Brisbane TOTAL: Magellan Magellan-like: Sydney Parramatta TOTAL: Magellan-like

15 15 Duration from matter included in Magellan list to case outcome Note: expected time-frame for processing Magellan cases is 6 months from when the matter is identified as “Magellan”. Averaged across all Magellan cases, only Adelaide registry met this expectation. RegistryLength (days)Length (months) Melbourne Adelaide Brisbane TOTAL: Magellan cases2237.3

16 16 Distribution of case duration

17 17 Other key indicators: timing (days) Timing of key eventsMagellan cases (mean days) Magellan-like cases (mean days) Duration from date the Court made aware of allegation to date of case outcome Duration from date CP Departmental file was received to date of case outcome Duration from date Court was made aware of allegation to date the order was made to appoint ICL

18 18 Other key indicators Key OutcomesMagellan cases Magellan- like cases (mean) Settled before listing for trial62.5%41.3% Matter proceeded to judicial determination 8.8%13.8% Final orders broke down within 18 months 7.5%6.3% Matter finalised by consent order63.8%

19 19 Summary of case-file analysis A qualified ‘yes’ to all three questions: Do Magellan and Magellan-like cases have comparable background characteristics? YES Are they processed by the Court and other agencies differently? YES Do they have different outcomes? YES

20 20 RESULTS: Qualitative data from interviews and focus groups

21 21 Key elements of the Magellan model  cooperation between all the agencies involved with families;  timeliness and prioritisation by the Court;  receipt a report from the statutory child protection department as early as possible;  good individual case-management by a dedicated team of a Judge, Registrar and Client Services Officer;  provision of un-capped Legal Aid funding for parties;  independent representation of children; and  a focus on children’s best interests.

22 22 Speed: A time-critical response “The purpose of Magellan is to expedite cases where there are allegations of abuse, so that where necessary therapy can start more quickly.” (Stakeholder)  Restoration of relationships  Balancing the importance of speed with time for comprehensive investigation  Early resolution of cases prior to a final hearing (not the aim of Magellan per se, but often a consequence)

23 23 Interagency collaboration A cooperative and seamless approach Steering committee essential to having shared understandings and expectations of roles  “Judges in the past didn’t display an understanding of the child protection system. But now everyone is much more aware of the system and how it works. It is much more productive if the matter does go to trial. Specialisation of the Judge helps with this. This shows great respect for the professionals. It’s a big improvement over previous Judges.” (Stakeholder)

24 24 Truth and evidence Balancing maintenance of relationships with protection from harm Importance of decisions at stake require compelling evidence Limits of the Court’s role:  “The Court can’t ever say that [there was no harm or risk of harm], of course. The best you can do is can say is that, on the evidence, we can’t make a finding that there has been abuse, or even unacceptable risk in some cases. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just can’t be proved to any decent level of satisfaction.” (Judge)

25 25 Judge management  “I think if the case is managed well by the Judge, it can reduce the time. You get to the point quickly, because everybody is focussed. We’re not dealing with ambit claims. We’re focussed on what the real issues are. If it is not managed well, it can be a waste of time, money and effort.” (Stakeholder)

26 26 Procedural Fairness Assisted by Judge-led case management:  “Litigants cope better with the allegations dealt with by Magellan because it is managed by the one Judge. Litigants tend to be far more settled throughout. They know one person is in charge. There is a much higher level of litigant satisfaction. They think they are being specially treated – in a better fashion, and quicker than others, especially for the party refuting the allegations.” (Stakeholder)

27 27 Relationship with CP Department Cooperation of the statutory child protection Department was essential  Through the Magellan stakeholder meetings; the protocols outlining the role of the department; provision of the short, focused ‘Magellan Report’ Understanding separate roles:  Dept: investigating allegations; ensuring safety (i.e., is there a protective, ‘good enough’ parent?)  Court: children’s best interests Importance of the “Magellan Report”

28 28 Magellan Report Identify history and current concerns Importance of clear guidelines:  “Early on, there were difficulties in getting the Department to meet timelines. When we asked for a report, they thought we wanted a big, fancy document. But I just said, ‘Forward the existing report you have.’ Once they realised this, it was easy.” (Judge)

29 29 Key Messages Magellan matters were believed to be shorter, often resolving without judicial determination Magellan seen to deliver better outcomes for children and families. Tight case-management procedures are critical to this, particularly the role of Magellan Judges and Registrars. The importance placed on Magellan matters by the Court is reflected in the role that Judges play, and this was seen as one of the ways that the process gives parties a sense of procedural fairness. Cooperation with the statutory child protection department was seen as critical to the success of Magellan.

30 30 Key Messages Although participants emphasised the success of Magellan, opportunities for improvements were identified, including:  streamlining procedures for cases referred from FMC;  greater uniformity across registries;  improving some isolated cases of poor communication; and  ensuring adequate resources. Participants suggested consideration be given to:  listing practices  the best ways of meeting the therapeutic needs of children  Clarifying practice directions

31 31 Overall conclusions Time-critical responses are essential The court’s internal processes seem to be working: fewer court events, fewer judicial officers, more frequent early settlement Stakeholders’ views confirmed findings from case- file analysis regarding speed However, registry differences in the case-file analysis were also supported by stakeholders’ perceptions about lack of national consistency

32 32 Copies of the published report: Higgins, D. J. (2007). Cooperation and Coordination: An evaluation of the Family Court of Australia’s Magellan case-management model. Canberra: Family Court of Australia. Available at:


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