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Since September 2000, representatives from seven Ontario organizations have been meeting to explore ways of working together to more effectively respond to the needs of women and children involved in custody and access issues.
The National Association of Women and the Law, Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre, Education Wife Assault, Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes, METRAC, and the Durham Region Custody and Access Project have come together to develop an action plan that will lead to a province wide strategy for a consistent coordinated response to custody and access issues faced by woman, especially those who have been abused.
The idea grew out of a national consultation on Child Custody and Access that the Vancouver Custody and Access Support and Advocacy Association held in April 2000. Throughout the three days of meetings in Vancouver women from across Canada described the fragmented voice of those working on violence against women as groups individually respond to custody and access issues. Repeatedly, a call for a national strategy was heard as women shared their experiences.
It was clear prior to and during the consultation that organizations working on custody and access issues faced by women who are abused in Ontario were frustrated by the lack of a consistent, coordinated response to the needs of abused women with children. This is particularly true when they attempt to separate from the abuser who is often the father of their children.
As a result of the consultation, a number of groups in Ontario (especially those who have received grants from Status of Women) became aware of the fact that several of us were doing complimentary work on custody and access issues, but we were not systematically sharing research, resources, and experiences. It became clear that a Provincial strategy was the necessary first step before a national strategy could be realized.
A network of groups would provide a key opportunity to provide leadership in developing a concerted provincial response to federal government consultations on custody and access law reform. This provincial coalition, if properly resourced, has the ability and the expertise to inform provincial and federal decision-makers on the important issues that affect women’s human rights in the context of custody and access, and to influence the outcome of future legislative reform.
The network plans to enhance the effectiveness of the work of women’s advocates on custody and access issues by sharing information and data collected through previous local initiatives. Creating a common body of information will ensure that we do not re-invent the wheel and waste valuable resources. Recommendations from the various sector reports will be consolidated and priorities already determined on custody and access issues will be identified. This will make it easier and more efficient to set collective priorities and develop an action plan.
We are now trying to identify other women’s equality seeking groups in Ontario who work on custody and access issues affecting woman abuse survivors and their children, and individual woman abuse survivors. However, we recognize that custody and access issues affect women differently depending on their race, class, sexual identity, ability/disability, and immigration status. We are, therefore, making every effort to include organizations that can reflect the needs of immigrant women, women of colour, Aboriginal women, women living in poverty, lesbians, women with disabilities and Deaf women.
If the network receives funding a two day working meeting of women’s equality seeking organizations working on custody and access issues will be held to develop a province-wide strategy to respond to the priority recommendations.
To maximize participation, the two-day meeting will be held in a fully accessible space. French and ASL interpreters will be available. If additional needs are identified during the planning process, the steering committee will do whatever possible to accommodate the individuals.
For more information or if you are interested in participating, please contact Marsha Sfeir, Education Wife Assault, 416 968 3422 ext. 26 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Marsha Sfeir is the Coordinator of Training for Education Wife Assault in Toronto.