Supervised Access Program celebrates 20 years

Dave Ogilvie

The public is invited to attend the 20th anniversary of the Supervised Access Program, which will be held next Tuesday (June 12) from 1-3 p.m. in the multi-purpose room at Kenora-Rainy River Child and Family Services in Fort Frances (240 First St. E.)
The concept of “supervised access” had been around for quite a while.
Initially, it was the method utilized to provide parental access to children when one or both of the parents were incarcerated, or were considered to be “high risk” for one reason or another.
In 1991 and 1992, it became clear that the concept should be expanded to deal with situations where parents were divorced or separated, did not get along, and often were getting into confrontations whenever access to the children was exercised.
So a number of pilot projects were introduced around the province, and the Supervised Access Program was developed with two major goals in mind.
The primary goal was to provide a safe, neutral setting for visits and exchanges between a child and a non-custodial parent or other family member.
The service was to be child-focused, and delivered in a manner that ensured the safety of all participants through the use of trained staff and volunteers.
Its secondary goal was to provide lawyers and courts with factual observations of the visits and exchanges.
The reports were to be made available to the courts to assist them in making custody and access decisions.
“If my memory is correct, I think originally we had 14 ‘pilot project’ sites,” recalled former local MPP and Attorney General Howard Hampton.
“We wanted some in large urban areas, some in medium-sized cities, and some in smaller towns and rural areas so we could see if the concept would work everywhere,” he explained.
Proposals from all over the province were submitted, which were quite innovative in the sense that they really made optimum use of existing facilities, utilized community resources, and could deliver a lot of value without spending a lot of money.
“I remember the day that staff in the Ministry of the Attorney General asked me for a specific meeting to discuss a particular supervised access proposal,” said Hampton.
“They had received a very innovative proposal from a Family and Children Services organization in Northwestern Ontario and after reviewing it fully, they agreed unanimously that it should be one of the 12 pilot projects that should be funded,” he noted.
The Rainy River FACS proposal, which was deemed one of the best, was accepted by the Attorney General’s Office and a few weeks later the official announcement was made in Fort Frances that it would be the location for a new program.
In 1994, the Institute for Child Studies at the University of Toronto conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the program. The results indicated there were high levels of satisfaction amongst the parents, family lawyers, and judges.
As a result, it was announced in 1994 by Marion Boyd, then the Attorney General and minister responsible for women’s issues, that the supervised access pilot project would receive on-going funding.
The Supervised Access Program in Ontario has since turned out to be a huge success. In fact, the model for the delivery of this program is being copied elsewhere in the country.
The Harris Conservative government, which was in power from 1995-2003, while cutting all kinds of social service and education strategies, actually expanded supervised access because their reviews found it very effectively was meeting all the original rationales.
It was, in short, a “good investment.”
Then when the Liberals became the government in 2003, supervised access was further expanded because it works.
“I think the people at what was Rainy River FACS deserve a lot of credit,” said Hampton. “Their proposal really was very innovative, and their implementation of the proposal drew high praise from staff at the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“In fact, I am told that the Rainy River FACS supervised access proposal has been the model for many other supervised access sites across the province.
“Not bad for a small Family and Children’s Service agency from a small town in Northwestern Ontario!” he lauded.
Everyone is encourage to drop by next Tuesday’s open house for some refreshments, to meet the staff, and to learn more about the Supervised Access Program.