A conversation with Nick Bala

FDRIO: Tell us about the parenting plan guide, and why these materials are being developed?

The origin of the project was in part a response to a concern expressed by some more experienced professionals that some of their less experienced colleagues did not seem fully familiar with basic child development concepts, and were sometimes developing parenting plans that were not appropriate, especially for younger children.  There were also concerns about the lack of materials to directly assist parents in Ontario, many of whom do not have professional assistance in making parenting plans.

Further, even for parents who have legal representation and other professional assistance, there was recognition that it would be helpful to be able to provide “homework” materials to allow them to make better use of professional services.

While there are other materials available, most are not appropriate for the Canadian context.  The Department of Justice Canada has some very good materials available, but they are (understandably) written in very neutral terms, and do not provide guidance on some important issues.

The enactment of the Divorce Act reforms, with their specific reference to “parenting plans,” has also been an impetus for this project.

FDRIO: Who is the guide and template intended to help – parent, professional, both?

A: The Parenting Plan Guide and Parenting Plan Template are intended assist parents, lawyers, mediators and judges in developing child-focused, realistic parenting plans. While the materials can help parents who are making plans without professional assistance, they are also useful to help orient and prepare parents for the process of making a parenting plan with professional assistance.  There are multiple references to the value of professional assistance (and links to webpages to find it)   

FDRIO: The guide sets out some general expectations for parents about appropriate behaviour, and then specific recommendations for children in age categories.  Are recommendations for parenting schedules for children of a particular age range controversial or challenging among family law professionals?

The Guide provides suggestions to help improve communication between parents, and guidance for the making of schedules and other aspects of parenting plans.

The Guide also summarizes developmental literature about appropriate residential schedules for children of different ages. Its central theme is that in most cases it is in the best interests of children for parents to cooperate and minimize conflict between them, and for their children to have a significant relationship with both parents, though it also raises “red flags” for cases involving domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues. The Template offers suggestions for specific clauses that can be used or adapted for a parenting plan. 

FDRIO: AFCC Ontario is seeking feedback on the guide and the template – what improvements do you hope to make through this consultation?

On Friday, October 18 at the Annual AFCC-O Conference in Hamilton, there will be a plenary consultation session when attendees will be polled about the materials and have an opportunity to provide feedback on them.

The Task Force preparing these materials will then be further revising them, and the materials should be made available for use by professionals and parents on the AFCC-O website early in 2020.

FDRIO: Did AFCC-O work with other well know parenting planning tools in developing the guide.

The Guide builds on work done by the Massachusetts AFCC Chapter, though expanded and updated, especially the portions for children under 4 years (McIntosh, Kelly & Pruett, 2014). The Template is a collaborative effort, with ideas and inspiration from many sources.  Some of clauses are adapted from the Justice Canada, Parenting Plan Tool.

The materials are NOT copyrighted, and individual professionals can use or adapt the materials as they wish.

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