Lighthouse and the associated bespoke case management for high risk matters focuses on the safety of children and their families by identifying and addressing issues of family violence and other risks.
The expansion of Lighthouse supports the Courts’ priorities to shine a light on the scourge of family violence, to improve the outcome of matters involving family violence and other risks, and to keep children and vulnerable parties safe. It has been six months since the commencement of Lighthouse and the Evatt List nationally and the Courts acknowledge the positive response from the profession and parties in supporting the Courts’ aim to provide better-informed and safe outcomes for families involved in family law proceedings.
Recently, the Courts were thrilled to have received international recognition for the Lighthouse initiative. On 31 May 2023 at a ceremony in Los Angeles, USA the internationally respected Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) awarded Lighthouse as this year’s recipient of the Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award. This award acknowledges the profound benefits that Lighthouse has had on the many thousands of families that engage with the Courts each year, and will continue to have into the future. For more information, see the Courts’ media release.
The Courts are beginning to see promising trends since the expansion. Uptake of screening by Applicants remains high and there has been an increase in the number of risk screening questionnaires completed by Respondents. Nationally, our early data shows that 58% of all risk screens are completed by parties within 24 hours of being sent the invitation to screen. This is encouraging and demonstrates a proactive approach to screening by parties. If you are not already speaking with your clients about risk screening please now take the opportunity to do so.
Figures at a glance since 28 November 2022:
- Over 4000 Family DOORS Triage risk screen questionnaires have been completed
- Over 2000 case file reviews have been conducted by Triage Counsellors, and
- Over 600 matters have been placed on the Evatt List.
A reminder that Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975 (the Act) prevents the disclosure and admission into evidence, of information obtained through the Courts’ family safety risk screening process. Part IIA of the Act provides that:
- a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they undertook risk screening
- the risk screen responses, classification and referrals arising from the screening process, cannot be used as evidence in a proceeding, and
- information shared or provided by a party to a triage counsellor in the course of conducting risk screening cannot be disclosed, or used as evidence.
More information on how the risk screen is protected under Part IIA can be found in the Lighthouse overview.
The following case study highlights the importance of risk screening, the early identification of risk factors and the case management steps taken to manage the identified risk.
An Initiating Application was filed in relation to a child aged three. The Applicant sought sole parental responsibility, that the child live with the Applicant and that there be no time with the Respondent. The Applicant did not seek an urgent court date at the time of filing. The parties were located in different states.
The Applicant engaged in the risk screening process, completing the risk screen the same day it was sent. Following completion of the risk screen, the matter was referred to a Triage Counsellor for further review, additional assessment of risk and for tailored support. The clinical review identified multiple high risk factors involving domestic and family violence, alcohol and drug misuse, weapon possession and criminal activity.
The matter was referred to an Evatt Judicial Registrar and was placed on the Evatt List with case management actions being taken within three weeks of filing. Importantly the Evatt Registrar was able, prior to the first return date, to gather important information through:
- appointment of an Independent Children’s Lawyer
- orders made pursuant to s69ZW of the Family Law Act 1975 to State Police and State Child Welfare Authority
- orders in relation to the filing of Response material
- a request for files from State courts.
As a result of the early completion of the risk screen and in the absence of a request for an urgent hearing, the risk screening process was able to identify high risk factors very quickly after filing. Through the identification of risk, the party was provided with support services in relation to domestic violence, educational tools and resources to support the family and additional information and resources surrounding safety planning.
The swift allocation to the Evatt List and active case management soon after filing, enabled the Courts to gather as much information as possible prior to the first return date. The production of material pursuant to orders identified significant risks and, assisted by the timely appointment of an ICL, meant that safe and appropriate orders were made at the first court event. This included clear case management steps including prioritised Child Impact Report and interim hearing within two months.
I am a practitioner/from an external support agency, how can I best support my client to complete the risk screen?
You can support your clients by discussing Lighthouse and encouraging eligible clients to partake in the risk screening process once they file and receive an invitation to do so. By doing so, you are increasing your client’s opportunity of being provided with tailored support and referrals to support services for any needs or concerns identified during the risk screening process.
As a practitioner/external support agency, it is important to be aware of the following:
- The Family DOORS Triage questionnaire is designed to be completed by the client themselves and from their perspective; and
- The risk screening process is confidential.
Practitioners and external support agencies can:
- Assist clients in completing the risk screen questionnaire by helping them access a safe location and safe device (such as computer or smartphone) on which the questionnaire may be completed.
- Help to explain or translate the risk screen questions. If the questionnaire is completed by someone other than the client it may adversely impact the outcomes and support provided.
- Provide clients with the link to the dedicated Lighthouse webpage and information about Lighthouse. Some useful resources include:
- Frequently Asked Questions - provides information about Lighthouse, the risk screening process, registry locations and case eligibility.
- Risk Screening Information Sheets for Parties – provides information for parties undertaking the risk screening process. Translated versions of this fact sheet are also available in 10 different languages.
- Guide for parties in the Evatt List – provides information to assist parties when their matter has been placed on the Evatt List. Please note: Parties are notified by way of formal Court Order if their matter/proceedings have been placed on the Evatt List.
- Safety Plans – Information for clients who have concerns for their safety whilst attending in-person Court events.
As a Practitioner, can my client discuss the risk screening process and results with me?
Yes, your client may choose to disclose to you that they have completed the risk screen or discuss some of the content of the risk screen, including their answers. However, it is essential that you advise your clients that the risk screen and risk screening process is confidential and protected information. While your client may disclose this information to you, the risk screening process is confidential and inadmissible and disclosure in open court or in any affidavits may breach Part IIA.
You must advise your clients of Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975, noting that all information that is received or generated through the risk screening process, including the risk screen itself, any triage and subsequent referrals, are protected.
It is important to take this into consideration when discussing the risk screening process with your clients. Practitioners should also think carefully about the steps necessary to put relevant information in an admissible form before the Court.
The Courts published a series of updates to the profession in advance of the expansion of Lighthouse and have published a recording of the Lighthouse Webinar. Practitioners are encouraged to review these updates as they contain important information about the expansion of Lighthouse and the Evatt List.
Further information can be found on the Courts’ website:
If your agency or organisation would like to conduct further information sessions on Lighthouse and/ or the Evatt List please reach out to Lighthouse@fcfcoa.gov.au.