If you are a woman’s advocate who focuses on family law issues, it’s helpful to connect clients to your local Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) if an abusive partner is facing criminal charges.
Keep in mind that:
- VWAP workers are employed directly by the Ministry of the Attorney General and have disclosure obligations to the Crown Attorney.
- The VWAP program provides support to all victim/witnesses in criminal court, regardless of what the crime was, and so may not have expertise on the topic of domestic violence/violence against women.
Take the time to get to know the VWAP worker(s) in your community.
- Visit the VWAP office and encourage the worker(s) to visit yours.
- Share information about your organization and provide printed materials for the VWAP workers to keep in their office.
- Ask for information about VWAP that you can give to your clients.
- Discuss shared best practices to facilitate seamless referrals and continuous support for the women you are both serving.
While developing a friendly and close working relationship with the VWAP program is important, always remember to follow your own agency’s confidentiality and privacy policies and procedures. Never discuss information with VWAP without clear, informed and, ideally, written consent from your client.
In your work with women, asking about criminal proceedings should be part of your standard intake and needs assessment process, but you should revisit this topic regularly throughout the woman’s family law case. If the woman discloses there are criminal proceedings, you are expected to provide her with information about the services that VWAP can give her and to ask her if she consents to you making a referral for her.
It may be appropriate to share court documents with VWAP. Once again, you must obtain informed consent, ideally in writing, from your client. (Court orders relating to matter dealt with under the Child and Family Services Act and orders that have been sealed by the court cannot be provided by one court to the other.)
When discussing with your client what information she may want to share with the VWAP worker, it is important for you to remember and to tell her that any information she gives to VWAP will be shared with the Crown Attorney and could be disclosed to the accused. She can then decide how much information she wants to share.
You and the VWAP worker may want to designate one of your offices as the primary site where meetings with your mutual client are held and may want to designate one of you as the primary contact person, especially if your client has complex emotional needs.
If your client expresses concerns to you about the VWAP services she is receiving, encourage her to discuss them with her VWAP worker. You can help her prepare for this discussion, but you should not become directly involved. Where appropriate, you could let the VWAP program know that a client has raised some concerns with you and you have directed her to VWAP to resolve those concerns.
Working together effectively with the VWAP program will provide your client with wraparound support and, given the intersectional nature of family and criminal law in cases of domestic violence, may have a positive impact on the outcome of her family law case.