What Does “Family-Centred” Really Mean?

One of the foundational principles of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab is that it is “family-centred”.  Most people would agree that the BC family justice system should focus on the needs of the people it is intended to serve – families.  And yet, just want this means and how it can be accomplished is not well understood.  The Lab team has been struggling to make sense of this critical concept for over two years.  This post begins a short series on this important topic with a comment on why we need to see things from the family’s perspective.

CBC’s Tapestry recently hosted an interview with Lisa Genova, neuroscientist and author.  She wrote “Still Alice”, a story (and movie) about a woman experiencing early-onset dementia.  Host Mary Hynes asked her why she turned to fiction as a way to explore a person’s real journey with Alzheimer’s.  She responded:

“People won’t read medical journals – and if they did it would be technical and impersonal.  Fiction is an accessible way to learn about neurological diseases and disorders that tend to be scary, ignored, misunderstood.  It’s an approachable way to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience what it might feel like to have Alzheimer’s.  It is that point of empathy that is really important for feeling connected.”

She was inspired early in her career by Oliver Sacks who famously said:

“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology.  In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.”

If we are attempting to change the BC family justice system to improve the well-being of family members then examining only the legal pieces gives us a disconnected and partial glimpse into the real experience of the person experiencing the justice system as part of their journey through separation and divorce.  Previous efforts to take this approach have not resulted in meaningful change.  Instead, we need to start with the person – to walk in their shoes and experience what it might feel like to take this journey.  The hope is that this understanding will lead to empathy and then more creative and informed solutions.

The Lab was created to begin to take this different approach to the problem of access to justice for BC families.

Kari Boyle