Section 2: Evaluation of Family Violence Initiative Activities at the Public Health Agency – Background

2. Background and context

This section provides a description of the mandate, activities and resources of the Family Violence Initiative within the Public Health Agency and presents a brief overview of the Public Health Agency's 30-year leadership role (formerly within Health and Welfare Canada, then Health Canada).

2.1 The Family Violence Initiative

Family violence can take many forms, including child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse, parent abuse, intimate partner abuse, senior abuse and neglect, and witnessing abuse of others in the family. "Family violence is abusive behaviour that can be physical, sexual, psychological or financial. It can also take the form of physical or emotional neglect. Canadians from all walks of life have experienced or have been affected by family violence. It has serious health and social consequences."[Link to footnote 5]

2.1.1 The federal Family Violence Initiative

The Family Violence Initiative was launched on June 5, 1988. It is a long-term commitment of the Government of Canada to address violence within relationships of kinship, intimacy, dependency or trust. With the long-term goal of reducing the occurrence of family violence in Canada, today this Government of Canada initiative receives ongoing annual funding of $7,000,000.

The Family Violence Initiative aims to:

  • promote public awareness of the risk and protective factors associated with family violence
  • work with government, research and community partners to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice, housing and health systems to respond
  • support data collection, research and evaluation efforts to identify innovative and promising practices and a range of effective interventions[Link to footnote 6].

The annual $7,000,000 allocation supports activities across eight member departments:

  • Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada
  • Department of Canadian Heritage
  • Department of Justice Canada
  • Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Statistics Canada
  • Status of Women Canada.

In addition, seven departments address family violence issues through existing departmental programs and activities (not funded through the initiative):

  • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
  • Correctional Service of Canada
  • Department of National Defence
  • Health Canada
  • Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
  • Public Safety Canada
  • Service Canada.

2.1.2 Family Violence Initiative activities at the Public Health Agency

The Family Violence Initiative activities at the Public Health Agency are led by the Family Violence Prevention Unit, one of the units within the Centre for Health Promotion, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Branch. Through the work of this Unit, the Public Health Agency is responsible for leading and coordinating the Family Violence Initiative on behalf of the other 14 partner departments. It works with international partners, provinces and territories, and non-governmental research and community partners to support a coordinated approach to addressing family violence in Canada.

The stated role of the Family Violence Initiative within the Public Health Agency consists of three interrelated activities:[Link to footnote 7]

  • Leadership and coordination of the federal Family Violence Initiative: The Public Health Agency serves as the Family Violence Initiative secretariat; oversees the collection of information to support reporting; facilitates activities across Family Violence Initiative departments and with other federal initiatives, provinces, territories and non-governmental organizations; and, maintains records of decisions and accomplishments.
  • Management of the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence: Managed by the Public Health Agency, the Clearinghouse is an electronic resource centre for information on violence within the family, providing multiple points of contact and accessible materials.
  • Research and policy activities: The Public Health Agency currently contributes to evidence-based knowledge about the links between violence and health, with an emphasis on primary prevention. It does so by influencing policy and program development, leveraging stakeholder relationships, and promoting the implementation of promising practices by stakeholders.

These activities are listed in the Public Health Agency's 2011-12 Program Activity Architecture (PAA) under program sub-sub-activity (SSA), entitled "Family Violence." This SSA is listed under sub-activity (SA) 1.4.1 entitled "Healthy Communities" which in turn is listed under the program activity (PA) 1.4 entitled "Health Promotion".

2.1.3 Family Violence Prevention Unit resources

In 1997, the Public Health Agency (then Health Canada) was allocated $2,140,000 annually as part of the original $7,000,000 Government of Canada investment in the Family Violence Initiative. This amount has been reduced over the last 14 years due to cyclical strategic review exercises and reallocation decisions, and the implementation of regular corporate levies.

In 2010-11, the annual budget of the Family Violence Initiative was approximately $1,899,000, which consisted of approximately $631,000 for salaries and benefits and about $1,268,000 for operations and maintenance (O&M). The $1,268,000 O&M budget included dissemination of information through the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, liaison with other government departments and provincial and territorial partners, and support for a number of international and domestic policy projects. There are no grants and contribution monies for this program.

In 2010-11, 10.77 staff positions were assigned to Family Violence Initiative activities. This staff complement included a manager, five policy analysts, a head of the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, a librarian, a web project officer, one and a half project officers, and a part-time administrative assistant. Over the past six years, there has been considerable management turnover for this program. There were a number of rotations across the Director General, Director and Manager positions to which this program reported.

2.2 History of family violence prevention activities at the Public Health Agency

In the 1980s, the news media increased its reporting on family violence, public awareness and concern about family violence increased, and Canadians were less likely to accept the idea that family violence was a private family matter. As public concern increased, so did the pressure for government action.

In 1981, Health and Welfare Canada established the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence to provide information and expert advice to the public. The following year, the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs was established to investigate "wife battering" and tabled a report highlighting the seriousness of the issue and the urgent need for action.

In 1984, the Badgley Committee was convened to investigate sexual offences against children. At the same time, the Fraser Committee was established to examine pornography and prostitution, including an investigation of child pornography and juvenile prostitution. In 1984 and 1985 respectively, each Committee released a report and made recommendations for future action. The federal response to these two reports was the 1986 launch of the Child Sexual Abuse Initiative at Health and Welfare Canada (now Health Canada and Public Health Agency), followed in 1987 by the creation of the Family Violence Prevention Division at Health and Welfare Canada, whose mandate was to provide central coordination for all the Department's initiatives in the area of family violence, including child sexual abuse.

The Government of Canada's ongoing commitment to the issue of family violence was demonstrated by the launch of the Family Violence Initiative in 1988, for which $4,710,000 was invested over four years for Health and Welfare Canada activities. Phase I of the initiative (1988-91) addressed the most urgent aspects of the problem, with particular attention paid to "wife battering". Health and Welfare Canada led the initiative and was responsible for coordination, the Clearinghouse, and health-related research activities.

Phase II of the initiative took place between 1991 and 1995, with an investment of $55,600,000 over four years for Health and Welfare Canada activities (in June 1993, Health and Welfare Canada split into two departments, with family violence investments shifting to the newly named Health Canada, and welfare-related programs shifting to Human Resources Development Canada, now Human Resources and Social Development Canada). Additional responsibilities for Health Canada included enhancing public and professional awareness, and funding grants and contributions to improve knowledge about the effectiveness of treatments.

In 1997, Health Canada was allocated ongoing funding of $2,140,000 annually for family violence prevention activities with the following three priorities: the coordination and leadership of the initiative, responsibility for managing the Clearinghouse, and research on health consequences of family violence against women and seniors. With the creation of the Public Health Agency in 2004, leadership of the initiative and the two other priorities moved to the Public Health Agency.

As there has been no official change of direction for the Family Violence Initiative activities at the Public Health Agency since 1997, these three priorities continue to form the basis of the Public Health Agency's activities.

2.3 The broader Canadian context

Family violence in Canada is addressed through collaboration across all levels of government. To help further situate the limited role of the Public Health Agency in this response, a brief overview of the broader Canadian context is provided.

Within the federal system of government in Canada, the Constitution Act defines federal and provincial/territorial government responsibilities. In turn, municipal governments and their powers are created by provincial/territorial legislatures. The federal government's role is to provide a national voice for issues of national concern. Federal responsibilities include coordinating and collaborating with the provinces/territories and other partners to ensure an effective and efficient pan-Canadian system that supports the needs of all Canadians. The provincial/territorial governments' role is to administer and deliver a variety of services. They are responsible for ensuring that services meet the needs of their clients.

Community supports for victims − including education, crime prevention, shelters, and health and social services such as counseling − are central to the response to family violence in Canada. These vital local support services fall within provincial/territorial jurisdiction. Other groups in Canada that take an active role in the effort to address family violence include a variety of non-governmental organizations, associations serving Aboriginal Canadians, professional associations, academic institutions and private sector organizations.

Federal initiatives play a supportive role to provincial/territorial initiatives. Federal departments, in particular those which are a part of the federal Family Violence Initiative, support their provincial/territorial counterparts to respond to a wide range of issues related to family violence, such as health, justice, and housing.

Through the federal Family Violence Initiative, the Public Health Agency's specific role is to support the coordination of activities across federal Family Violence Initiative departments and provinces/territories to ensure a collaborative and cohesive approach. The Agency's role also includes facilitating the development and dissemination of knowledge through its policy and research efforts.

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