Statement from Attorney General John Gerretsen on 20th Anniversary Celebration of Supervised Access Program in Ontario
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I rise in the House today to speak to you about a program that has touched the lives of thousands of Ontario children affected by the separation or divorce of their parents - Ontario's Supervised Access Program.
Anyone who has been through family breakdown knows that it can be incredibly hard on everyone involved.
It's an emotional time, a confusing time, a time of upheaval - a time when an individual's life - a child's life - can change forever.
While times like these are difficult for spouses who have shared a part of their lives together, for children, these changes can be particularly devastating.
Thankfully, Ontario's family law system is among the best in Canada. Our focus on up-front information and mediation has meant that questions of child custody and access can often be settled in a fairly quick and straightforward manner.
But sometimes they can't. As we all know, family matters can be infinitely complex - and every family's situation is unique. Sometimes the hurt and anger can get in the way of finding that common ground.
And so, when parents can't see eye-to-eye on the custody and access of their children, and there is a risk to either the parent or the child, Ontario families can turn to the Supervised Access Program.
Available in every court district across the province, Supervised Access provides a safe, neutral setting for visits and exchanges.
It's a program that has kept parents and children connected when family turmoil would otherwise keep them apart.
Despite their personal troubles or conflicts with their former spouses, non-custodial parents and their children often want to maintain a connection. Supervised Access makes this possible.
I'm proud to say that the Supervised Access Program has recently marked an important milestone: it has been 20 years since the government began funding this valuable service in Ontario.
Our government has continued to invest in these services, which has meant more locations available, extended hours of service, improved facilities and better staff training.
Today, 103 centres facilitate over 70,000 visits and exchanges each year - benefiting more than 2,700 children annually.
This is an important collective achievement.
There are many success stories that are truly heartwarming.
Like the story of a particularly nervous young father from St. Thomas who required some coaching from local staff before he could summon the courage to meet his two year-old daughter - and was pleasantly surprised when she not only appeared to recognize him, but reached out to him with open arms.
Or the dad from Simcoe who, after four years of absence, has been reunited with his son and now uses the local Supervised Access Centre for regular visits.
Of course, for many young people, Supervised Access provides their only link to non-custodial parents throughout their childhood, and many staff and volunteers have literally watched these children grow up.
Recently, a group of three adult siblings returned to tell staff in Durham Region how grateful they were to have had the opportunity to get to know their father in their formative years. They credited their experience as one that has positively influenced their lives. They have been inspired to pursue careers in family therapy, criminal law and medicine.
We can all take pride in these stories: the success of Supervised Access is one we share after two decades of investment and support of this worthwhile program.
Ontario's success has not gone unnoticed.
It is a testament to our leadership that the governments of Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, the Yukon, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have turned to us for advice in establishing their own programs.
As have the states of New Mexico, California and New Hampshire; as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Moving forward, we are partnering with the University of Toronto and the federal government to develop new tools that will better ensure the safety of children and parents during supervised exchanges.
I certainly look forward to the results of this research.
I would like to thank all members for their ongoing support of safe supervised access and visitation in Ontario communities, and I encourage you to join me in celebrating this important and collective achievement.