Purpose of the Counselling and Psychological Services
The Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) was established in 2002 with the aim of providing psychological support and counselling to parties, their children and youths who have legal proceedings at the Family Justice Courts (FJC) in matters of divorce and separation, protection from family violence and for vulnerable adults, or in matters of child protection, beyond parental control and youth probation.
The Courts are not merely places of complex legal problems but also crucibles of complex human interactions. As such the work of CAPS is guided by philosophy of transformative and restorative justice for individuals and families, to ensure the best interest of children during and after court proceedings.
Services Provided by CAPS
CAPS provides the following services:
In family cases where parents and their children needing longer term or specialised support, CAPS can refer these individuals and families to social services and community agencies.
Besides providing direct therapeutic for individuals and families, and forensic assessment for FJC, CAPS also advises FJC senior management and Judges on recommendations and research findings from the fields of counselling, psychology and social work related to family law. CAPS represents the social science arm of FJC to coordinate services and policies with other government agencies and community stakeholders for the welfare of families, children and youths in Singapore.
CAPS constantly reviews its services and engages in various areas of research to meet the changing needs of families and society in Singapore, as well as provides training within FJC to enhance knowledge and expertise in helping families in conflict.
CAPS comprises a diverse team of experienced counsellors, psychologists, and social workers, collectively known as Court Family Specialist (CFS). The CFSs are trained in areas of counselling, crisis and risk assessment, mental health, children and adolescent development, mediation and conflict resolution, and how families can be impacted by conflict and trauma.
Counselling in Divorce Cases
Divorce is one of the most stressful life events for families and the individuals involved. Research has shown that divorce can have an adverse impact on the children’s, especially young children’s, overall wellbeing. Therapeutic support for divorcing parents is one way of cushioning this impact. Parents, who are able to manage their own life changes, will be in a better position to support their children cope with the divorce.
The uncertainty over future living and caregiving arrangements for the children are some common issues that surface when there is a divorce. Parents may have different ideas of what is best for their children, and come to the Family Justice Courts (FJC) to resolve disagreements over the children and other matters pertaining to their divorce. In the FJC, we work extensively with families to help them focus on making decisions that is helpful for their children.
Parents undergoing divorce proceedings in Singapore, with at least one child under age of 21, are required to attend mediation and counselling at the Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Division. This is where parties and their lawyers meet with a Court-appointed mediator for mediation and a Court Family Specialist (CFS) from the Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), for counselling to resolve any disagreement over their divorce and related matters such as children’s living arrangements. maintenance and division of matrimonial property / assets.
Counselling in divorce cases at the FJC offers parents a less adversarial option to resolve their disputes regarding the children matters without bringing the issues to litigation. With the support of the CFS, parents can iron out details of their parenting plan at the counselling sessions. Plans that are designed for the children by their own parents through joint agreement are likely to meet the needs of their children.
A Child-Centric Approach
Counselling in divorce cases adopts a child-centric approach. Specifically, the Child Focused or Child Inclusive approach is adopted during such counselling sessions.
Child Focused counselling works in tandem with court mediation to provide emotional support, address underlying concerns of parties, facilitate a commitment to action, and assist with immediate decision making. The process helps divorcing parents focus on current and future needs of their child, and explore a workable parenting plan that would be beneficial to their child.
Counselling can help parents deal with their personal struggles of having to continue their relationship with each other for the sake of their children. It can help parents identify new ways of transacting with each other whenever the needs arise to communicate regarding their children or arrangements for them. Counselling also seeks to help parents understand the needs of their children and gain insights into the benefits of harmonious co-parenting.
Key advantages of court counselling for parties
- Confidential safe place to deal with difficult emotions and underlying concerns.
- Lessens further acrimony between parties.
- Empowers parties to work collaboratively toward more constructive solutions.
- Help parties with parenting plans that allow children to develop meaningful relationships with both parents.
Counselling and Family Conferencing for Family Protection cases
No one deserves to suffer from family violence. However, family violence could happen in some families and it is hurtful to the victims and the relationship between family members. If left unresolved, family violence may result in serious injuries, mental stresses and/or breakdown of families. Help and support are often required for families who are experiencing family violence. Victims of family violence may want to approach community agencies such as Family Service Centres (FSC) or Family Violence Specialist Centres (FVSC) for help. If there is a need to seek an order for protection, an application for Personal Protection Order (PPO) is to be made with the Family Justice Courts (FJC).
During the initial process of applying for PPO in the FJC, a Court Family Specialist (CFS) would be assigned to attend to the applicant of the PPO.
Subsequently when the applicant and the respondent attend Court (Court Mention), when necessary they may be directed by the Court to see the CFS. In cases where there are multi-parties’ involvement, a Family Conference may be conducted by a CFS.
The CFS would seek to provide the necessary information on the application of PPO and cover safety issues with the applicant of the PPO. The CFS would also provide referral to the necessary support agency for the applicant when required.
At the Court Mention, if the applicant and respondent are directed to see the CFS, the CFS would seek to follow up on the safety issues and to assist the parties to understand more the matters of PPO. If deem suitable, CFS would also seek to assist the parties to reach a resolution on the matter of application of PPO. The same purposes would be applicable for a Family Conference.
The session with the CFS would be conducted in a private room and the details of the session would not be disclosed to the other family member(s) of the case (other than the details provided in the application or complaint form and the outcome of the session). If necessary, CFS would seek consent from the applicant or the respondent to share with the other person on what may be helpful for the other person to know. However, should the CFS assesses that there is an imminent risk of harm to parties or others, or there are allegations of serious child abuse, the CFS has the obligation to inform others to ensure safety of lives.
In most circumstances, it would be just the applicant speaking to the CFS at the initial session for the application of PPO. If need be, a support person such as a social worker or a family member may be involved in the session with the applicant.
At the Court Mention’s session, the CFS would take turn to speak individually with the applicant and the respondent. If need be, a support person such as a social worker or a family member may be involved in the session. In the event of a Family Conference, CFS may decide to see all parties in a joint session or to see parties individually subject to the nature of the case and the dynamic between the parties involved.
A session with the CFS may take around 30 to 45 minutes for the initial session at the application of PPO (excluding waiting time).
At the Court Mention, the session involving only two parties with CFS may take around 90 minutes in total (excluding waiting time). For a Family Conference involving multi-parties, the session may take around half a day to complete.
CFS will assess the needs of applicants or families and will make the necessary referral to appropriate community and social agencies to continue the support for families.
It would be helpful for the applicant to share openly with the CFS on their concerns and reasons for the application of PPO and to take up the necessary referral that the CFS may assist in.
At the Court Mention’s session or Family Conference, the applicant or respondent may want to take the opportunity at the session to clarify with CFS on any concerns or questions that he/she has on the matters of PPO. He/she may also want to take up the necessary referral that the CFS may assist in if necessary. If both the applicant and respondent are able to reach a resolution on the issues, a trial would likely not be needed for the case.
Counselling and Family Conferencing for Youth Court cases
The Youth Courts deal mainly with 3 types of cases namely Youth Arrest Cases (YAC), Beyond Parental Control (BPC) and Care and Protection Order (CPO). Whether it is a case of a young offender, a child / youth requiring the State’s intervention or a child in need of protection, the Youth Courts’ take a multi-disciplinary approach to deal and manage with the issues relating to the cases. The Youth Courts would take into account the various factors of the youth’s or child’s life when an order is made.
The Judge of the Youth Court may direct for a Family Conference to be conducted by a Court Family Specialist (CFS) for suitable cases especially when parties are in disagreement on the issues relating to the case.
The CFS would seek to facilitate a discussion between the parties for better understanding of the issues and concerns that the parties may have and to help them to reach a resolution on the issues if possible.
The Family Conference session would be conducted in a private conference room. The CFS would usually adopt both approaches of joint session and individual session at different points of the conference so that it can facilitates a better discussion of the issues and concerns for the parties.
The parties of the case and their lawyers/counsels (if represented) would be involved in the session. Professionals involved in the case may also be called into the session to provide the inputs for the considerations of the parties.
A session with the CFS may take up to a whole day subject to the complexity or nature of the case.
The CFS or the professionals involved may make recommendations to the Judge for the necessary counselling or specialised services. If the recommendations are accepted by the Judge, an order may be made by the Judge for the services.
Parties should come prepared to discuss on the issues and concerns with an open mind to make adjustments to their original positions when necessary. If parties are able to reach a resolution on the issues, a trial would likely not be needed for the case.