Episode 49: Family Law Reform Part II: Brain Science, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and Resilience

Brain Skills, Family Law – Mar 2022

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Episode 49: Family Law Reform Part II: Brain Science, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and Resilience
Broadcast Date: March 17, 2022


In Canada and many common law jurisdictions, there has been a longstanding concern about the family justice system. People who work in the system, families who turn to the family justice system for help, and reports about system reform speak about the crisis in family justice. We are hearing that it is not working for families and in fact, can do more harm than good.

In this second episode of a three-part series on “Family Law Reform,” CIAJ’s Executive Director and lawyer Christine O’Doherty is interviewing Nicole Sherren, PhD, Principal Consultant and Founder of R2P Solutions and Diana Lowe, QC, lawyer and justice system consultant at Re-imagining Justice to discuss:

  • how brain science relates to family well-being
  • how experiences in childhood affect the developing brain
  • how adversity also affects our capacity for resilience
  • how this science is relevant to the family justice system

Previous episode:
Episode #48: Family Law Reform Part I: The Right to a Good Life – With guest Diana Lowe, QC (lawyer and justice system consultant, Re-imagining Justice)

Next episode:
Episode #50: Family Law Reform Part II: It’s All About the Children – With guests the Honourable Justice Rodney A. Jerke (Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta) and Diana Lowe, QC (lawyer and justice system consultant, Re-imagining Justice)


  • Nicole Sherren, PhD, Principal Consultant & Founder, R2P Solutions

Dr. Nicole Sherren has a PhD in Neuroscience from Carleton University and moved to Alberta to hold an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research/Neuroscience Canada research fellowship at the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge. Her research expertise includes experience-based brain development, neurodevelopmental disorders, and brain plasticity. In 2007, Nicole left academia and joined the Palix Foundation to focus on mobilizing the science of early brain development, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience into public policy and professional practice. Over the past decade, she has worked directly with professionals across the education, health care, justice and non-profit sectors to help them integrate this science into their workplaces. She has gained a deep understanding of the challenges facing each sector, as well as the levers to incent and create change within individuals, organizations and systems. Nicole left Palix in 2020 to launch her own consulting company, R2P Solutions, in order to provide customized and intensive support to organizations and initiatives seeking to turn “what we know” about brain development into “what we do” in policy and practice.

  • Diana Lowe, QC, lawyer and justice system consultant, Re-imagining Justice

Diana Lowe, QC is a lawyer with 35 years of experience which includes legal practice, research and reform of the civil and family justice systems in Canada, and most recently as Executive Counsel to the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. Since retiring from the Court in late 2020, Diana has established a consulting practice – “Re-imagining Justice”. She continues to support the Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative in Alberta, and also works with other jurisdictions interested in justice system transformation.

The RFJS is a multi-year, multi-sector collaboration, designed to effect system-wide change in the family justice system in Alberta, based on brain science and Adverse Childhood Experiences. The RFJS is seeking to shift the focus in family justice matters away from adversarial, legal responses, to making supports available to assist families with the social, relationship, parenting and financial issues that arise in family matters. The outcome collaborators are seeking is family well-being, which they define as “Helping Families Thrive”.


  • Christine O’Doherty, Lawyer and Executive Director, CIAJ

Christine O’Doherty has been CIAJ’s Executive Director since 2017. A bilingual lawyer experienced in professional, labour and commercial law, she has contributed to developing and implementing effective government relations and public affairs strategies for a number of major organizations. Ms. O’Doherty has taught at the Faculté de pharmacie de l’Université de Montréal for 14 years, where she was responsible for the implementation of the soft skills curriculum for graduate and undergraduate students. In her spare time she writes fiction.


Public engagement video describing how brains are built

Public engagement video describing resilience

Brief description of the Brain Story

Free Brain Story Certification course from the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative

Three Principles to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families, 2017 (updated 2021), Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience, 2015, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Documentation related to ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

ACEs and Outcomes
ACEs infographic (Robert Woods Johnson Fdn)
John M. Bryson, Bill Barberg, Barbara C. Crosby & Michael Quinn Patton (2021) Leading Social Transformations: Creating Public Value and Advancing the Common Good, Journal of Change Management, 21:2, 180-202
Re-imagining the Family Justice System: an introduction to Alberta’s Reforming the Family Justice System initiative, Diana Lowe, QC, September 2021, Vol. 51 Family Law Journal 1156

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