Script 141 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script discusses investigating a child protection report, what the results can be (including removing a child from home), and the court hearing that occurs when a child is removed.
Know when you need a lawyer
If the Ministry of Children and Family Development becomes interested in the welfare of your child or has removed your child, you should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. You can also bring in a lawyer to advise you at any time during a child protection investigation or subsequent court hearing. If you cannot afford a lawyer and your child has been taken into care, you may be able to get a free lawyer from the Legal Services Society (LSS). To find a legal aid location near you, go to the Legal Services Society website at www.legalaid.bc.ca and under “Legal aid,” click “Legal aid offices” (www.legalaid.bc.ca/legal_aid/legalAidOffices.asp). Or contact the LSS Call Centre at 604.408.2172 (Greater Vancouver) or 1.866.577.2525 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC).
There is a legal duty to report suspected child abuse
The provincial Child, Family and Community Service Act requires anyone who believes a child has been or is likely to be abused, neglected or in need of protection to promptly report the matter to the Ministry. The 24-hour toll free Children’s Help Line for reporting suspected abuse is 310.1234 anywhere in BC. You don’t need to dial an area code. Callers can remain anonymous if they wish.
The Ministry looks into all reports of suspected abuse or neglect
A social worker assesses the information in the report, determines if the child may be at risk and if so, decides the most appropriate response to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. The social worker will also help the family to care safely for the child and can refer the family to different services and resources outside the Ministry as necessary.
What does the Ministry do if there are concerns about the child’s safety?
If the risk of harm to the child is low and the parents are prepared to work with the social worker, the social worker may provide a “family development response”. A family development response involves providing intensive, time-limited, supportive assistance to a family. It consists of an assessment of the family’s strengths and problem areas, and the provision of support services to assist the family, while monitoring the child and family to ensure the child is safe.
When is a child protection investigation done?
A child protection investigation is done when there are more serious concerns about the children involved. It involves a fact-finding approach to determine if the children need protection. Each child protection investigation includes:
Seeing and interviewing the children as soon as possible.
Observing the children’s living conditions.
Seeing and interviewing the parents.
Reviewing all relevant and necessary information relating to the report.
Obtaining information from people who know the family and the children.
What if the report of suspected abuse or neglect is about a youth?
If the concern is about a youth (a child aged 16 to 19), services may be provided to keep the young person safe and help the youth develop skills and supports. A child protection investigation is generally not the best response for a youth.
Will the police be advised?
Social workers will advise the police if a report of suspected abuse indicates that a child may have been physically harmed or sexually abused, or if a criminal act may have occurred that affects the safety of a child.
What rights do parents have during a child protection investigation?
The social worker must make sure the parents know the details of the report. The parents may also be told that the children will be interviewed, however the parents might not be told about this interview beforehand if the social worker and supervisor believe this would put the child at risk.
The parents have the right to explain their interpretation of the facts and to ask questions. They also have the right to have a lawyer or someone else with them at meetings with the social worker. And the family must be given as much information as possible about the progress of the investigation and available support services.
What happens after a child protection investigation?
When an investigation is completed, there are two possible outcomes: a decision that the children don’t need protection or a decision that they do need protection.
When the children don’t need protection
If the social worker decides that the child or children aren’t at risk, the parents will be advised and no further action will be taken. If the parents ask for voluntary help or the social worker suggests it, the social worker can refer the parents to community-based services.
When the children need protection
If the social worker determines that the child or children need protection, but aren’t in immediate danger, a plan is developed with the family to keep the children safe. This might include:
The provision of voluntary services to help the parents to care safely for the children.
Arrangements for the children to live with relatives or someone who has a significant relationship with the children.
Obtaining a court order to supervise the children in the home.
Removing the children from the home may also be considered
But this is considered only when the children are or may be in immediate danger, or if, after fully exploring all available options, there are no other means to keep the children safe.
Where will removed children stay?
To the extent possible, the decision about where the children should stay will be made in consultation with the children, family, extended family like aunts, uncles or grandparents, and other adults who have a significant relationship with the children. Priority is given to placing a child with extended family or, if this isn’t possible, in a Ministry-approved foster home.
If the children are removed, there will be a “presentation hearing”
This Family Court hearing must be held within seven days. It’s a brief hearing to decide whether the children should be returned home or remain in the care of the Ministry until another hearing, called the “protection hearing”, and is held to decide whether the child is in need of protection.
What if a protection hearing is arranged?
The court may decide that the Ministry should have custody of the children until then. Usually the Ministry encourages and promotes contact between the children and family members, but if a family member poses a risk to the children, the visits might have to be supervised by someone the Ministry approves.
The protection hearing must begin within 45 days after the presentation hearing
If, at the beginning of the protection hearing, the parents and social worker can’t agree on what should happen next, the judge will order that a case conference take place. A case conference is a meeting of the parents, the social worker, their lawyers and a judge to discuss the case and see if an agreement can be worked out. The parents and social worker can also agree to meet with a trained mediator to help them reach an agreement on what should happen next. If neither the case conference nor mediation results in an agreement, then there will be a full court hearing.
Where can you get help or find more information?
See the link on “Protecting Children” on the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s website at www.mcf.gov.bc.ca.
Also see the Child, Family and Community Service Act, found at your local library and on www.bclaws.ca.
Refer to script 156 on “Reporting Suspected Child Abuse”. Read the booklet “Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights: A Parent’s Guide to Child Protection Law in BC” by the Legal Services Society, BC and available for free on their website at www.legalaid.bc.ca. To find it, click “Our publications” then under “I want to find a publication by subject,” click “Family law”.
Read the brochure “If Your Child is Taken: Your Rights As a Parent” by the Legal Services Society, BC and available for free on their website at www.legalaid.bc.ca. To find it, click “Our publications” then under “I want to find a publication by subject,” click "Family law".
Also see the Legal Services Society’s Family Law in BC website at www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca — under “Your legal issue,” click “Child protection/removal” (www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca/legal_issues/childProtection.aspx).
[updated March 2013]
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