Child Protection in Ontario Family Law
Child Protection Laws involve legislation designed by the province of Ontario, for the protection of children. These laws allow a government agency to intervene and take steps, immediate and long term, if a child is at risk. The risk that the court looks at is not only of physical harm, but emotional, psychological, or other harms.
If the court is of the view that these potential harms exist, it can make orders that temporarily protect the child, which can include moving the child to a safer location. The court system monitors how the government organizations are looking after the child, and are to treat the situation in a fair and balanced way, but always making sure that the child is being protected from unreasonable risks of harm. The parents become parties to the proceeding, as may other family members or interested persons.
In the end, a court system may return the child to the parents or home environment in which the child was first found.
The other extreme is that a child may be taken from parents, and legal and permanent guardianship of the child given to the Government organization, and the child being made available for adoption.
The Role of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS)
The Children’s Aid Society, including the Catholic Children’s Aid Society, of that local area, is the government agency which is to be notified of any situation in which a child may be at risk. The Society may request police assistance, and take immediate steps to secure the safety and protection of the child.
The Society has professional full-time staff, trained in social work and investigations, and may use from time to time, other specialized services of other professionals. It is their government mandate to protect children, and for this purpose, they have very significant resources at their disposal.
Child Protection and Investigations
The authority of a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) to obtain background information, from a medical doctor, police, and other government and private individuals is immense. In fact, many professionals, nurses, doctors, school teachers, have professional obligations to assess and report any concerns or indications of abuse of children that may be occurring. If they fail to report there can be personal consequences for that professional. Once they report, the Society has obligations to investigate. These investigations may include entering premises, and seizing children.
A Children's Aid Society has lawyers engaged to present arguments on behalf of the position of the Society to the court. The court may make orders contrary to the position of the Society, but this requires the court receiving reliable evidence, and usually argument from counsel, on behalf of the parents or interested parties.
A person being investigated by a Chilren's Aid Society as a potential perpetrator of risk or harm to a child, should consider obtaining legal advice, prior to engaging in these discussions. It is important that information be given to the Society, that is honest and accurate. This often requires a clear understanding of the nature of the process of the investigation, before attending to give the information or to have an interview with the investigator. The objective of counsel is not to obstruct the investigation, but to look after the interests and rights of the adult person that may be the subject of this investigation.
Court Orders and Foster Care
The court, in a child protection matter, is the arbitrator between the position of the Chilren's Aid Society and the parents or other persons who have interests in the proceeding. The case starts with its first appearance, and thereafter always has a court date, until the court grants the final order.
A final order may take weeks or months to obtain. The final order may be the return of the child to the parents with little or no further involvement; the return of the child with involvement and requirements; or the child being taken away from the parents, made a ward of the Society, without the parents having any further access to the child. The child may thereafter be made available for adoption. This has the effect of a “life sentence” as the parents may have no further contact with that child.
These proceedings are long and complicated, with a lot of stake. Good legal advice and excellent representation is essential.