Child Protection in Ontario Family Law
Child protection laws in Ontario are for the protection of children. These laws allow a government agency to intervene and take steps, both immediate and long term, if a child is at risk. If you are a parent who is being investigated for allegations of child neglect or child abuse, you will need to hire a Toronto child protection lawyer. The risk that the court looks at is not only of physical harm, but emotional, psychological, or other harms. Is the child:
not given "necessaries of life?" - the child is not given enough food, dressed inadequately for weather conditions, infrequent baths, etc.
abused emotionally - the child is told repeatedly by parents that s/he is "stupid," "useless," "not good enough," "a burden to the parents," etc.
abused physically - repeated bruises, unexplained open sores or cuts, broken bones, black eyes, given drugs that are not prescribed, etc.
abused sexually by either spouse - this is frequently hard to detect and presents as emotional trauma
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 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 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.
Child Protection and Children’s Aid Society (CAS)
The Children’s Aid Society (CAS), including the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of that local area, are government agencies that are 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 CAS 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 from the court
the return of the child with involvement of the court and additional requirements on the parents; 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 at stake. Good legal advice and excellent representation is essential.