When children are in danger from abuse and neglect in Alberta, local Children’s Services and Designated First Nations Agencies can step in and provide various child protection services – mainly governed by the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. The Act governs what Children’s Services can and cannot do when a child is in need of intervention for the child’s protection. The child’s parents or guardians can be provided with resources to help, or children can be removed either temporarily or permanently from their parents or guardians. Child protection cases are tough for any family to deal with and are traumatic for all family members, especially if a parent’s life challenges unintentionally affect their children.
Parents and guardians encountering child protection services often have many questions about Alberta’s child protection law, some of which we answer below.
FAQs About Alberta's Child Protection Law
When Can Children’s Services intervene in my family?
According to the Act, a child (up to the age of 19) is in need of intervention if there is reason and probable grounds to believe the child’s survival, security, or development is endangered because:
- the child has been abandoned or lost;
- the guardian of the child is dead and the child has no other guardian;
- the child is neglected by the guardian;
- the child has been or there is substantial risk that the child will be physically injured or sexually abused by the guardian of the child;
- the guardian of the child is unable or unwilling to protect the child from physical injury or sexual abuse;
- the child has been emotionally injured by the guardian of the child;
- the guardian of the child is unable or unwilling to protect the child from emotional injury
- the guardian of the child has subjected the child to or is unable or unwilling to protect the child from cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
What happens when someone calls Children’s Services on my family?
When Children’s Services receives a call from someone regarding the safety of a child, the agency is required by law to follow up and investigate the situation. If they determine there is no risk to your child, the investigation will be closed immediately.
If there is a risk, the Director recommends the least intrusive involvement required to ensure your child’s safety and wellbeing. If they deem your home unsafe, they can take away your child, but this is only a last resort. Any decision the court makes under Alberta’s child protection law will always be to safeguard the “best interests of your child”.
What does the term “best interests of the child” mean?
The “best interests of the child” mean that when legal decisions need to be made regarding children and family, the court will give primary consideration to a child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety, security, and well-being over a parent’s.
What happens if my child’s well-being is at risk?
If the risk is mild and your child is safe within your care, you may be able to enter into a voluntary Family Enhancement Agreement, that provides you with the support to help work through current life challenges. However, if the risk is significant, Children’s Services may seek a more intrusive measure such as a Custody Agreement or an Order.
According to Alberta’s child protection law, the court can select the following orders:
- Apprehension Order (this is obtained without notice to the parent or guardian)
- Supervision Order
- Temporary Guardianship Order
- Permanent Guardianship Order
If a child is in a condition that presents an immediate danger to others, and it is necessary to confine the child to stabilize and assess the child, and less intrusive measures are not adequate to sufficiently reduce the danger, the court may order that the child be placed in a secure services facility.
The priority of the court is to ensure your child is protected. Courts understand the importance of supporting and preserving your family unit. They will always compare the benefits and risks to the child if they remain in your care or are placed into custody before making any decision. Children are only taken away from home if less disruptive measures can’t protect them from harm.
How does the court decide who will take care of my child?
Alberta’s child protection law will always seek to place a child within the care of immediate or extended family, followed by adoption, then private guardianship, or supported independent living for youth. This is, of course, only if it is absolutely necessary to ensure your child’s well-being.
How can a family lawyer help me?
If a child is apprehended and not returned to the child’s guardian within two days, Children’s Services must apply to the court for temporary guardianship (“TGO”), permanent guardianship (“PGO”) or another order. This application must be considered by the court within ten days after the apprehension, but you may only get 2 or 3 days’ notice of when this first court date is going to take place. If the application if for a TGO or PGO, the court will right away have to consider whether to grant an Initial Custody order. You are entitled to have a lawyer represent you throughout the proceedings, but the earlier you can get a lawyer to represent you, the better. It may be that the situation does not warrant a finding that the child is in need of intervention, and a lawyer can help make that argument.
Even if the Initial Custody order is made at that first court date, the case does not end there. The court still has to consider whether to make a TGO, a PGO or whether a supervision order would be sufficient to look after the child’s best interests. This decision is usually not made at the first hearing, but the court will do its best to get a TGO or PGO hearing scheduled quickly. In the meantime, your lawyer can help advise you on how to deal with Children’s Services to get the best resolution for you and your child while the case is adjourned until the TGO or PGO application is considered.
You may be eligible to file an appeal of any order made by the court, but this may not be your best option, depending on the order that is made. Before taking this step, we recommend speaking to a lawyer because appeals can be difficult, complex, and may not be the best way to get your child returned to you. There are short deadlines for filing appeals and these deadlines are usually strictly enforced.
How does Alberta’s child protection law work for Aboriginal children?
First National families living on reserves in Alberta receive services through delegated First Nations Agencies. First Nations people living off reserves receive intervention services through the Children's Services office in their region, which are required to follow culturally sensitive practice guidelines. Permanent placements of a child through private guardianship or adoption require notice to be given to the First Nations band that the child is or is entitled to be a member of.
The Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act stipulates that if a child is placed under guardianship outside their family, their familial, cultural, social, and religious background must be taken into consideration. The person looking after the child is also obligated by law to make the child aware of their heritage and allow them to exercise customs, traditions, and religious practices associated with their cultural heritage.
Parents have the right to have a lawyer represent them when it comes to child protection cases, especially if their child is taken from the only home they know and placed in an unfamiliar environment. A lawyer who understands how Alberta's child protection process works can help appeal orders, challenge custody orders, and child apprehension.
Calgary Divorce and Family Lawyer Charles Fair
We know that divorce is an emotional process, and we are here to help. Call us today to discuss your divorce questions and concerns. We are here to answer your questions and help you through this upheaval. We will help you understand what to expect in the upcoming months and help you gather all the needed documentation. Canada’s family laws are governed by federal and provincial laws. Family lawyers represent their clients in court and negotiate disputes between spouses and family members. Charles Fair has been practicing Divorce and Family Law for nearly 30 years.
Charles Fair uses a multi-disciplinary, holistic perspective to work collaboratively and professionally with opposing counsel and litigants and when negotiated resolution is not possible, will advocate zealously in the courts with integrity, honour and courage.
Fair Legal handles all types of family legal matters to protect your children, your property and you. Contact us at (403) 239-2249 to schedule a confidential meeting with a member of our legal team.
Calgary lawyer Charles Fair brings over 30 years of experience to Fair Legal in criminal, family and civil litigation. Charles draws on his personal experiences related to each field of law which helps him to understand and relate with each of his clients. He is compassionate, caring, and will always be your champion for justice when life gets messy.