Charles Fair, Calgary Divorce Lawyer, explains who Children's Services are, what they do and how you can work with them in Alberta. Partnered with the Canadian Centre for Men and Families, Fair Legal provides monthly webinars on topics dealing with criminal or family matters.
Watch: What Is Children’s Services and How Can They Impact Your Family?
Calgary Men's Divorce Rights Lawyer Charles Fair
Canada’s divorce and 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 almost 30 years. Fair Legal handles all types of divorce, custody and family legal matters to protect your children, property and you. Contact us at 1 (403) 239-2249 to schedule a confidential meeting with a member of our legal team.
Give me a call and I can put my years of experience in divorce and family law to work for you.
Vanessa: This month's topic is Child and Family Services. Like all of the topics that Charles covers for us, this topic is potentially painful and contentious, and all of you are here for a reason. So I hope that you'll take advantage of CCMF Alberta's other programs, if you need any additional support to get through your stressful situation.
In the meantime, this is an educational program, so please be respectful. And if you want to access additional supports in the form of individual or group peer support, trauma recovery, counseling, or other legal education programs like this one, please visit our website at CCMFAlberta.ca. If you have any questions during the presentation, please send them via the chat to Melanie Seneviratne, and she will read them out loud for Charles during the Q&A period. Over to you, Charles.
Charles: Great. Thank you very much, Vanessa. I really do like working with the Canadian Center for Men and Families and it's because of this commitment to really, making a difference in men's lives. And I think that's really important. As you know, a lot of women get attention when they're going through breakups and a lot of the men are left to fend for themselves, and I like the fact that we're trying to make a difference here.
So, today, our topic is going to be on Children's Services, or as it's often known as Child and Family Services, or just CFS. I want to say out the outset that this is a big topic and I'm not going to be going through a lot of detail about the ins and outs of the Act and specific procedural rules. That might be of interest to some of you. It's likely not going to be of interest to the most of you.
So I'm gonna focus really on how to approach dealing with Children's Services, or CFS, from various perspectives, let's just put it that way.
And so, the other thing to bear in mind is that these comments are general comments and they may or may not apply to your specific circumstances. And so it's important, to get legal advice, especially to get legal advice early on when you are dealing with a Child and Family Services, whether you are contacting them as a concerned individual, or you are somebody who has been contacted and is caught up in the system.
I just wanted to say that one of the things that got me into doing children's protection work, or child protection work, is because of a sense that I got that Child and Family Services would be a little heavy-handed sometimes in their intervention into a family, and I was left feeling that, gee, you know, there's some families here that are, let's say, less than perfect, but, you know, isn't it better for kids if they have less than perfect parents than be taken away from those less than perfect parents and end up in foster care with, guess what, less than perfect parents. So that's kind of a philosophical approach that I was concerned about that I always felt that it was important to represent parents going through this kind of situation.
So let's start with: "What does Children's Services do?" They act under a statute called the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. What they do are child welfare interventions.
And what that basically means is child protection. What is interesting is that when the Act was first set up, it was very explicit that the purpose of the Act was to support children and their families. That has changed over the years, and it went from being Child and Family Services to just simply Children's Services in around 2013. But that doesn't mean that the focus on supporting families is completely gone. The same basic provisions in the Act are there that says we're here to support children - we're always concerned about what's in the best interests of the children - but families are obviously very important to children and we need to provide supports for children.
So, when we talk about child welfare, or child protection, what we're talking about is really protecting children from serious harm and we'll get into what those various harms are.
The second thing they do is they look after private guardianships, applications that are not under the Family Law Act. I'm not gonna be talking about those things today.
Third thing is secure services, and that is when you have a child that really needs to be in a secure facility, either to protect themselves or to protect others. I'm not gonna be touching a whole lot on that today, either. Just to say that this recognizes that sometimes there are children who are really too much for even the best of parents to do much about. I had a a client a number of years ago who had two children, and the one child was so out of control that when the the child welfare worker was in the home interviewing the family, the son threw a television out through the living room window, breaking the glass and all. So Mom was, I'm not gonna say eager to sign an agreement that the son be put into secure services, but I can tell you that she was relieved that he was going to be getting the assistance that she simply could not provide. And especially the, you know, the risk that was to her other child as well, who was younger than the one who was having trouble.
The other thing that the Children's Services do is they look after adoption services, and whether you're doing a private adoption or an adoption as a result of a foster placement or something like that. So, again, I'm not gonna be talking about adoption services.
And, lastly, they are involved with licensing residential facilities like group homes and that sort of thing.
So I thought I would make a very basic introduction to how things work. So it starts with someone making a report to a director. The director is basically the name that, the legal name of the person responsible for the Child and Family Services, or Children's Services.
Actually Children's Services is actually just one of a number of agencies across the province. There are both regular agencies, and then there are a number of indigenous agencies as well. And they all report to the director named under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. So oftentimes when we refer to cases, or we're talking in court, we refer to the director, and it sounds a little weird, but that's where the language comes from.
Once the report is made, there's an initial assessment: Is this child in need of intervention. And we're gonna get into that into some more detail. Because, if the child is in need of intervention, the director, in other words, Children's Services, is supposed to take action, and we're gonna be talking about some of those actions that the director, or the child welfare workers, can take. Again, we're not gonna get into all of the ins and outs of how that works, but we'll just try to give an overview so you can get an idea of how to best handle this situation.
I thought it would be important to give you an idea of the overall picture. So this is a chart - and I apologize, I don't have an exact year on this, whether it was 2018 or 2008. Sorry. These are the statistics I got from - I was focusing on, rather, just pointing out that, out of the number of households in Alberta, you can see that the fraction - the very small fraction - is about 2% of households that actually run into child welfare interventions.
Now that's not to minimize the effect of an intervention, because it really can be quite traumatic to be caught up in this system. And I don't know what the exact numbers of families here, this says, 1,164,650 is the number that I've got on my chart here of households not investigated. That's a fair number of households. So the Children's Services really doesn't have resources to investigate every single household in the province. They're probably stretched even at this small fraction that they are dealing with.
I have another chart here which is "Categories of Substantiated Child Maltreatment Investigations". Again, this is 2008. This is a year that I could find statistics for. I don't know whether these numbers are increasing or decreasing, whether this is a current thing, but I thought this gives you an idea of the kinds of child maltreatment that are caught by the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.
So the first one there, "Physical abuse", you can see that that's fairly obvious. We don't want a situation where a parent is so out of control that the child is at risk of serious physical injury or death. Those are the ones that really get the media attention, and I suspect that there's a lot of contortions when a child slips through the cracks on the system and the system doesn't catch that.
And I say that because it's important to recognize that that's what the Child and Family Services are probably looking out for most is that, they wanna make sure that that child isn't seriously physically harmed, or even not physically harmed but, just to give you an idea of the context, one of the reasons why they do have to get involved is they have to make sure that they've done their job because, as you can imagine, from an agency perspective, it's very embarrassing when they miss one and that's not a good thing for them.
So, other categories are: "Sexual abuse". And you see that that's actually a fairly small fraction of the overall Substantiated Maltreatment Investigations.
And, by the way, I just want to note, I do not know how they define "substantiated investigations", whether that's been a specific finding in the court, or whether that's been substantiated according to the agency records. And I don't know whether these are - some of these things may be overlapping issues.
So, for example, emotional maltreatment, here the one in purple, and neglect, the one in kind of the beige color, those two may overlap. These may overlap with physical abuse or sexual abuse. I don't know whether these numbers are showing overlapping ones or whether there's a principal one. Again, I'm not presenting this as some kind of a definitive statement of the statistical prevalence of these things. Just to indicate, roughly, the kinds of proportions that they're dealing with.
So, "Neglect" is, you know, failing to provide for the children's necessities of life. This is not neglect like, you know, not giving the child ice cream when they want. That actually might fall under the category of emotional maltreatment, if you're always giving into your child.
Another one that's in here, the last one, is "Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence", and that's because there's been lots of studies that say, you know, when a child is exposed to very high conflict between the adults in their life that this can have a harmful effect. And so this is of concern.
One of the concerns I I have as a lawyer is that these definitions can be rather broad and it may be easier for the CFS or Children's Services to successfully take a child into their system when there isn't good - when the parents are lacking the resources to push back and keep their children.
So I'm gonna come back to that because it's just a concern I have that sometimes the system seems to be able to be a little more successful against those in our society that have less resources or less access to legal assistance or other kinds of supports. But I'll leave it at that. That's probably a personal view. Maybe I'm a little biased.
Anyways, let's move on to something a little more helpful rather than this. And I'm gonna talk about when, why and how to call. Because sometimes I think we think of - I'm going to do this on the perspective of, you think that that getting Children's Services involved may help you in your dispute with the other parent to see whether, you know, maybe they can come and they'll be on your side. And I think this is not a particularly good strategy, but it happens.
So the first comment I'm gonna have on that is that you better have a real complaint, it has to be something substantiated, because when it is one partner calling in against the other partner, you can be sure that the social worker that is responding to the call is going to be thinking about the possibility that this is just a manipulation of the system. So I think that you have to be very careful about making a false allegation. It's like the old story of The Boy Who Called Wolf, eventually people stop listening. And so you really do need to know when and how to call, when you have concerns.
I think a better approach is to check with somebody if you've got concerns, check with a professional, whether that's a doctor or a lawyer, and really consider whether or not the there's a real reason to call.
Secondly, another reason why you might call is when you really do need help. And, whether parents are together or not, I have kind of filled in little details here. You know, if you call Child and Family Services and say, look, I need help, you are going to be in a much better setting with them than if they get the call from a neighbor or from the school, especially from the school or school counselor, and they come in investigating it, and you might have been thinking you needed help, but, once they come in from a community call, they're going to have a different stance right off the bat.
Now, why would you call them if you need help? And one good answer to that is that there is a lot of resources that are available, publicly funded resources, that are available once you get in the system. And obviously, you know, it's maybe like a Venus flytrap or something, you know, you get in and then you can't get out, well, again, I think it's important to get some legal advice about that.
And sometimes when I've had clients who are caught up with the system, and it's clear to me when talking to them that they really do need help, I will encourage them to approach the Children's Services with that attitude that they recognize that they need help, and really it is a sign of good parenting to recognize when you need help. And it may be because you've had whatever - maybe you haven't had good role models in your own life. Maybe it's because you're struggling with substance abuse issues or you've got, you know, mental health issues or anger management issues or whatever, and you say, look, I need help - that is is going to set you off in a much better way with them.
So the next thing is, sooner is way better than later. Again, that kind of goes with the first one, if you're gonna call to get them involved, yeah, it's got to be a real problem. You've got to recognize, again, whether you are calling to report abuse by another, by a parent that's not yourself, or whether you're calling because you need help, either one, sooner, better than later. But again, it's better than - again, it's kind of balancing, you've gotta make sure you've got a real live dispute and you want to make sure - a real live problem, real reason to be suspecting abuse. And similarly, if you need help, you know, this is, you really do need help and you want to take pride in the fact that you recognize that. Okay? Sooner is obviously better than later. And again, that minimizes the risk that there's gonna be a community report. Community reports are handled differently when the parent is calling.
This next point here, "Stay calm, cool, and collected", that applies throughout, whether you are the person calling for help or whether you are the person who's been called on, and there's a knock at the door, or they're standing in the door of your hospital room and they're wanting to get involved. It really is important to stay calm, cool, and collected. Because if you're not in control, it raises questions about whether there is some of those other issues going on, like emotional maltreatment, or neglect. It's, yeah, just best to stay calm.
The next point here, "Minimize blaming; recognize your own role". So if you're gonna call, again, this kind of goes to those first two points. You may have some legitimate concerns about your partner and what the partner is doing, or the ex is doing, but recognize that rarely is a problem completely the other person's fault. Again, so I'm speaking to somebody who's a parent of the child of concern. And this isn't to say that what you've done is necessarily wrong, or worse than the other person, or worse than, you know, the average parent, or, you know, that you're somehow a bad parent. It's just recognizing that, gee, parenting is really difficult. Children don't come with instruction manuals. And even if they did, it'd be probably hard to understand and get through them in the time when you actually need the instructions on how to deal with a crisis. So, you know, everybody can have a role in the child's life.
And it sometimes is mixed. You know, there's some good and bad in all of us. Recognizing where you can improve is something that is really important when dealing with Children's Services.
Then, lastly, "Avoid defensiveness". And, you know, that's something that is, obviously it's connected to "Minimize blaming and recognize your own role".
The reason why you want to avoid defensiveness is because there's almost a human reaction to defensiveness. And you say, well, wait a second, I haven't done anything wrong, right? So why shouldn't I defend myself? The problem is that people assume that when you get defensive and the defensiveness relates to blaming and then a failure to recognize your own role, is the workers, the ones who are doing that initial investigation, or ongoing investigation, they're going to suspect that you are nervous about something, that you're afraid that you've been caught, that there's something there. And so, if you think that there's something there that you have to protect, they better go out and find it.
So often when I'm - well, just think about it, you know, put yourself in the shoes of a child protection worker who's received a call and they have to go into the hospital, they do an initial investigation, and they think, you know, this child needs to be apprehended, which means, needs to be taken out of - sometimes even taken out of the arms of the parent that's holding the child.
Now, you've got to have a pretty thick skin, I would say, to be working in that business, and you've got to be encountering parents across the board who are gonna be hostile and very, very angry with you. And they're gonna be blaming other people. They're gonna be defensive. They're gonna be denying that they had anything to do. But you encounter a parent that is calm and is not, you know, recognizes their own role. They're not being defensive. They recognize that maybe they need help. They're willing to work with you. I gotta say, you know, it doesn't take much to imagine that the social worker faced with somebody like that is going to be much more disposed to finding the good in you rather than putting themselves on a war footing where they go out to find the worst in you.
Now, I'm going to talk a little bit about what intervention services are available. And that is because - my apologies, these are slightly, they've come in slightly out of order. So I'll talk about the worst ones first. The Supervision Order is where the child remains with their guardian. But they are subject to monitoring and supervision by CFS. This is the least intrusive of the apprehension services, or interventions, in that, because the child gets to, you know, you get to keep custody of your child while the supervision is undergoing. And this allows you to access all sorts of parenting supports, training, all sorts of things that are available through the agency.
Now, they can show up unannounced, and they will show up unannounced, make sure that you are abiding by the various plans. They'll sit down with you and they'll work out a a plan for, you know, what you need to do to get your kid back. And again, what you want to do is make sure you're working with them. You stay calm. You recognize your own role. You avoid blaming. You don't get defensive. And you focus on, you know, saying, look, you know, is this something that I could do better on? How can - do you guys have resources that you can help help me get through this? All of those kinds of things will put you in a good stand to get through this.
Secondly, "Temporary Guardianship". That's when the child is felt to be in so need of protection that they have to be taken away from the parent and placed in foster care. They will also place a child in kinship care where that's appropriate. Kinship care means another family member.
And I don't have a chart for that, but it would appear that most of the interventions by Child and Family Services in Alberta do not result in the child being apprehended and taken out of the family, but rather that they are just under supervision. But then, even when they are taken out from the family, then a good chunk of those placements are with kinship. And then, so the number of foster placements is actually lower than you would expect.
What that means is that you don't have to go into it with the fear that there's going to be, you know, they're going to take your child away, and this is a permanent thing, that this is going to, you know, they're gonna be completely cut out, they're gonna end up in the system, because that's not the the majority of cases, it's a minority of cases. That means there's lots of opportunity to work with them. I go back to those those basic principles, you know? Show the maturity to recognize when you need help. Avoid blaming, et cetera, et cetera. I don't need to say it again. Yeah, but it is worth repeating. Right?
Now, the next issue is "Permanent Guardianship". That's where, after a certain amount of time, they say, look, we've tried, we've tried. We've worked through these plans here on the temporary guardianship, we haven't been able to get these parents, or parent, or guardian, up to the level where we can be really confident that they're gonna be able to carry on without further intervention, and that's when you get the permanent guardianship orders come in.
And then, the Last one here, which should have been first, is, and this really goes back to, if you call them early and say, look, I need help, or if you respond positively when they first come in, then you can just simply get a Family Enhancement Agreement with them that says, look, they'll provide services, and they'll meet with you regularly, and they will come up with a plan. You know, this is what you've gotta do, these are the services that we offer. So it's a little less intrusive than a supervision order. And again, if you're in there early, you behave - I'll go back to it, you know, acknowledge your own role, don't be defensive, avoid blaming, et cetera.
Now, all of these interventions are always done in the best interest of the child. So whenever the director, or whenever the courts, are making decisions under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, these decisions are always being made in the best interest of the child. Or, at least, that's what they're supposed to be.
So, now, if your child, has been taken away and, just got little comments here on regaining parental rights. So engage honestly in personal development for your child, not just you. I had, some clients that had been having a fairly hard partying life. Then they had a baby. They mostly stopped the partying while the baby was born. Mom completely stopped. Dad did a little bit. And then, after the baby was born, they went for a party one night and got just a little too out of control. And Grandma, who was looking after the, who was babysitting for the night, when the parents came back, and they were totally out of control, Grandma called the police, and the police, the parents were, or the child was apprehended from the children, placed with Grandma, and then these parents, they just did everything they could. They took on - just the next bullet here - they took as many courses as they could. They took drug testing up the wazoo. And, as a result, they got through it, and after six months they got their child back. They had lots of time in-between.
So, again, it's not a death sentence when a child is apprehended. It really is up to you if you can focus on what your child needs and what your child needs you to do. And sometimes that can be really hard. You know, you may not have had a great upbringing yourself and now you've gotta figure it out without the instruction manuals, as they say. And you may have had a real crappy life up to that point, but now you've got a child and now you've got a different priority.
This next one is also important: "Get reliable support from family and friends". And I gotta say that the easy picks for Child and Family Services are the parents who are isolated, they don't have good support from family. You know, whether that's good reasons or bad reasons. You know, sometimes just the way it is. You know, I happen to be an only child. You know, I don't - and my parents were in another city. So if I had been caught up in this system, there wouldn't have been a whole lot of support from my family.
But then you have friends in your community. The more that you can establish supports in the community, the easier it is for Child and Family Services to say, you know what, this child is gonna be okay because, at the very least, not only are people watching and supporting and encouraging and, you know, what a very difficult task of parenting, but they can also alert authorities if they see a problem. They can provide additional care. You know, somebody says, oh look, you're overwhelmed with this here, why don't I take your kid and you can have a night out? That kind of thing. It really is, you know, having the support from family and friends or just friends or community members is really important.
Somebody to call to, to say, look, this kid is driving me nuts. What do I do? There's nothing wrong with being able to get help from family and friends and community members. And, when you are trying to regain your parental rights, if you're in a temporary guardianship situation, or a supervision order situation, that's the best time to really focus on repairing your ability to get support from family and friends.
I just had to put it this way: "Stop being selfish". You know, you've gotta demonstrate, first to the social workers who are working at CFS, and then to the court, you have to demonstrate that you are in fact capable of being responsible for a little one's life. There's probably no better way to say it. And it really isn't about you at the time.
Now I, I gotta stop this and say, look, I am, as I said, I do child protection work because I think parents, it's sometimes easy for the the Child and Family Services folks to find fault with a family. And so I will help protect that family relationship. But remember that this is, ultimately, I'm not saying, well, you've gotta go all through this checklist, otherwise, you know, your lawyer's not gonna help you out. No, there's this is kind of a group project at this point. You know, when I'm working with parents saying, look, we gotta work on not just finding fault with everything that Children's Services is doing. And, you know, regaining your freedom to do whatever the heck you wanna do with your life. And this kid. No, no, no. This is, we're trying to get you to the point where you can demonstrate convincingly to the court that you are capable of being responsible for the little child's life, so.
Here's another one that may not be particularly obvious, which is: "Stop being selfish with the other parent". I just realized that probably ahead of myself here. There. "Stop being selfish - demonstrate that you are..." I did that.
Here we go. "Stop fighting with the other parent". Sorry about that. "Stop fighting with the other parent". This is, again - that kind of goes along with the stop blaming the other person. You know, and it also goes with the the issue of exposing the child to Intimate partner violence, and the emotional neglect, and that sort of thing.
Now, "stop fighting with the other parent" doesn't mean just give in to whatever kind of crazy the other parent is doing. What it means is learn how to deal with the other parent if the other parent is in the picture. Learn how to set appropriate boundaries. Learn how to constructively resolve conflict and disputes. And demonstrate to the authorities, and to the courts, that you've got this. You can be responsible for this child's life because you are resolving your differences with the other parent as best you can.
I gotta say that one thing that I've always found a little disturbing about the way CFS operates is they will often say to a parent, and I have no idea what the numbers are on this. It seems like I encounter it more often than I should. But they say to the parent, well, look, we won't take your kid as long as you go get, we won't apprehend your child as long as you go get a restraining order, or you get an order for sole custody of the child, and you cut the other parent out. So when I say stop fighting with the other parent, I'm not talking about trying to, you know, allow an abusive parent back into your life. It's more along the lines of taking responsibility for your own actions and demonstrate that you're able to not expose a child to undo conflict.
Next point here, communicate frequently and politely with your case worker. You gotta reign in the hostility. I had one client that was so upset with the worker that she would phone, the worker would not answer the phone. Fair enough. So she would phone again. And again. And again. And again. And then the worker's still not picking up the phone. So, you know, maybe after 15, 20, 30 calls, then she starts text messaging. One word at a time. Maybe 500 words, one after a time. Now, you know, going into court with that kind of client, you know, I gotta say, it would've been easier, I suppose, if she had just lightened up, right? If you are, if the child has been apprehended. You know, if you give up, if you don't communicate when you're supposed to communicate, or if you don't communicate at all, if you don't show up for the visits that they've arranged for you, if you don't contact them to talk about getting time with your child, the workers just, you know, they're human beings. They're gonna go, well, geez, you know, I guess this parent doesn't really care. We can't feel very confident, well, giving this child back, the parent isn't showing up. Or when the parent shows up, all they're doing is blaming us and being angry and hostile. So, you know, I gotta say that this is important.
Another part of that is, sometimes if you've got a substance abuse problem, what you have to do is, you are required to do, or can be required to do, random drug testing. Random drug testing works like this. You receive a call in the morning that says today's your day to be tested. That doesn't mean you have an option. That means that you have to go get tested that day. It doesn't mean, well, I wasn't partying last night, so I guess I'll go in for my test today. Or, gosh, I was partying on Saturday night and I better not show up for my test because it's not gonna be a good result. So you have to, it means it's a random drug test.
Now, again, this is something that is important to do even if you've got a problem. Because think about it, if you've got a problem and you're working on it, and you get through that problem and it can show in these random drug testings that you are wrapping your brain around your, whatever it takes to figure out how to wrestle that monkey to the ground, that's going to have a positive impact for you. My experience in the courts, I've been practicing law for almost 30 years, is that the courts will bend over backwards if they see a parent who is making a good, honest effort to make their life better.
The courts are more forgiving than you would think. And that's because they go, you know, the past is the past, if we're confident that the future's gonna be better, we're gonna support that parent who's making that real effort. And again, that's partly the communicating frequently and politely, cooperating with them, talking about your child, making sure you're in there, don't pick fights with the case worker, does not help you at all.
And then just a few other comments on, when you are trying to come up with a plan to have a child returned to you, your focus needs needs to be on the child's need for stability. The history of the child's care. Proposed plans for the child's care and upbringing. That's just some kind of highlights.
Clearly, if you're in that situation, what you need to do is work with your lawyer to say, look, here's the situation. Let's figure this out. And what we do is we take a look at all of the records that the CFS provides and says, okay, what are the primary concerns? How can we deal with this? You know, let's get some realistic plans in place. Again, going back to that notion of community and family and friends support. Let's get those supports in place. And that helps you to get your kid back.
So that's all I have for now. I am, as I said, again, I tried to focus less on the technical rules about this. There are lots of procedural rules that are designed to protect everybody in the system to make sure that mistakes aren't being made. But I tried to focus on, maybe, the more practical advice about how to deal with CFS, rather than focusing on the technical rules, because, quite frankly, they could be boring, even for lawyers. So there you go.
So any questions?
Melanie: Yes. We have a couple of questions. So, the first question is - just a second here. Some guys seem to be dealing with police and Children's Services simultaneously. How do these agencies interact with each other? Which one takes the lead in investigations?
Charles: I think it really depends on how the contact is first made. They do cooperate with each other. They do pass information to each other. And then what you find is, when you're dealing with one, they throw up their hands and say, well, that's out of our control. This is actually one of the ways that the system can be manipulated, which is not cool, in my perspective.
So, the one parent, I had a case where it happened to be the Mom, but it really could be the either way. So the Mom goes to the the police, lays a complaint. Then she goes to Child and Family Services and says the police are investigating. Then they go back to the police and say Child and Family Services have opened up a file. And now she's managed to get everybody thinking that everybody's on the same page working to this. And the whole thing is a complete manipulation.
So, going back to the question, how do they - neither one takes a lead because they are concerned with different problems.
And again, this is, I've got a bit of a pet peeve on this. The police and the criminal justice system says, we don't deal with children, we are not competent to make decisions affecting children, and they stick their head in the sand in the sand and say, "La la la la la la, we don't think, we don't recognize that anything we do has any kind of impact on children". And, if you think about it, going back to the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, that Act says, you know, families are important. And the police might get involved and they say, whoa, that's not our concern. We've got a parent that has done something criminal. So, that's not our concern about the impact on the children. And I go, wait a second, this is a fairly minor, isolated event, let's say, and don't be naive here that maybe you're getting played by somebody. But, so, that's how, and, so, when we talk about which one is taking the lead, well, it's the one with the pointy end of the stick in the particular circumstances is the one that you probably need to be concerned with. Sometimes the police, they do have some discretion to not proceed. And then they just say, well, this is really a child protection matter. Or, more likely, it's the other way around where, regardless of what the police are doing, the CFS is involved and they're now taking steps.
So the other thing that is a little bit different is that, when there is a family law application and there is an open file, or sometimes even a closed file, there has been some involvement with CFS, the CFS worker will attend court on the family law proceedings, and will be prepared to speak to the judge about what's going on the child protection stuff.
Sometimes what'll happen is the judge will say, once they hear that there's been some involvement, they'll say, well, let's stand this down. I want to get the court worker, so CFS has somebody in the courtroom, or more than one person in the courtroom, they've got an office or at least they did before COVID. Now, they have got somebody there available to answer questions about what CFS's involvement is. So, once they get involved, they can take the lead. Yeah.
I don't know if that's a good answer. It kind of is a fluctuating process. I actually practice in criminal and family law for precisely this reason, is because, when you get intersections between those two areas, I think that you gotta know what's going on with the other system. And how a decision that gets made in one system can have an effect on the other. And I keep pushing to find ways to make them the criminal justice system more sensitive to the impact that they're having on families.
Melanie: Okay, great. The next question is: How is "the best interest of the child" defined.
Charles: Ah, that's a big, big question. But think about what we - I'll just go back here a few slides.
Children need stability. They need to have their needs cared for. Let's go back all the way here. You know, a child's best interest is to not be exposed to this stuff. When you read the Child and Family Enhancement Act, the child's best interest is defined very, very broadly, and it includes these sorts of things. And it also goes back to, hey, does the parent have the willingness and the ability to parent their child?
So, on a child protection matter, the CFS is not going to be saying, generally speaking, they're not going to be saying, hey, one parent is better than the other, other than if one parent is lacking and, you know, justifying an intervention by CFS, they may place a child with the other parent and then close their file, because now they've got a guardian who's behaving properly. And that's where there can be some legitimacy to that issue of, you know, look, if you stay away from the abusive partner, you can keep your child, you know? That can make sense sometimes. If the partner really is abusive.
So that's, you know, the best interest is really about, you know, how do you raise a child and have them turn out to be decent human beings. Right?
Melanie: Okay, great. We'll just go with just a couple more questions, one or two more here.
How are the CFS or Calgary Family Services, Children, sorry, Family Service workers being held accountable for their decisions? What is a parent's recourse when they are being treated unfairly?
Charles: Well, again, there's a need to be very careful that, to determine whether you really are being treated unfairly. There are provisions in the act to review the decisions of the director. The director has to make the same, is subject to the same laws as the court in terms of the decisions they make. And it's not just about unfairness to you as a parent, it's about whether they are making decisions that are in the best interest of the child.
So whether it's fair or not, or whether it feels fair or not, is not the issue. So if you feel that they are making a serious mistake in their decision making, there's review provisions in the act that can be used. But I gotta tell you, I don't see that very often. Usually there's way more chaotic stuff going on. And then there's some time limits on that as well. So if you think a mistake has been made, you need to act on it fairly quickly. And my recommendation is that you gotta be pretty sure that they made a mistake. Because the review process is going to be fairly differential to the case workers, because they've got a tough job, you know? As I said before, they make a mistake and one slips through the crack and the child ends up dead or seriously injured or worse, then the courts, the review process, anybody reviewing the decisions being made by Child and Family Services are gonna bear that in mind. So you gotta be really clear that they're making a mistake.
Melanie: Okay. We'll just throw in one more question here. So the best interests of the child are also defined in the Family Law Act, right? Is that worth reading for a parent fighting to keep their children?
Charles: The simple answer is yes. In fact, the more you can learn about what's in the best interests of the child, the better. Remember I said take courses, well, there's free courses that are available. You don't even have to be caught up in any kind of legal proceedings. There's the parenting after separation course. There's the high conflict parenting after separation course. There are lots of parenting courses available. You can learn, I mean, there's whole courses taught about child psychology. And early childhood education. And, you know, there's tons and tons of books available. All sorts of ways of figuring out what is in the child's best interests.
You don't have to be perfect at it. It's really a question of, you gotta meet the minimums. And so, yeah, figuring out what the minimum is might be hard, but you know, if you're caught up in the system, figure it out.
Yeah. You can go through the Act, but remember this is not a checklist process, right? Remember that basic core attitude of, you know, blaming and defensiveness, if you're just going through a checklist that's in some statute and saying, your attitude is well, I'm that. I'm that. I don't have a problem with that. I don't have a problem with that either. Hey, how come I don't have my kid? That's probably not gonna be a winning strategy because, again, you know, even if it's true that you meet the minimum standard, that attitude is going to hurt you because it will suggest that maybe you're not recognizing what most of us recognize is that parenting is tough and it's hard to figure out what the best way to handle it is.
And if you recognize that, then you're approaching that learning of, this is not just a checklist, I gotta pull out some statute and say, okay, I met that one, met that one, met them, then that one, then, now, deliver my child to me. You know, it doesn't work that way.
Unfortunately, once you get into that system, you may actually feel like you're being held to a higher standard than just the regular person who doesn't have any involvement, well, that's because maybe you got, the intervention was too late. You know, the problems got going and you didn't get in there sooner.
You didn't do a self-report. You didn't reach out to anybody and say, look, I need help. And now, if you've been defensive or hostile in any way, now when you come in with a checklist and say, well, I've met these, all of these things here, give me my child back, they're gonna go, yeah, we don't believe you. Sorry. You know?
So it really is a mindset thing that says, look, acting in the child's best interest means you gotta, like, pay attention to the child's needs. Put your child's needs ahead of yours. Figure that out. Now, it doesn't mean that you don't pay attention to your own needs, because that's, if you don't, then, well, you're not also capable of looking after your child either. So it's a learning experience.
Melanie: Okay, that's great. That's all the time we have for questions today.
Charles: Okay. Well, I thank you. This has been, I'm glad I've had this opportunity to chat with you. And I hope it's been helpful. Remember, again, it's not legal advice. You really do need to get, if you're going through any of this stuff, you should get some assistance, and how all of this stuff applies to your situation. So there you go.
Vanessa: Thank you so much, Charles and Melanie, for being here and volunteering your time.
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.