Legal Information for Everyone: The LIFE Podcast

Intro to Child Protection in Ontario and the CAS

Episode Summary

This is the second episode of our Family Law Information series. It introduces some of the legal responsibilities of Children's Aid Societies in Ontario, as well as the general steps in a child protection investigation.

Episode Notes

COVID19 NOTE: Please note that legal and community services are constantly changing due to public health recommendations regarding COVID19. Please contact each service via phone or email for more information; organizations are putting different practices in place as the situation evolves. For example, some organizations may not be currently providing in-person services, or only may be providing in-person services for limited and specific cases. 

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Some specific questions that this episode discuss include:

Content warning: as this episode discusses processes with child protection and children's aid, it will discuss or hint at topics including child protection, physical, sexual and emotional harm and abuse of children. If you feel like you need additional support at any time, you can take a look at our resource list.

Resource List: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SabAgwQMFOrXGPUXvarmOOU6qPYq8kV7/view?usp=sharing

Want to share feedback with us? We'd love to hear from you: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=-JeorXleKkmVP0k0KHg3ggCxbWifgxRBpiAhzpQ7WOdUQVpIU0pDVjQ3QlNDUUdOR1Y0T1c2MkpIQi4u

Acknowledgements: Thank you to the staff at Legal Aid Ontario, the Hamilton-Kitchener District office for reviewing versions of this podcast script. Thank you to staff at the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton for conversations and consultations on The Family Learning Project that ultimately helped to inform and clarify the content of this podcast. Thank you also to The Law Foundation of Ontario—while financially supported by The Law Foundation of Ontario Access to Justice Fund, the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton is solely responsible for all content.

Episode Transcription

Legal Information for Everyone: The LIFE Podcast

Family Law Episode 2: Intro to Child Protection in Ontario and the CAS

This transcript is also available in Arabic: http://www.sprc.hamilton.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Arabic-Translation-FLP-Ep2.pdf

 

Last Updated: 4 March 2020
 

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[Transcrpt begins]

 

Sabrina: A quick note that this episode was written and reviewed before service provision began to modify due to COVID19 in Ontario. Legal services and community services are constantly changing and updating to  respond to public health concerns. We've linked some resources in the description of this episode on our Simplecast site where you can remain updated on changes if they occur. 

 

At the time of posting this episode, the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies has clarified that Children's Aid Societies in Ontario are still providing child protection services. 

 

We hope that you enjoy this episode. Take care.

 

[Musical Interlude]

 

Merima: Welcome to the second family law episode of Legal Information for Everyone: The LIFE Podcast.  

 

Sabrina: We’re your hosts, Sabrina and Merima. 

  

S: This podcast is produced through The Law Foundation of Ontario’s Access to Justice and Responsiveness Grants. While this podcast is financially supported by The Law Foundation of Ontario, the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton is solely responsible for all content. 

 

M: The information contained in this podcast is also not a substitute for legal advice and also may change as laws are updated. We are not liable for changing information.

 

S: Integral to this podcast is thinking about the implications of legal education and legal systems for various communities across Hamilton. We would like to take this time to recognize that Hamilton is located on the Traditional Territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Anishinaabe nations who have shared in and protected this land for thousands of years.

 

M: In the first Family Law episode, we talked about the basic legal expectations of parents in Ontario as informed by Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA)

 

S: If you haven’t listened to the first Family Law episode yet, or if you need a refresher, then we suggest you give it a listen before continuing on to this episode. 

 

M: Today, we will look at the questions: What organization is authorized by the provincial government and has the legal responsibility to protect children?

 

S: What are the general steps involved in a child protection case? 

 

S: As this episode discusses processes involved with child protection and children’s aid, it will inherently discuss or hint at topics that might be triggering or sensitive, including adoption, child protection, physical, sexual, and emotional harm and abuse of children.

 

M: Feel free to pause the podcast and check out our linked resource list at any time for further support.

 

[Musical Interlude]

 

M: In Episode 1, we discussed Ontario's Child, Youth and Family Services Act, which gives parents a basic sense of what is legally expected of them as parents in the province of Ontario.

 

S: As a quick recap, we noted that Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act states that if a child has been harmed or is at risk of likely harm because of their parent’s action or omission, then the child may be considered to be “in need of protection”.[1]

 

M: Right. And again, we unpacked that definition quite a bit. A question I have now is: who gets to make the decision if a child is in need of protection? And who legally is responsible to step in?

 

S: Great question. So as we’ve said, in Ontario, it’s the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, or CYFSA, that sets the legal definition of a child in need of protection. We will refer to the CYFSA as “The Act”. The Act also gives legal responsibility to certain organizations in Ontario to provide protection services to children, which includes determining if a child is in need of protection. In Ontario, these organizations are called Children’s Aid Societies.[2] For short, we will refer to them as the CAS or a Society. 

 

M: So, if a child in Ontario is in need of protection, then it is the Children’s Aid Society that steps in? 

 

S: Yes. Under the Act, Societies have legal responsibility to investigate concerns about the safety and well-being of children and youth and to provide child protection services in Ontario 365 days per year, 24 hours per day. [3]  The Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) in Ontario include Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies.[4] There are two Children’s Aid Societies that serve the region of Hamilton: The Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton (CASH), the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton (CCASH). 

 

M: How exactly does each Society operate?

 

S: Each Society is governed by a local board of directors.[5] However, each Society has to follow the rules and expectations that are set by the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. The outline of these responsibilities is listed in the CYFSA.[6]

 

M: Based on what we’ve talked about, one of the responsibilities of the CAS listed in the CYFSA is to investigate allegations or evidence that children have been harmed or are at likely risk of harm—is that right?

 

S: Yes, that’s right. And if their investigation finds that a child has been harmed or is at risk of likely harm, then another responsibility of the CAS is to protect that child.[7]

 

M: What does that look like?

 

S: Depending on the situation, it can mean many different things.[8] Later in this episode, we’ll talk about the general steps that are involved in a CAS case or investigation, which I think will help to answer your question.

 

M: Do Societies only conduct child protection investigations? 

 

S: No, Children’s Aid Societies are legally responsible for more than just investigations. For example, they can provide guidance, counselling and other services to families who may need more support. [9]

 

M: What about adoption services?

 

S: Yes, Societies are also responsible for coordinating the process of adoption. [10]

 

M: Now, I remember that in our last episode, we discussed that the Act defines a “child” as someone under 18 years old. Does this mean that Societies only protect children under 18?

 

S: Great question. In some cases, youth who 18 and older who have been in the care of a society may receive Continued Care and Support as well as other services to help with the transition into adulthood.[11] This depends on the situation of the case.

 

M: Now, you mentioned that some of the Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario are Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies. Do these societies have different responsibilities?

 

S: Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies do follow the procedures, regulations, and standards outlined in the Act. However, these agencies provide holistic, culture-based programs and services for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children and families.[12] The importance of having Indigenous agencies working with Indigenous children and families is something that Indigenous communities and activists have been highlighting for decades. It can also begin to be highlighted by a report that was created by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2018, titled Interrupted childhoods: Over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in Ontario child welfare. I’d like to read a section of this report, which is found on pages 17 and 18 of:

 

“Despite making up only 4.1% of the population in Ontario under age 15, Indigenous children represent approximately 30% of foster children. Indigenous children are over-represented at all points of child welfare decision-making…This severe disproportionality is a continuation of Canada’s colonial past. Canada’s history of assimilationist policies, including residential schools, resulted in Indigenous children being uprooted from their families and communities and being disconnected from loving child-rearing practices, parental role models, their cultures and identity. These inequalities continued as residential schools began to close. Starting in the 1950s, child welfare authorities removed Indigenous children from their families and communities in great numbers. Known as the “Sixties Scoop,” children were sent to be fostered or placed for adoption in mostly non-Indigenous families.”[13] Furthermore, the report notes that Indigenous Children are more than 130% more likely to be investigated than White children. [14]

 

If you want to learn more about the history of Indigenous communities and the past and present relationship with Children’s Aid Societies, we've linked some resources for you to begin reading.  This context is important in understanding why Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies were created to be rooted in community and self-determination.

 

M: Okay, it’s helpful to know that Children’s Aid Societies have legal responsibilities to look in to and determine if a child has been harmed or is at risk of harm. Even knowing this, though, many families that I’ve talked to are scared about the process. They’re not sure what to expect if someone does call the CAS about them or their family. Can you talk a little bit about what the actual process is?

 

S: Sure. This is a good place to remind families that each case will be unique, and that if they have specific questions or need advice, they should talk to a lawyer or CAS worker. But, there are some general steps that CAS cases follow. Today, we can briefly outline 5 of the general steps. 

 

M: Okay, great. Wait, who thinks of these steps?

 

S: Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario have to operate within the expectations set by the Government of Ontario, specifically, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services found in the Child, Youth and Family Services Act. [15]   

 

The framework of procedures that Children’s Aid Societies have to follow, including the 5 steps we will talk about today, are outlined in additional documents that you can access on the Ministry's website. Some of these additional documents include the Ontario Child Protection Standards and the Ontario Child Protection Tools. In terms of who actually wrote them: these documents were written and revised by representatives from many organizations, including different CAS agencies across the province, and from the Ministry itself.[16]

 

M: Okay. So what’s the first step in a child protection case?

 

S: Well, the very first thing is that the CAS needs to become aware that a child has been harmed or is at risk of harm. [17]  Usually, how this happens is that a citizen, like you and me, or a professional that works with children, like a teacher or a nurse, calls the CAS to let them know that they think a child may have been harmed. Do you know what this process is called?

 

M: Hmm—I think I’ve heard of it, but I’m not sure.

 

S: It’s called the Duty to Report. We will talk more about it in our next episode. For today, know that someone calling the CAS about a child potentially being harmed or at risk of harm is the first step in a child protection services case. Also part of this first step is that a CAS worker who answers the call, called a Screener, examines all available information about the incident, the child, the family, and the case to determine the “referral disposition”. [18]

 

M: What does “referral disposition” means?

 

S: The referral disposition is what the CAS screener determines would be the next steps after the call has been received. There are three possibilities: A) a CAS worker does not contact the family at all, or only provides information, such as about appropriate forms of discipline; B) the CAS connects the family with a “community link”, which are community services that will help the family with early intervention, prevention, and treatment; or C) the case is opened for a child protection investigation or other child welfare service. [19]

 

M: Okay, so step one is usually that someone calls the CAS to make a referral, and the CAS worker looks at all the information to see what action should be taken. 

 

S: Yes. Now, if the referral disposition is that the case should be opened for a child protection investigation or another child welfare service, then we proceed to step 2. 

 

M: What is Step 2?

 

S: Step 2 is that the CAS worker plans and conducts a child protection investigation. The timeline of this step depends on the assessed level of immediate threat to the safety of a child. An investigation can be started within the timelines of, for example, the same day or week from when the referral is received by the Screener. Then, the CAS worker, working with their team, conducts interviews: these can include with the family, other witnesses, as well as the child’s living conditions. How and when these interviews are conducted depends on the situation. Usually, this process of investigation can take over a month. [20]

 

M: Okay, so it sounds like each Child Protection Investigation really depends on the specifics of the case.

 

S: Yes, exactly. Now, steps 3 and 4 can happen as step 2 is happening—these steps are that a safety assessment and risk assessment are done by the CAS worker. Here, the worker is trying to determine if the child is safe in their home, and what level of risk, or future harm, of harm the child is facing. Here, the worker tries to work with the family to create a safety plan. [21] There’s a lot more to these steps, but this is the basic outline. 

 

M: Okay, so “safety” is immediate safety, and “risk” is future safety?

 

S: Yes. [22]

 

M: Okay.

 

S: Now, the last step we will talk about today is when the Child Protection Investigation is finished. After the worker has conducted interviews, assessments, and observations—again can be over a month—then the CAS worker and their team determine if the child is in need of protection. [23]

 

M: What happens if the child is in need of protection?

 

S: If the investigation finds that the child is in need of protection, then the child is transferred to CAS ongoing services. What this looks like depends on the scenario. [24] It could can include, for example, that the family makes an agreement with the CAS to do certain things, like go to counselling, or not do certain things, like not to use physical discipline. 

 

If the investigation determines that the child is not safe in their home, the child could be placed with kin or kith—family or friends—until it is safe for the child to return to their home, or more permanently.[25]

 

If it is not safe for the child to stay in their home and there is no family or kith that they can be placed with, then the child may be placed in the care of the society—temporarily, or for an extended period of time. [26]

 

M: What if the family doesn’t agree to whatever the CAS decides is needed for the protection of the child?

 

S: At this point, the CAS can apply to the court to start a legal case against the family. The goal would be to get the child to what they have determined to be a place of safety. [27]  It is important to note that much of the work done by the Society does not involve going to court with families. Workers try to collaborate with families throughout the process—their position is that court really is a last resort.[28]

 

M: If that were to happen, should the family contact a lawyer?

 

S: The lawyers that we have spoken to have suggested that if a legal case has been started against a family, it is a good idea for them to seek advice from a lawyer.

 

M: Okay. Now what if the investigation determines that the child is not in need of protection?

 

S: If the investigation shows that the child has not been harmed and is not at risk of likely harm, then the case is usually closed. It can be closed with or without a community link, which, as we talked about before, are community services that can support the family. [29]

 

M: Wow. Lots of steps involved here. 

 

S: Yes. And like we’ve said, each child protection investigation and case is unique and the steps have a lot of detail that we didn’t mention. But, it’s good for families to know the overall outline of a case.

 

M: Agreed. And, as you mentioned, if families want to learn more, they can access legal information resources online? 

 

S: Yes. Of course, families can take a look at StepsToJustice.ca, a website with legal information created by CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario).[30]  They can take a look at the CAS procedures we talked about today by searching for them on google or finding them on the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services’ website. Here are some of the names again: Ontario Child Protection Standards, and Ontario Child Protection Tools. Families can also visit the Family Law Information Centre, which is located at 55 Main Street West in Hamilton . It’s within the Family Court, and is open from Monday to Friday. The Family Law Information Centre includes an Information and Referral Coordinator to provide referrals to community programs.[31]

 

M: What about legal advice?

 

S: For legal advice, financially- and legally-eligible families can also visit The Family Law Information Centre within Family Court to potentially speak to a lawyer. [32] Another option is that you can contact the Lawyer Referral Service through the Law Society of Ontario and request a 30-minute free consultation with a lawyer.[33] You can also try calling Legal Aid Ontario. If you financially qualify, Legal Aid may be able to pay for you to get legal advice and/or representation.[34]

 

M: What if families have to be in court that day, and do not have a lawyer?

 

S: People who do not have a lawyer but have a court appearance in Family Court that day can visit Duty Counsel, which is located within Family Court. If you financially qualify, a duty counsel lawyer may be able to represent you on that date.[35] Visit duty counsel as early as you can on that date, as there is usually a long list of people who need help.

 

M: Great!  In our next family law episode, we will be talking about something we introduced today, the Duty to Report. This is how the whole process of a child protection investigation begins.

 

S: Yes, we will be talking about more about what the duty to report is, how it affects all of us. Also, today, we talked about the general steps in a CAS case. In our next episode, we will talk about some practical things that you can do to navigate the process.

 

Thanks for listening!

 

[End of transcript]


Endnotes

[1] Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1, s 74 http://canlii.ca/t/547lr#sec74

[2] Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1, s 35 http://canlii.ca/t/547lr#sec35.

[3] Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1, s 35 http://canlii.ca/t/547lr#sec35.

[4] (About Ontario's children aid societies)

[5] (About Children's Aid Societies)

[6] (About Ontario's children aid societies)

[7] Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1, s 35 http://canlii.ca/t/547lr#sec35.

[8] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016))

[9] Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1, s 35 http://canlii.ca/t/547lr#sec35.

[10] Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1, s 35 http://canlii.ca/t/547lr#sec35.

[11] (Youth leaving care)

[12] (Native Child and Family Services of Toronto)

[13] (Ontario Human Rights Commission 17-18)

[14] (Ontario Human Rights Commission 17)

[15] (About Ontario's children aid societies)

[16] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 8)

[17] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 20-33)

[18] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 20-33)

[19] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 20-33)

[20] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 35-46)

[21] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 27-59)

[22] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 27-59)

[23] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 61-70)

[24] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 79-92)

[25] (Ontario Child Protection Tools Manual (2016) 20-22)

[26] (Ontario Child Protection Tools Manual (2016) 20-22)

[27] (Ontario Child Protection Tools Manual (2016) 22, 25, 34)

[28] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016))

[29] (Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016) 93-98, 122, 128)

[30] (Steps to Justice)

[31] (Family Law Information Centres (FLICs))

[32] (Family Law Information Centres (FLICs))

[33] (Law Society Referral Service)

[34] (Legal Aid Ontario)

[35] (Getting help in the courtroom)

 

Works Cited

Child, Youth and Family Services Act, SO 2017, c.14, Sch 1.

Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO). Steps to Justice. 2018. .

Law Society of Ontario. Law Society Referral Service. 2020. .

Legal Aid Ontario. 2020. .

—. Getting help in the courtroom. 2020. .

Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. Child and Family Well-being. 2019. .

Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies. About Children's Aid Societies. 2018. .

Ontario Human Rights Commission. "Interrupted childhoods: over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in Ontairo child welfare." 2018.

Ontario: Ministry of Children and Youth Services. "Ontario Child Protection Standards (2016)." 24 November 2016. Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. .

—. "Ontario Child Protection Tools Manual (2016)." 2016. Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. .

Ontario: Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. About Ontario's children aid societies. 26 August 2019. .

—. Youth leaving care. 2018. .

Ontario: Ministry of the Attorney General. Family Law Information Centres (FLICs). 13 November 2015. .

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the staff at Legal Aid Ontario, the Hamilton-Kitchener District office for reviewing versions of this podcast script. Thank you also to staff at the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton for conversations and consultations on The Family Learning Project that ultimately helped to inform and clarify the content of this podcast.