Knowing that Child and Family Services has, on behalf of the government, apprehended their child(ren) is a horrifying reality for many parents. Through both my previous work with the Director of Child and Family Services and my current work as a counsel for parents/ guardians, I have seen firsthand the myriad of negative emotions that parents in this position experience.
It can be difficult to understand why your child(ren) has been apprehended. The Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act allows the Director of Child and Family Services (the “Director”) the power to intervene in the following circumstances:
a) the child has been abandoned or lost;
b) the guardian of the child is dead and the child has no other guardian;
c) the child is neglected by the guardian;
d) 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;
e) the guardian of the child is unable or unwilling to protect the child from physical injury or sexual abuse;
f) the child has been emotionally injured by the guardian of the child;
g) the guardian of the child is unable or unwilling to protect the child from emotional injury; and
h) 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.
*Emotional Injury is defined as impairment of a child’s mental or emotional functioning or development; and exposure to domestic violence, chronic alcohol or drug abuse within the household, rejection, neglect, deprivation of affection or cognitive stimulation, inappropriate criticism, humiliation, threats, accusations, or expectations of or towards a child, and a mentally ill or unstable or guardian(s) in the household.
The intervention will take one of four forms and can take place before or after apprehension. The possibilities are listed, in order of intrusiveness, below.
1. A Family Enhancement Agreement: This is a voluntary agreement between a guardian(s) and the Director. The child(ren) will likely reside with a guardian and the parents agree to specified terms.
2. Supervision Order: This is a court order. A supervision order can be put in place for up to 6 months. The child(ren) will reside with a guardian and the Director will monitor the situation. There will be a list of terms that the court will order the guardians to follow, usually based upon a checklist provided by the Director. As a guardian, you have the right to oppose this application in which case the matter shall go to trial.
3. Temporary Guardianship Order: To obtain/apply for this, the Director will have to obtain custody of your child(ren). Your child will reside in a foster home or in kinship placement. The court will grant this order if it believes, in conjunction with the Director, that the child can be returned to a guardian in a reasonable amount of time. A temporary guardianship order is typically for 6 months, although, it can be renewed. As a guardian you have the right to oppose this application, in which case the matter shall go to trial.
4. Permanent Guardianship Order: To obtain/apply for this, the Director will have to obtain custody of your child. Your child shall be placed in a foster home or in kinship placement. The Director, in making this application, is advising that they do not believe that the child(ren) can be returned to a guardian in a reasonable period of time. This is thus the most intrusive application and is not necessary that it be preceded by a temporary guardianship order. As a guardian, you may oppose this application, in which case it shall go to trial.
While the Director is involved, your life as a guardian will not be the same. You will be assigned a caseworker and a Child and Family services team that will be working on your file. You may also have a number of professionals (parenting assessors, collaborative mental health psychologists, domestic violence counsellors, in-home support, visit supervisors, pediatricians, psychologists, physicians, etc.) assessing, monitoring, and working with you. You may also have random drug tests.
It is essential that you remember that the professionals and/or experts are working to reunite you with your child(ren). Depending on the Director’s application, your child(ren) may reside in a foster home or in kinship placement. You will be allowed visits, either at your home, somewhere in the community, or in the caseworker’s office. These visits will be monitored by a visit supervisor; he or she will take notes and assess the parental skills that you display while interacting with your child(ren). You will be required to attend all of these assessments, visit your child(ren), and attend their medical appointments. You may also be faced with a daunting and emotionally taxing court process.
Should the matter go to trial, the Director will call the caseworker, and any number of other experts, who will go through their reports and findings. You will likely have to take the stand and be cross-examined. The Director must adhere to statutory timelines in ensuring that being returned to a guardian is in the child’s best interests. The court is looking to make sure that reunification is safe.
As a whole, this process can be quite overwhelming. Your new obligations will keep you very busy and cause immense emotional strain. As a guardian, you will be simultaneously scared, frustrated, hopeless, and grieved. It is thus prudent for you to obtain counsel who will help you navigate the court process and proceedings, review a disclosure potentially thousands of pages long, explain the options available to you, and assist you in reuniting with your child(ren).
As a former Crown Counsel with Alberta Justice, I, Sanjiv Parmar, practiced primarily in child welfare work and was the Director’s counsel for many files, court appearances, mediations, and trials. I am familiar with the law, processes, caseworkers, court workers, experts, counsel, and court. I am now back in private practice and work to reunite parents with their child(ren).
At Parmar Law, we practice in child welfare law, child representation, family law, criminal law, immigration law/refugee claims, employment law/human rights law, protection orders, and appeals.
*** The following is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. ***