Child Welfare Representation
Involvement with Alberta Child and Family Services (“Child Welfare”) is usually a stressful and difficult time for families.
When Child Welfare believes that a child is in need of protection from the child’s parents or other guardians, and a Court order is required to protect the child, Child Welfare may bring an application to the Court to apprehend the child. The application is made without notice to the parents.
The Child Welfare case worker first obtains an Apprehension Order from a Judge of the Provincial Family Court. No notice is required to the guardians / parents.
If the time required to make an application would result in the child being at risk, the Child Welfare case worker may act to protect the child first, and seek a Court order afterward.
When a child has been apprehended, Child Welfare must, within two (2) days, either return the child to her parent or guardian, or apply for Initial Custody of the child, and must as well apply for a Temporary or Permanent Guardianship Order.
The legislation (the Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act or CYFEA) has strict guidelines about giving parents notice of Court applications.
At an Initial Custody Hearing (required to occur within 42 days of the first Court appearance), the onus is on Child Welfare to establish that on credible and trustworthy evidence that there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that there is a real possibility that if the child is returned to her parents, it is more probable than not that the child will suffer harm.
If an alternate family or community member is proposed as the caregiver by the parents, notice of this plan should be brought to Child Welfare’s attention as soon as possible as it may take some time for Child Welfare to assess the plan and the proposed kinship caregiver. Proposing an alternate family member at this stage does not mean that the parents are acknowledging that they cannot care for the child. The parents’ position may well be that they wish the return of the child, but in the event that is not the outcome, there is an alternate plan available. This approach can reduce delay if it becomes obvious that the child cannot be safely returned to the parents’ care. It is generally also best for the child to live temporarily with someone they know and are comfortable with.
Parents should generally be able to see their children, often supervised at first, and usually at first in an office setting. The visits are scheduled by Child Welfare, and each visit results in a report of what happens.
What you can do when Child Welfare becomes involved.
- Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible
- If the director removes your child from your home or you think this may happen, talk to a lawyer right away. A lawyer can help you work out an agreement with the director for your child’s care, explain papers you’re asked to sign, and go to court for you.
If you disagree with a decision made by Child Welfare during proceedings…
You can request that they review their decision. See the link on the Links page.
Examples of decisions you disagree with:
- How often or how you see your child.
- Where your child is placed (eg. Foster home vs. kinship care.)
- For foster parents — having your foster child removed from your home, having your license suspended or revoked.
Foster parents are trained at different levels and provide care to children that have been removed from their families.
Foster parents can:
- Request administrative reviews;
- Request legal representation for a child or youth in their care through LRCY;
- In certain circumstances, apply for guardianship of a foster child that has been in their care.
An Act Respecting…
On January 1st, 2020, federal legislation came into effect, An Act Respecting First Nations, Indigenous, and Métis Children, Youth, and Families.
This legislation, among other things:
- Affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services.
- Establishes national principles such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality.
- Contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Provides an opportunity for Indigenous peoples to choose their own solutions for their children and families.
Its interpretation in Alberta is still ongoing.
In Canada, 52.2% of children in foster care are Indigenous, but account for only 7.7% of the child population according to Census 2016. This means 14,970 out of 28,665 foster children in private homes under the age of 15 are Indigenous.
Results from the 2011 National Household Survey also show that 38% of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty, compared to 7% for non-Indigenous children.