Children’s Aid Society: What to do when they call
It can be terrifying to have the Children’s Aid Society show up at your home saying they are investigating child abuse or whether you are a satisfactory parent. Child and family services do not do spot checks on parents, so if you did not invite them, someone has given the agency information that there is a problem with your parenting, or that you are abusing your kids. When they are investigating child abuse or child neglect, child protection workers have a lot of powers to get information from people, do searches and even taken kids away immediately. The social worker may be trying to get information from you to prove that you are not caring for your children appropriately so that the children’s aid society can take the kids away. However, unlike in criminal proceedings, you do not necessarily have the right to remain silent. In fact, if you refuse to speak to the social worker, or you do not let your kids speak to the social worker alone, then that can be used as a basis to take the kids away on the assumption you are hiding something.
First impressions matter a lot in child protection investigations. If you make a bad first impression, the child protective services may stay in your life for a long time, even if they can’t find anything, just because they are suspicious of you. If you make a really good first impression, the agency may go away and not bother doing a complete investigation. Here are some tips about what to do if you hear from a children’s aid society that they are investigating you:
1. Call a child protection lawyer
If you have a chance before the worker shows up at your house, look for a lawyer that practices child protection law/does children’s aid society cases. This area of law is very different from family law or criminal law. If you treat a child protections clerk the same way you might treat a police officer, you will get yourself in trouble. Each child protection case is unique so you need specific advice from a lawyer on your specific circumstances. Getting a lawyer involved early can make a huge difference. Having a lawyer to challenge the CAS on taking your kids away right away gives you the best chance of getting the kids back quickly. For more on that, see this article.
2. Do not refuse to speak to or meet with the child protection worker.
If you refuse to meet with them, you look like you have something to hide. The worker will be very suspicious. You do not have the right to remain silent – unless you may be facing criminal charges. If someone has alleged that you have assaulted or sexually molested your children, the children’s aid society will be working closely with the police. They will report everything you say to the police, and the police and the criminal courts may use those statements against you. If that is the case, then you need to put off discussing those allegations until you have spoken with a lawyer, because that is a very difficult situation that requires careful planning to keep your kids with you and you out of jail.
3. Make sure your house is clean, tidy and kid-friendly.
This is part of making a good first impression. If your house is a mess or disorganized, you look like you are having difficulty coping and that concerns children’s aid workers. If your house is reasonably tidy, then you look “on top of things” and that indicates to the worker that you have your life together enough to parent. Children’s aid society workers also want to see that the house is “baby-proofed” or “kid proofed”, meaning that electrical outlets are covered, poisons are locked out of reach, stairs are blocked off for young children, the house has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, there are no safety hazards in the house and nothing else poses a physical danger to the children. They want to see that there is adequate and appropriate food in the house. It is also important to have age appropriate toys and learning activities in the home. Finally, child protection workers look to see if there is evidence of a happy family life such as photographs, souvenirs and memento’s that show the family has a close and loving relationship with each other. Finally, child protection workers are required to see the children’s rooms to make sure they are appropriately furnished and have all the things necessary based on the children’s ages. It can make the worker much more comfortable and at ease if you offer him or her a tour of the house rather than them having to ask. That shows that you are proud of and take care of your home and that you have nothing to hide.
4. Be very nice to the child protection worker.
In fact, go out of your way to be nice to the worker and thank the worker for being concerned about your children. This not like dealing with the police, where you have no obligation to help them out. Children’s aid societies, judges, and other professionals who may become involved expect you to cooperate with the children’s aid society because everyone will assume that everyone’s goal should be to work together to do what is best for the kids. If you are not willing to “work together”, child protection workers may think your children’s best interests are not important to you, and perhaps that you care so little for your children that you might harm them. Further, if the children’s aid society does not think it “can work with you,” it may take your kids away because it thinks it cannot protect them in your care, or the agency may take you to court to get court orders to force you to do things. In addition, if the child protection worker does not like you, he or she may proceed with the highest level of intervention with your family that the children’s aid society can get away with. It is very important to be nice. If someone has to be mean to the children’s aid society or force the agency to play by the rules, hire a lawyer to do that for you so that you can stay on the child protection worker’s good side. It will make your life much easier.
5. Let the child protection worker speak with your kids alone.
This is covered in more detail on this page. As part of their investigation, children’s aid society workers have the right to speak to your kids, without you present, if they are investigating abuse or neglect by you. Your child can have a lawyer present, but that request had to come from your child – not from you and not from you through your child. Again, if you do not allow the children to speak to the worker, there will be a suspicion that you are trying to “cover up” something. And, the worker will just go to your child’s school, day care, or activities and speak to your child there instead. It can cause you serious problems if the worker thinks you “put words in your kid’s mouth”, so it is best not to tell your children what to say to the worker and only tell them to “relax and be honest.”
6. Speak to a lawyer before signing anything.
Ideally, you all speak to a lawyer before you meet with the worker to go over what you should and should not sign. If you refuse to sign certain things, it will look like you have something to hide. In most cases, although you should check with a lawyer, it will be OK to sign authorizations to allow the children’s aid society to speak to doctors, teachers, activity leaders and similar professionals because they can speak to those people anyway as part of a child protection investigation – the authorizations just make it easier for them. So, unless there is a good reason to delay the children’s aid society getting that information for a short time, there is usually no harm in singing. However, you do NOT want to sign any sort of “agreement” with the children’s aid society because that agreement can take away a lot of your rights. You should never sign any sort of contract or agreement without speaking to a lawyer to make sure you understand what it is that you are signing. If you are not absolutely certain you know what you are signing and what it fully means and what it lets the CAS do, speak to a child protection lawyer.
7. Ask for file disclosure
unless the worker leaves after the meeting saying that the agency intends to close its file. If the investigation is on-going, you are entitled to see the children’s aid society’s file on you. That can be important for several reasons. First, it lets you know what, specifically, they are investigating, so you will know what they are looking for. Second, it lets you see what they are basing their concerns on, so you can address them. Third, it may let you know the easiness in their investigation. Finally, if the CAS is taking you to court, or taking your kids, then you may get a lot of very useful information to challenge their case in court. Many children’s aid societies are slow releasing their file. However, you are entitled to see it if the investigation is on-going. Often it helps to have a lawyer involved who can assert your rights in this regard as lawyers can be harder for a children’s aid society to push around.
8. Do not assume that the children’s aid society is happy until you get a letter saying they have closed their file.
The investigation is on-going until you get a letter that says it has stopped. The child protection workers may be less visible for a while, so they watch from a distance to see if you do things wrong. Also, know that once a children’s aid society has investigated you, even if they found nothing wrong, the children’s aid society puts your name in a database that other Ontario children’s aid societies can access if they come into contact with you. This allows the agencies to see if similar concerns are repeatedly reported. So, you need to stay on your best behavior after a visit from a child protection worker.
There may be additional things that you should do if a children’s aid society is investigating you. These additional steps depend on your, and your children’s, circumstances. It is always a good idea to speak to a child protection lawyer whenever a children’s aid society is doing an investigation of you or your children so that you can take the most appropriate steps to protect yourself and kept your family together.
Our Team of Expert Child Protection Lawyers
John Schuman and his team are experienced Toronto child protection lawyers. For more than 14 years, John has acted for parents, foster parents, prospective adoptive parents, children’s aid societies, First Nations (called “bands” in the Child and Family Services Act), and government agencies in child protection proceedings and child protection related matters. He has argued CAS cases before every level of court in Ontario, including obtaining precedent setting appeal decisions like this one and this one. John’s expertise on child protection matters has been sought out by clients around the world.
John’s principal child protection clerk has been doing child protection cases for more than ten years and has a thorough understanding of how children’s aid societies work and the challenges parents face in these cases. The lawyers who work with John on these cases also have extensive training and experience in child protection matters.
John and his team are quick to act in child protection cases to prevent the children from being lost in “limbo,” while their knowledge of the area allows them to be thorough and ensure that all parties fulfill their responsibilities. John’s team also provides advice direction to clients about what to do out of the courtroom to make the most favourable impression on judges and succeed in the courtroom. Unfortunately, the rapid and comprehensive approach taken by John and his team does not work well within the Legal Aid Framework. We are not able to accept legal aid certificates on these matters and our initial retainers start at $7500.00, which allows our team to focus quickly on your case and do what needs to be done rapidly – usually before the first court appearance. If you are not able to afford that retainer, we have two suggestions : 1) book a consultation with us (using the form below) for $295.00 + HST, or get a copy of Johns book for under $20.00, which explains Ontario child protection proceedings and gives advice on how to get what you want in child protection court.