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child protection/removal

Hot Off the Press — If Your Child Is Taken: Your Rights as a Parent

If-Your-Child-Is-Taken-28-lssWe’ve reprinted this popular brochure that explains about child protection law and what parents or guardians can do if the Director of Child Protection removes their child or is planning to remove their child from the home. It also includes where to get legal help. We made minor revisions to describe how to work out an agreement and about the court process. The previous version (March 2013) is still legally accurate and is also available in French online.

If Your Child Is Taken in English is available in print and online. Order from Crown Publications.

Hot off the press: Understanding Child Protection Mediation for Aboriginal Families

Understanding-Child-Protection-Mediation-for-Aboriginal-Families-451-lssWe have a new fact sheet in the Aboriginal child protection fact sheet series: Understanding Child Protection Mediation for Aboriginal Families. This fact sheet is for Aboriginal parents who are involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It explains in plain language what parents’ rights are during a child protection investigation – including the right to ask for a mediator to help them work with the ministry. The fact sheet also explains how mediation works, how it can help Aboriginal families, how mediation can meet the unique cultural needs of Aboriginal families, and how to find a mediator.

See our Aboriginal publications page for a complete list of the Aboriginal child protection fact sheets.

My day in BC’s First Nations Court

Picture courtesy of Courthouse Libraries BC

A few months ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a session at BC’s First Nations Court (FNC). It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Despite working for legal aid for a while now, I don’t have much experience with courtrooms. I realize it’s not like Law and Order in real life, but that doesn’t stop me from hearing the theme song whenever I pass by the courthouse. So, the FNC was a splash of cold (refreshing!) water.

The first thing you notice when you enter the room is that it’s not your traditional court set up. Instead of facing off against each other, the judge, Crown counsel, defendant, and others sit around a horseshoe-shaped conference table. This alternate setting is representative of the court as a whole.

FNC can be used by anyone who self-identifies as Aboriginal — status or non-status, First Nations, Metis, or Inuit, living on or off reserve — and who has or will plead guilty to, or has been found guilty of, a crime. The court is there only for sentencing and follow-up. It takes a more holistic and restorative approach to justice, one that respects and values Aboriginal culture and supports Aboriginal communities. (Editor’s note: FNC may also hear cases related to child protection in some circumstances.)

This means the judge, Crown counsel, community members, and family work with the individual and the lawyer to find a healing plan — a plan to address the root causes of the crime and help the accused, the community, and the victim move on. Succeeding as a result of a healing plan is not a sure thing, however. You have to show real commitment to improving yourself and taking part in the program to take advantage of FNC.

For example, one of the cases I saw was a young man who had pleaded guilty to assaulting his step-father. He explained that his step-father had been abusive to him and his mother in the past. One night, after an argument, he assaulted his step-father. As he explained what had happened, he displayed genuine regret over his actions. He then went on to talk about how he was attending anger management sessions.

After he spoke, his mother told everyone about his childhood and her relationship with the step-father. It was powerful to watch; at one point, she began to cry, which caused her son to cry. I don’t think there was a single person in the room who didn’t experience some chest-tightening.

After she had spoken, the rest of the participants were given a chance to speak. At every session of the court, a council of elders also attends to give support. A few of the elders stood up to offer information on different programs that they thought might help him deal with his issues.

This session wasn’t the end for him, however. The judge ordered that he come back in a month to report on his progress and finalize his healing plan. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be back too.

You can find more information on First Nations Court, as well as about Aboriginal legal issues and services, by visiting www.legalaid.bc.ca/aboriginal.

Nate Prosser is the online outreach coordinator at LSS.

Hot off the press: Understanding the Extended Family Program

Understanding the Extended Family Program is a new fact sheet for parents and caregivers. Part of the Aboriginal Child Protection Fact Sheet Series, the fact sheet explains in plain language how the Extended Family Program provides an alternative to foster care by allowing children to be placed in the care of family or friends if their parents are temporarily unable to care for them. The fact sheet provides information about:

  • who can become a caregiver,
  • what’s involved in setting up an Extended Family Program agreement,
  • how long children can stay with their caregiver under an Extended Family Program agreement, and
  • where parents and caregivers can go for more information and support.

The fact sheet also highlights that parents have the right to get a lawyer if they’re being investigated for a child protection matter, and includes space for parents to write down important information about their case.

Change to eligibility for shelter benefits when a child is removed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development

A policy change by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) will help parents who receive welfare benefits and whose children have been removed by the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) due to alleged child protection concerns. This change took effect on May 3, 2011.

Under the new policy, the family’s shelter rate will continue to include the children as part of the family unit (even though they are temporarily living outside the home). The shelter rate will include the children until either:

  • an MCFD social worker advises MSD that the parent is no longer actively working toward the return of the child; or
  • a continuing custody order is made in regard to the children (i.e., the child is placed in the permanent custody of MCFD).

Before this policy change, shelter benefits would include the children only if MCFD confirmed they would be returned to the parent’s care within 3 months. This meant many parents had to move into smaller, cheaper places that were often not appropriate for children to be returned to and children were kept in foster care longer, impeding family reunification.

Our thanks to Alison Ward, lawyer at the Community Legal Assistance Society, for providing the above entry.

Screening expanded to all Child in the Home of a Relative (CIHR) program recipients

Effective September 1, 2011, families who receive benefits from the Ministry of Social Development through the Child in the Home of a Relative (CIHR) Program, and who started to receive CIHR benefits before 2007 will be required to undergo screening checks. In 2007, the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) introduced screening for all new CIHR applicants. Families who were already receiving CIHR benefits were exempt. The ministry recently reviewed this decision, and added screening for all families receiving CIHR benefits as a precautionary step to help ensure that no children are being put at risk.

Under the new screening requirements, each person age 18 or over living in a home that receives CIHR benefits must provide written consent for MCFD to conduct screening checks (unless that person has been screened before). Two kinds of checks will be done:

  • a Prior Contact Check: this check reviews any contact the adult may have had with either MCFD or a Delegated Aboriginal Agency; and
  • a criminal record check

If another adult (aged 18 or over) moves into the home or another child in the home turns 18, that person must agree to be screened by MCFD for continued CIHR eligibility.

MCFD will use the information obtained by these checks to decide whether the household poses any evidence of risk to the child on whose behalf CIHR benefits are paid.

Families must participate in the screening process to continue to receive CIHR benefits. Caregivers who agree to the screening will continue to receive CIHR benefits as long as the child remains in their home.

The ministry says that screening will begin with families caring for the youngest and most vulnerable children, and that they plan to complete the screening process by March 2012.

This change in policy affects families caring for approximately 1,800 children and youth in BC. Affected families will receive letters notifying them of the new policy and requesting that they fill out consent forms agreeing to both kinds of checks.

For more information about changes to the CIHR policy, and about the Extended Family Program (the program that replaces CIHR for all new applicants), please visit the BC government website.

Our thanks to Alison Ward, Community Advocate Support Line lawyer at the Community Legal Assistance Society for providing the above entry.

Hot off the press from LSS: Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights

Parents' Rights, Kids' RightsThis revised seventh (2010) edition of Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights updates and expands on the content in the previous (August 2007) edition (which remains correct). The 2010 booklet:

  • Explains what can happen if the director of Children and Family Development has concerns about a child’s safety or is planning to remove a child from the family home
  • Describes current approaches used in making child protection decisions (presumption in favour policy and collaborative decision-making methods) and what can be decided at presentation and protection hearings
  • Includes a new chapter on the child protection process for Aboriginal children and families, with a two-page flow chart and page number references to explanations of steps in the booklet
  • Also includes a redesigned flow chart for the (non-Aboriginal) child protection process (similar to the recently released poster) also with page number references
  • Concludes with an updated and expanded list of resources (services, websites, publications) to further help readers and a new section of definitions for terms used in the publication

With its improved content and broader scope, the revised Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights will continue to help you in dealing with child protection issues.

To order free printed copies, please visit the Crown Publications website.

Hot off the press from LSS

The Child Protection Process in British Columbia

Child Protection Process Poster

This redesigned flowchart, taken from Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights and now available in print for the first time, provides a step-by-step overview of the child protection process. The flowchart uses shapes and colours to guide the reader through the process, from initial investigation to protection hearing:

  • ovals represent “start or finish”;
  • diamonds represent “decisions”; and
  • rounded rectangles represent “steps.”

The clear graphic presentation will help lawyers and advocates explain the child protection process to parents who are dealing with this issue. This flow chart will also appear in the next edition of Parents’ Rights, Kids’ Rights, expected out in the spring.