As the accused in the Family Service data breach, and the mother of the young boy who took an independent walk, some may be wondering,
“So what happens when a possible child protection concern arises, while the child protection agency is the complainant in a high-profile criminal court proceeding against the parents?”
The answer, out-sourcing to a sister agency. Luckily (sort of), the problems with child welfare are systemic so knowing that absolutely nothing had changed, systemically, in the child welfare business, I had some idea of the fight I was up against. It hadn’t even been a year since the last time the agency withdrew from court.
So a child welfare investigation goes something like this;
A report/referral is kind of like a criminal charge. Though they don’t tell you this, everything you say can and will be used against you in family court.
Say you’ve had previous reports/referrals, malicious or not, the agency is mandated to perform a full investigation. A full child protection investigation, they say, will require you to sign consent forms that allow the agency to engage the family’s service providers.
But what if you know you are not a protection concern to your children? Do you have a right to remain silent, as you would with a criminal charge? The answer is unequivocally no. But you still don’t have to sign consents. No one can force you to sign anything. But if you refuse to sign, there is a good chance they will take you to family court. If you are up for the fight, here are some things to know;
Immediately, at the first sign of any involvement with a child protection agency, start collecting documentation about your children. It needs to be current and ideally from professionals. If the police were involved, do a Freedom of Information request promptly as it can take up to 30 days to get the police notes. This will become the evidence in your sworn affidavit, should the agency take you to court first. If you are served with a child protection application and/or motion, you need to file a response and swear an affidavit if you plan to dispute the case. This must be done before the first court appearance. If a motion has been filed, it is important to remember that a motion is different from the application. The motion will set out interim conditions, until the application is decided on. A motion can be disputed, but the time frame for doing that can be extremely limited.
During my last involvement with a child protection agency in October and November of this year, I was served a motion only seven days before its hearing. Since responding materials need to be served four days before the hearing/appearance, it left me only three days to complete and serve my affidavit. Even my lawyer told me I was unlikely to win but on Nov. 17 2016, the agency withdrew its motion and application and we were awarded legal costs in the amount of $750. Against all odds, I was able to prove my children were not in need of protection. Improbable, but not impossible.
Child protection work is important, hard and usually thankless work. It takes a very strong person to do it, and an almost super-human ability to be good at it. The problems with child welfare in Ontario are largely systemic, in that statistically driven guidelines can actually hurt the very unique children and families out there. It is important for parents to remember that they are the best advocates for their children, even when oppressive systems disagree. There is only one argument to ever make in a child protection matter, and that is what is in the best interest of your child.
The following letter was sent to local media after our two-year old son was found safe. They picked up the story which can be read here, http://www.insideottawavalley.com/news-story/6893980-parents-thank-smiths-falls-police-after-missing-son-found-safe/
I missed his first call. He called right back. I answer.
“He’s missing! The police are coming.” The panic in my husband’s voice tells me this is no joke. I race home. The police arrive minutes after me. My husband fills us all in.
“I had just gotten him ready to go pick up the other kids from school. I brought the stroller out the front door. I didn’t lock the door when I came back in. He was watching TV. I went to lock the back door. I got his shoes. He wasn’t watching TV anymore. I called him. I kept calling him. I started to search the house. Then it hit me. I didn’t lock the front door. He must have slipped out in the minutes it took to lock the back and get his shoes.”
I get back in my car. I’m panicking and it’s hard to think. I tell myself I can’t panic right now. Time is ticking. I need to act smart. I start to drive around the side streets of our quiet neighbourhood. I see one of the police officers that were at my house, parked a few blocks up the street. I pull up behind her. We talk and decide to start looking in backyards. She goes one way and I go the other way. I’m yelling my son’s name and going into backyards. Some people come out of their houses and ask what’s going on. I tell them, and everyone I meet on the street to look for my son.
“My son is missing! He’s two! If you see him, grab him and call the police!” Panic starts to set in again. My mind is flooded with all kinds of horrible scenarios. I freeze. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I just keep yelling his name and looking.
I hear a faint voice I recognize. I start running. I get to another side street and look up it. I see a neighbour about a block up the street, and behind her, another block up, I see what looks to be the police officer carrying my son. I run to them.
From the worst feeling ever, to the best. My son was back in my arms.
It happens to a lot of parents. I remember doing it to mine. It happens so fast. As in any crisis, thinking calmly and rationally is your best defence against danger.
I would like to thank the Smiths Falls Police Service for all their hard work and quick response in helping us find our baby. I would also like to thank all of our neighbours who came out and helped look, and everyone who came out of their house to see what was wrong and help. Today, I am more Smiths Falls proud than ever before. This is a wonderful community and safe place to live, where neighbours are never strangers and no one ever hesitates to help when they can.