Complaints Against The Children's Aid Society

By Lynn Kirwin

Nobody listens to me!

If my grandchild needs protection, why won’t the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (the Society) do something? 

The biological mother and father hold greater rights than grandparents in child protection laws or custody/access disputes.  As a grandparent, (unless you also qualify as a parent) you are entitled to be informed of the reasons for a decision made by the Society, but you are not entitled to have a voice in decisions made by the Society about your grandchild.  Complaints against the Society and the right to be heard in decisions affecting the care of a child are typically reserved to parents.

A parent can initiate a complaint against the Society by following a procedure governed by Ontario Regulation 496/06.  The complaint must be in writing. 

Within 7 days of receiving the complaint, the Society will determine if it is eligible for review. If deemed ineligible, the Society must inform you of the decision and the reasons in writing. 

If it is eligible for review, you will be notified by the Society and provided with a date and time for a hearing by an Internal Complaints Review Panel (ICRP).  The members of the ICRP are selected by the Executive Director of the Society and include a senior manager from the Society, other Society staff and at least one person who is external to the Society.  No person selected as a member of the ICRP has been directly involved with the complaint on review. The ICRP meeting must be held within 14 days of the date provided in the written notice or meeting time requested by you. You may bring along a support person. 

Within 14 days after the meeting The ICRP will send a written summary of the results within 14 days after the meeting, including any agreed upon next steps to you. If you are not satisfied with the response, you may apply to the Child and Family Services Review Board (CFSRB).

According to the Child and Family Services Act, the Society must ensure that families have the opportunity to be heard and represented when concerns over services and decisions arise.

The CFSRB may review decisions made by Societies where the right to be heard was not provided. The concept of ‘being heard’ is described by the Board as: active listening, discussions and the Society actively taking the steps needed to address concerns and communicating so that you feel your concerns were taken seriously.

The CFSRB may also review allegations that the Society has failed to provide you with reasons for a decision that affects your interests. What constitutes sufficient reasons is examined on a case-by-case basis. Information on what factors were taken into account to arrive at a decision must be provided.

When the Society makes a decision regarding a complaint, it must provide you with reasons for the decision. This is mandatory for parents and for non-parents. You may appeal to the Board if you feel the reasons are insufficient, and you can go directly to the Board if the Society failed to provide sufficient reasons. The Board may then order the Society to provide a detailed written explanation.

The Board will not hear your complaint about a child’s care if you are a grandparent that does not qualify as a parent (a person who has been provided services by the Society.)

If you are a parent seeking to complain about the Society’s decision regarding the care of the child ‒ such as a placement decision or a failure to investigate decision ‒ then reference should be made to the Society’s obligation to fulfill its mandate within prescribed standards.

Under Ontario Regulation 206/00, the following mandatory obligations must be carried out by the Society upon the receipt of a referral: Within 24 hours of receiving information that a child is or may be in need of protection, a Society shall, if the decision made that a child protection investigation should be initiated, determine, in accordance with the Child Protection Standards, the time within which a child protection worker should first meet with the child and family who are the subject of the investigation.

The tool mandated for the response assessment is the Eligibility Spectrum. Based on the way a matter is “coded,” the response time will be either 24 hours or 7 days. If a matter is coded above the intervention line, an investigation is needed and if not, there is no need for an investigation.

Regulation 206/00 under the CFSA prescribes standards for social workers in conducting investigations.  The Society worker must develop an investigation plan after reviewing all current and historical information about the child and family.

As part of the investigation, each family member will be individually interviewed. Any additional children in the home will be interviewed and observed. The Society and/or police will interview the alleged perpetrator. 

Next, if there is to be ongoing involvement, then a safety assessment must be conducted. The family and extended family will help to identify safety threats to be included in the safety assessment. A safety plan will be developed and implemented and then monitored.    The safety plan should not solely rely on reports by the clients or on the client’s promises to change their behaviour.

Next, the Society must assess future risk of harm by conducting risk assessment.  This risk assessmentis a vehicle to engage families in defining problems, identifying what needs to change and working towards a concrete goal-child safety.

Concluding a child protection investigation requires the Society to determine whether original or new child protection concerns have been verified, not verified or are inconclusive.  It also examines if a child is in need of protection, if a child and/or family requires ongoing services, if all reasonable efforts have been made to collect evidence and if a continued investigation would yield new information.  The child and the person alleged to have caused the need for protection are to be advised of the outcome of the investigation within 14 days of completion. 

Service obligations between a parent and the Society do not cease when active court proceedings are in progress. Rather, they are different and run parallel to the proceedings. If your lawyer receives a letter from the Society, this is not sufficient. This does not replace the Society’s obligation with regard to communication and engagement of parents in the decision regarding their child’s care. 

If the Society worker has failed to abide by the Standards, the only way for you to be heard is to follow the procedure outlined above.

We can help you should you have concerns with how you have been treated by the Society.

Written by Lynn Kirwin, a lawyer at Galbraith Family Law. Here is Lynn's profile.  To book a consultation with Lynn, please go to our website.

Divorce Fears

By Thea Cameron, Lawyer

Separation and Divorce: these words bring up feelings of pain, disappointment, fear, and uncertainty.   Are you worried about the way this will impact your children, and what the financial implications will be - How will my children cope? Can I afford to stay in the home?  This is normal.  You don’t want to be the next casualty of divorce.

I have seen firsthand many families destroyed by a messy divorce. It especially saddens me to see kids caught in the middle.

The good news is that there is a way for couples to “divorce with dignity”.   By using Collaborative Practice you will keep your personal life out of court.  How?  Simply put, everyone involved agrees to negotiate outside of court.  Family counsellors and financial specialists give you the tools to make lasting decisions unique to your family.  In this way, Collaborative Practice enables you to avoid the stress, expense, animosity and unpredictability of court.   The lawyers at Galbraith Family Law are trained in this process and are committed to helping you resolve your issues quickly, effectively and with the least amount of pain possible. We give you the information and support you need to find your way to a resolution.

Written by Thea Cameron, a lawyer at Galbraith Family Law. Here is Thea's profile. To book a consultation with Thea, please go to our website.


Reducing Family Conflict

 “We don’t agree on much, but we want to protect the kids”

By Toni Nieuwhof

Does this sound familiar?  Parental conflict in a family may be high whether you’re separating, living separate and apart under the same roof, or working through conflict as a married couple.  And it comes as no surprise to you that the emotional health and well-being of your children is affected by out-of-control conflict under any of the above scenarios. 

Depending on the personalities of you and your spouse, and the norms of the families you grew up in, it may be difficult to hold yourselves back from arguments- gone- bad – from mud-slinging, name-calling and other forms of verbal attack.  Both of you may have perfectly rational reasons for the positions you’re defending.  The problem is that as you battle it out, the children at are risk of being saddled with emotional harm that will impact their lives, now and even as adults.

How do you protect the kids when you’re in the middle of conflict with your spouse?  There is no one answer to this question, but you may find the following suggestions helpful;

1.  Make a mutual commitment to behavior change:

To make a commitment means that you both acknowledge the problem as being real.  No more denial or excuses.  You both commit to each other to protect the children.  As a sign of the level of your commitment to your kids, you may want to write out your agreement and your strategies, and date and sign it, to refer back to if and when the going gets tough.

2.  Get professional advice:

Often people resist the idea of having a marriage counsellor or other family professional involved in their personal affairs.  They see it as a sign of weakness or of mental health issues.  Let’s face it – human nature being what it is, and dysfunctional relationships surfacing in virtually every extended family – professionals who are trained to help people overcome emotional struggles and to diagnose unhealthy emotional responses and communication patterns can be extremely helpful.  The ability to seek help from someone who is specially trained, and to be teachable in the sense of applying what that professional teaches, is a life skill and an important strength.

3.  Agree to disagree – then get help:

There are some issues you may honestly disagree on, and in and of itself, having various viewpoints can be helpful.  When conflict leads us to refine a course of action and improve it, the conflict is proven to be positive. But the conflict process, if handled poorly, may be damaging to each other and the kids.  Perhaps you’ve reached an impasse on a financial matter or a behavior issue of a child.  If you cannot agree on the course of action and the conflict deteriorates into a yelling match, then recognize the issue.  It is okay to agree to disagree.  Focus on the ‘attacking’ the problem but not each other.  Seek out a third party whose opinion you both respect, and look for solutions with that person.   If you have to pay for an appointment with an advisor to help the two of you agree on a course of action, look at it as a wise investment.

4.  Physically separate the kids from the conflict:

If you find other measures haven’t worked to contain conflict and an argument is inevitable, at least be mindful of protecting the kids.  Mutually agree that you will keep your voices low (if you can manage this!) and go to another room.  Get a babysitter and take the dispute away from home. Go somewhere they cannot hear you.  Don’t assume kids are asleep when they are in bed.

5.  Continue to support each other in front of your kids

Research shows that children are better off with healthy relationships with, and respect for, both parents.  Anything you say that denigrates the other parent in front of your kids may negatively impact their relationship with that parent.  In extreme cases, it may cause the kids to turn against or reject the other parent. When you hurt the other parent, you are hurting your kids.  You have to ask yourself – do you want that?  If the answer is ‘yes’, then see number 2 above.

6.  Clear space in your life for problem-solving and self-care

People are only designed to carry a day’s worth of problems at a time.  If you can identify several problems needing your attention, then you’ll need to look at your calendar going forward to ensure you have time to deal with them.  Be sure to build in time to care for yourself as well. Take care of the three basics – diet, sleep and exercise.  It’s important to build a little bit of ‘awesome’ into your day, especially when you’re dealing with tough, emotional issues.  Make sure you have a few friends or family members who you can share your experiences with as you work to resolve the conflict.

Written by Toni Nieuwhof, a lawyer at Galbraith Family Law. Here is Toni's profile. To book a consultation with Toni, please go to our website. 

Custody: Sole, Parallel, Shared, Split - What Does It Mean?

Are you confused by the different types of custody? You are not alone.  Most people find the terms confusing. 

Many people think joint custody means the children spend equal time with both parents. Actually it means that the parents make decisions together. It has nothing to do with the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Day-to-day decisions are made by the parent in whose care the children are at the time. Major decisions such as those affecting the children's health, recreational activities, religious training and education are made together. For example, the parents do not discuss daily homework assignments but they should discuss whether to change the children's school. 

Effective co-parents discuss problems with the children's education, milestones, upcoming assignments and events. The degree of communication is up to you.

Sole custody means that one parent makes the major decisions. Of course, consultation with the other parent is usually wise as it keeps both parents feeling involved but if the parents cannot speak to each other respectfully, it may be limited. The other parent has a right to information about the children from all educators, health care providers and others involved in the children's lives.

Parallel custody is another type of decision making. In parallel custody the decision making is divided between the parents. For example, one parent may make the health care and educational decisions whereas the other parent may make the recreational activity and religious decisions. The purpose of parallel custody is to minimize the need for the parents to communicate but to keep both highly involved in the parenting. In reality, I'm not sure if it works. Sounds awkward or artificial somehow.

Shared custody is not about the decision making process but rather is based on the children's schedule: the children are with each parent about equal time. This can have implications on the amount of child support paid. To learn more about the impact on child support read this article.

Are you confused yet? One more term to go.

In split custody arrangements each parent has at least one child in their primary care and they usually have access to the other children who reside primarily with the other parent. Often the arrangement is that the children are together on weekends alternating between their parents' homes but they live separately during the week with one or more with each parent.

These legal terms are important but what is more important is that you and your ex find a way to parent peacefully, keeping the best interests of the children paramount.

Deciding Whether to Vaccinate for H1N1

We are experiencing a pandemic of H1N1 influenza worldwide. As a result, governments around the world are asking everyone H1N1 vaccineto become vaccinated. Kysa Crusco of New Hampshire has recently done an excellent blog about this issue from an American perspective.

Parents everywhere are wondering  "should I vaccinate my child?"  My own opinion is that the benefits to yourself and society far outweigh the risks. I believe you should bare the long lines and get it done.

I recommend you read more about the issue. The Simcoe County Health Unit has an excellent website with information about clinics in the Barrie area and other information about the issue. I especially like the fact sheet. The Government of Canada also has a great website with information about H1N1 too.

I believe that all of us should become vaccinated, not only to protect ourselves from illness but to minimize the spread of the virus to other people, some of whom might die from it. I feel it is my obligation to the Canadian society to be immunized even though the likelihood of a serious bout of flu is minimal. In fact, I believe so strongly about this issue, I have given my staff up to five hours off work with pay so that they can get their H1N1 vaccination shot, should they choose to do so.

That's my opinion but vaccination is voluntary. You have to decide for yourself and your children whether to get vaccinated.

If you are separated or divorced, you should consult with your ex spouse before making this type of decision. That is, if your ex has any involvement in the children's lives and you can discuss issues without a battle.

I always remind my clients ACBD: "Always Consult Before Deciding".

If you share joint custody with your ex, you have an obligation to make all major decisions affecting your children together. This includes major medical decisions.

Whether to vaccinate your child is a "major decision" requiring you to discuss it  and decide with your co-parent, if you share joint custody. 

I suggest you call or email your ex and offer these links so your ex can become informed too. Avoid it becoming a power struggle. Stick to the facts and the best interests of your children.

Even if you don't share joint custody, it is a good idea to consult with your ex before proceeding so that your ex spouse feels involved. Your children benefit from having two involved parents and participation in decision-making helps make a parent feel involved.

If you believe that consulting with your ex will lead to a battle and you have sole custody, you can make the decision alone. It is important to minimize conflict, for your children's sake, so avoid the conversation.

Now... go wash your hands and try to stay healthy!