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.