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Rochelle is 14 years old. She lives with her mother, father, and her younger sister, Georgia. Rochelle’s father lost his job a year ago and has been struggling to get back on his feet. They are currently receiving social assistance, but the family only receives about $1200 a month. After paying their $900 rent each month, there is not much money left for food. Sometimes Rochelle and her sister go to school without a lunch. One day, Rochelle’s teacher noticed a bruise on her arm. When she asked her about it, Rochelle said she fell off her bike. Her teacher also noticed that Rochelle and her sister often did not eat at lunch. Her teacher was worried about Rochelle and her sister, so she called the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).
The Children’s Aid Society is responsible for protecting children under the age of 16 from harm. It also works with families to help take better care of their children.
The law in Ontario requires that members of the public, including professionals who work with children (i.e. teachers) must report any suspicions that a child is or may be in need of protection to the CAS. The law defines the phrase “child in need of protection” and sets out what must be reported to a children’s aid society, which includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and risk of harm. In this case, Rochelle’s teacher had a duty to report her suspicions of abuse (bruise on Rochelle’s arm) and neglect (lack of food).
Once contacted, the CAS will do an initial screening of the report. The CAS worker will take some steps to decide whether CAS needs to become involved. If the CAS worker decides that the children are well cared for, then it may decide not to become involved. After the first step, screening, the CAS may decide to do a child protection investigation. If this happens, the CAS worker will visit the family’s home and talk to the family. They may also talk to other people, such as teachers or neighbours. At the end of the investigation, they CAS worker may decide that the children are not in need of protection, and no further action will be taken. If, however, the CAS decides that the children are in need of protection, they will take steps to make sure the children are safe. This can include working with the family to try to address the issues and problems the family is facing. If the CAS feels there is no other way to keep the children safe, it can remove, or apprehend, the children.
After the children are initially removed from their home, the CAS must go to court within five days to have what is called a child protection proceeding. A judge will then decide what happens next and make a temporary order as to where the children should live while the case is being worked out. If the judge says the children must be removed from their home, they can be placed with another family member or friend if it is safe and appropriate to do so. If this is not possible, the children will be placed in residential care, which could be a group home or a foster home. What happens next will depend on many different factors. Child protection proceedings can be complicated and involve many different steps. For more information on child protection proceedings in court, check out this booklet.
If you are a child and have been removed from your home, you have rights, which include the following:
a. You have the right to a plan of care. This plan describes:
• What you need,
• What you and the staff are trying to do, and
• What you and the staff are trying to do, and
• How you and the staff are trying to meet your needs. You have the right to take part in making and changes to it.
b. You have the right to take part in making important decisions about your care. These decisions include medical treatment, education, religion, ending or transferring your placement.
c. You have the right to speak with and visit members of your family on a regular basis except when there is a court order which says otherwise.
d. You have the right to speak to and receive visits from your lawyer, an adult person representing you, the Ombudsman, or the Office of the Child and Family Service Advocate.
e. You have the right not to be punished physically.
f. You have the right to proper food and clothing.
g. You have the right to proper medical and dental care.
h. You have the right to proper education.
i. You have the right to participate in sports and recreation programs.
j. Within reasonable limits you a have the right to privacy and to your personal property.
k. You have the right to receive and send mail. Your mail cannot be kept from you and usually should not be read by anyone else. If the person looking after you believes that the mail you are sending or receiving is harmful to you or others, they may open it. Your mail to or from your lawyer may not be read.
l. You have the right to be told of the complaint procedure and to make complaints. You have the right to make complaints to an independent person who is not looking after you.
No matter how you end up in residential care you keep these rights. You must be told of these rights by a social worker, child care worker, or other person. If you have any questions about your residential care you should ask your worker, phone a lawyer or the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth at 416-325-5669 in Torontoor 1-800-263-2841.
There are special Children’s Aid Societies that you should be aware of. If you are First Nation, Aboriginal, Metis, or Inuit you have the right to access services from Native Child and Family Services. If you are Catholic, you have the right to access services from the Catholic Children’s Aid Society and if you are Jewish, from the Jewish Family and Child. Please note that not all communities have these special Children’s Aid Societies.
To find more information or to contact your local Children’s Aid Society, please visit:
Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies: http://www.oacas.org/
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto: http://www.nativechild.org/
Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto: http://www.torontoccas.org/
Jewish Family and Child: http://www.jfandcs.com/
If your family is involved with a Children’s Aid Society in Ontarioand you are under 18, you can call Justice for Children and Youth form more information and legal advice at (416) 920 – 1633.
This post was written by PLE Team volunteer Christine Doucet. Christine recently graduated from OsgoodeHallLawSchool.