Thursday, October 23, 2014

B.C. Child Protection Tips, Legislation and Resources

I am regularly contacted by people who have become involved in child protection proceedings with the local child protection authorities, here in B.C. this is the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). 

I'm not able to provide individual advocacy, so I have put together this list of tips and resources to try to help people as they go through these situations. 

Child Protection Tips and Resources
  • Ensure that the child protection authorities provide both parents, and other relatives entitled to service, with all legal documents regarding the child(ren) in the case of child apprehension, or other court matters. 
  • Keep a log of dates, times, and subject matter discussed in meetings with child protection authorities, including any requests for you to address specific child protection concerns. 
  • Keep an organized file of all documents provided to you/your family by child protection authorities.
  • Ask your child protection worker to provide a detailed list of expectations, or a Risk Reduction Service Plan that clearly articulates what the identified child protection concerns are and what work they are asking you to do for them to be able to close your file, or in the case of a child apprehension, what you have to do to get your child(ren) back. 
  • As difficult as it can be trying to understand the child protection authorities' concerns about specific risk factors is very important. You can spend your time fighting against them, you can dispute things (something allegations should be disputed) and/or you can channel your energy into understanding their perspective and the concerns someone in the community had that led to the child protection report and put your energy into continuing to be the best, healthiest parent(s) you can be for your children. 
  • Try to build a respectful and cooperative relationship with your child protection worker. You don't have to like the worker, but if you can't find a way to work respectfully with them this will most likely be used against you in court, right, or wrong. In extraordinary circumstances, ask to speak to your worker's team leader to resolve issues, or in the most difficult situations, request a change of worker, after you have exhausted efforts to work with your assigned worker. 
  • This is a difficult one: take some time to deeply reflect about how things are going for you, as a parent, how your children are doing and if they need help in some areas, whether there are things that have become a problem for you, or in your family and consider what steps and action you are ready to take to improve things for everyone. 
  • Identify what supports and resources your child(ren), you and your family would benefit from and ask your child protection worker to help you access them. For instance, MCFD workers can assist parents in accessing child care subsidies, can advocate for increases in allowances for special diets for income assistance, can refer families to BC Housing and a host of other ways of providing supports. 
  • Keep documentation about ways that you are working on the risks the child protection authorities have identified. For instance, keep notes of all of your meetings with service providers and work you've been doing with them. 
  • Ask people you are involved with if they will write letters of support at the progress you have made.
  • Ensure you receive copies of all intake and assessment documents if you are engaging in services with contracted agencies. 
  • As you go through the legal process, MCFD will be required to provide you with disclosure of documents they have collected, stored and used to make decisions in your family matter. 
  • You can request your child protection file and MCFD records by applying through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). This can take a very long time. MCFD (and all other government Ministries) will have a Privacy Officer. If you want to request records held by Ministries, ask your child protection worker how to request your file and who to contact about this. 

Legal Representation
  • Try to obtain a lawyer. It can be very expensive to try to hire a lawyer to deal with child protection matters, but it is very important to have legal representation. Most parents are in a "David and Goliath" situation when child protection authorities become involved with a family. Having a lawyer can create more of an even playing field as family court is a very challenging environment with many confusing and arcane rules and ways of operating.
  • It can be difficult to obtain legal aid representation for child protection matter, but duty counsel are present at many court houses and most parents can speak to them, even briefly.
  • Ask your child protection worker how you can access legal aid for your matters, or if they can introduce you to duty counsel if you have to go to court. This is something they should be happy to support you with and it is good practice to ensure clients have legal representation. 
To find a lawyer, consult the Lawyer Lookup for your area:

Legal Services Society (aka legal aid)

This site explains what services are offered by Legal Services Society in B.C.

LSS Call Centre (legal aid applications)

Greater Vancouver: 604-408-2172

Outside Greater Vancouver: 1-866-577-2525 (call no charge)

Find out if there are Legal Aid offices in your community here:

Legal Advocates

There are legal advocates at local agencies around B.C. who can help and support women who are going through the child protection process. They can help you understand and navigate the child protection system, attend meetings with you and advocate for your voice to be heard throughout the process. They can also provide emotional support and knowledge.

To find out if your community has legal advocates do an internet search for the following:

"legal advocate <your city>"

"women's centre <your city>" - If your community has a women's centre, or services for women, they may be able to direct you to legal advocates in your community.

Fathers may be able to find some support by doing internet searches for things like:

"father advocacy  <your city>" or "father child protection advocate"

BC's Child Protection Legislation

The Child, Family and Community Service Act (1996) is the legislation that governs child protection in B.C. Sometimes this is referred to as the "CFCSA." You can read through each section here:

Other Resources

Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD): Protecting Children
This page explains MCFD's legal mandate and child protection work: 

Family Law in BC from Legal Services Society (aka Legal Aid)

A Parent's Guide to Child Protection Law in BC

Child Protection Context

I worked in MCFD as a child protection worker for several years (and was a former elected union representative) and I still have colleagues who work in the system. I have a very good understanding of the context of child protection practice in this Ministry. BC's child protection and other systems of care have been under-resourced, under-staffed and are overwhelming for workers, as well children and families and many other stakeholders for many, many years. 

This Ministry almost always has the highest level of medical/sick leaves across the entire BC government due to the stress and unhealthy workplace conditions for workers. Many workers face the highest levels of stress on a daily basis due to the nature of child protection work. Over time, this depletes many workers' health and well-being and can lead to things like anxiety, depression, other mental health issues, physical health problems and burnout. 

MCFD also has a very high attrition rate of workers resigning from child protection jobs, going to work in other areas in the same Ministry, or leaving government altogether. This is why parents, children and others experience a very chaotic and challenging time dealing with Ministry workers, who can disappear at any time, with a new person being assigned your case. 

When I worked in MCFD I had the fortune to work with many long-term clients. Once we developed caring, respectful and supportive relationships (sometimes this took a while, sometimes it never happened), many clients were able to develop empathy and understanding for the chaotic and challenging workplace environment and context I was faced with, and why it was so difficult for me to always be able to provide what they needed. Anything to do with resources is often out of the workers' hands. In many respects, I helped clients in spite of the organization and system I worked for and within. 

In most cases, once we each had a clear understanding of the identified child protection issue, needs and concerns involved, we could work together toward the same goals: to enhance the safety, health and well-being of all family members and work toward positive resolutions, which is something different for every family I worked with. 

You won't hear about this on the 6 o'clock news, but MCFD child protection workers, working with parents, family members and others, are doing great, supportive and effective work. Due to that work children remain with parents and other family members while important change work is taking place. Kids and parents are also reunited after apprehensions. Due to privacy and confidentiality laws, policies and regulations, you will never hear about these positive stories. 

No child protection worker should ever take offense to you respectfully, and seriously, asking them "No offense, but what can we do to not have MCFD involved with our family anymore?" Or "What do we need to do to have our file closed?" Listen and consider the answer. Ask questions, including what kind of supports they have to offer? What this tells the worker is that you are a motivated parent, who is willing to do what it takes to be a safe, healthy and child-focused parent. You can still fight things out in court, but while the glacial slow legal system grinds away, you will be engaging in a more positive, strategic and possibly,more  effective process that will likely help everyone accomplish the same goals.

Sec. 2: Guiding Principles of the CFCSA

2  This Act must be interpreted and administered so that the safety and well-being of children are the paramount considerations and in accordance with the following principles:

(a) children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm;
(b) a family is the preferred environment for the care and upbringing of children and the responsibility for the protection of children rests primarily with the parents;
(c) if, with available support services, a family can provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child, support services should be provided;
(d) the child's views should be taken into account when decisions relating to a child are made;
(e) kinship ties and a child's attachment to the extended family should be preserved if possible;
(f) the cultural identity of aboriginal children should be preserved;
(g) decisions relating to children should be made and implemented in a timely manner.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

'Deadbeats' across Canada owe more than $3.7B in support

'Deadbeats' across Canada owe more than $3.7B in support

Programs to monitor support called 'seriously underfunded'

Moore, H. (2014). CBC News. 

They're commonly called "deadbeats" — people who refuse to support their families after courts order them to pay — and CBC News has learned they owe more than $3.7 billion across the country for support orders. Nearly two-thirds of all support orders in Canada are in arrears.
In Ontario that number jumps to 80 per cent, although the provincial government says it has replaced an outdated computer system, and officials have collected more than $6.9 billion in support payments since 2003.

Experts and recipients say there aren't enough staff to do an adequate job of monitoring the nearly half a million open files across the country.

One debtor in Saskatchewan owes more than $580,000 in arrears. Prince Edward Island's worst debtor owes $240,000, and one delinquent in the Northwest Territories owes $238,000.

Rollie Thompson, a professor of law at Dalhousie University, says something needs to change.

"It's important to remember that every single one of these programs is seriously underfunded," he said. "There's no gold star program in Canada you can talk about."

​CBC's data reveal there are just over 1,600 full-time jobs devoted to managing more than 470,000 open cases.

Caseloads range from a ratio of one employee to 233 cases in Quebec to 725 cases per employee in British Columbia.

"Politicians who talk big about families and children are the same people who aren't prepared to improve the staffing of maintenance enforcement programs," Thompson said.

Provincial maintenance enforcement programs started in the mid-1980s as a way to collect outstanding child and spousal support. The vast majority of cases referred are for child support.

Deadbeats are technically divorced partners, and experts say that 97 per cent are men.

Only three jurisdictions reveal their worst offenders, and two publish their photos online. The other provinces won't reveal the highest amount owing.

'Such a shame and waste,' says parent

In Manitoba, arrears topped $58 million as of August 2014. One parent, Lianna Anderson, 47, of Leaf Rapids, Man., is owed thousands of dollars from her ex-partner.

She thought it would be simple to collect once she registered with Manitoba's Maintenance Enforcement Office.

"I quickly found out that it sounds really good on paper," she said. "I find it to be such a shame and waste of taxpayers' dollars."

She hasn't received any payments from the maintenance enforcement program since last year, and the arrears keep building. Her complaints to the provincial enforcement office brought no results for months.

Manitoba's maintenance enforcement office finally sent her a letter apologizing for the lack of service in August.

"Basically, they didn’t even provide me the minimal level of service that they’re supposed to be," she said. "It’s disturbing."

Shauna Curtin, Manitoba's assistant deputy minister of justice, admits that sometimes errors do happen, but she says an officer is in place to review files.

"It's not a frequent occurrence, but when it does happen, we own responsibility for it," she said.

'A living nightmare'

All maintenance enforcement offices have ways of forcing deadbeat parents to pay, including garnishments, property seizures, taking away licences and even imposing jail time.

But Alan Little of Sasqualit, B.C., a father of three, says the system is too rigid and treats all payers as if they are deadbeats.

He has paid tens of thousands of dollars over the years for his children, but he lost his job and he got behind on child support."They don't stop the payments," he said. "It's never wiped off the books."

Since 1997, federal guidelines have determined how much parents need to pay for child support, but Little said problems arise when payers try to change orders to amounts they can afford.

His order is with the Nova Scotia provincial court, which told him it would take a year to get his case heard. He ended up on welfare at one point and had his driver's licence taken away.

"What I experienced was a living nightmare," he said.

Little is currently paying back his arrears now that he has a stable job in the Royal Canadian Navy, and he's in contact with his children every day.

Curtin said child support debt, unlike other debt, is never written off no matter how the payer's situation changes, and that could explain why arrears are so high.

"Something special about the debt owed to a former partner for child support is that it doesn't die," she said, "It lasts forever."

She added that maintenance enforcement programs are sometimes targeting people who can't afford to pay.

"We are administering a program on people who perhaps don't have lots of money," she said. "It's a matter of finding a way for the person to remain committed to supporting their children to the best of their ability."

Anderson said she doesn't understand why the office couldn't collect on her payments.

"I'm just angry and so disgusted with that office," she said. "It really upsets me."

Curtin said all offices are focused on recovering money. She points out that in Manitoba, $56 million in child support has flowed to families.

"All of the programs have the same objective, all of them." she said. "The idea is to get money to families."