The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses the protection of children under the Child, Youth and Family Enforcement Act. Where a child or youth up to the age of 18 is suspected of being a victim of abuse or neglect, the matter must be reported to protective services. The Child, Youth and Family Enforcement Act requires that anyone who reasonably suspects that a child is in need of ‘intervention’ (when the “survival, security or development of a child is at threat”), must report the matter to the director of Child and Youth Services. Failure to report is an offence under the Act.
A child is in need of protection when they are abused and neglected. Such abuse or neglect includes may be in the form of physical abuse, cruel treatment, improper care, not providing for food or medical attention, sexual molestation or exploitation, abandonment, emotional harm and an inability to control the child.
To report a child in need of protection, dial protective services at 1-800-387-5437. This is a 24-hour confidential hotline. Your name is not given to the child’s parents or guardians. Social workers from the Department of Social Services and Community Health will investigate all reports as soon as possible. You will not be held responsible if your report turns out to be false, so long as it was made to the protection services in good faith. If you think your own child may be in need of protection, you can contact the same service. Families who are in temporary crisis situations may voluntarily enter into custody agreements with the Department of Social Services and Community Health to ensure that their children are properly cared for until the crisis has passed.
- If the Child and Family Services find evidence of abuse or neglect, the child may be left in the family home in the event that they can still be protected under their guardians care. However, this will be under the supervision of Child and Family Services. They will also guide the family towards counseling or financial assistance, if the circumstances require. The guardian may also enter into a Family Enhancement Agreement with the director of Child and Family Services. This will particularly be the case where the guardian cannot fulfill the child’s needs, or intervention is needed for another reason. The child’s guardian and director may then reach a custody agreement (of not more than 6 months) to ensure that the child’s wellbeing is provided for.
- If the Child and Family Services feel that the child is in immediate danger and the situation does not improve even after supervision, they may remove the child from the home without a warrant. The child may then be placed at a temporary foster home, children’s institution or may even be returned to the family home after a certain period of time.
- Within 10 days of apprehension, the child is brought before a Judge of the Provincial Court, Family Division. During this time, the Department of Social Services takes full responsibility over the child even if the child is returned to the family home. The Department does not require the consent of the parents or the guardians when placing the child in a foster home or in an institution for medical care.
- Parents or guardians and any child 12 years or older, are to be given 2 days notice of the Court hearing so that they may attend. The Department, parents or guardians, do not require lawyers at this hearing, although they may bring one. The hearing is informal and closed to the general public. 5. The Court will carefully consider the evidence given by the parents or the guardians, social workers and others who may have knowledge of the family situation and child’s abuse or neglect. The Court makes its decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.
- If the Judge finds that the child is not abused or neglected, the child is returned home. The Judge may also order that the child be supervised for a certain period after returning home.
- If the Judge finds that the child has been abused or neglected and should be in protective services, three things may occur:
- The Judge may delay the case until a later time. During this time, the child will be returned home with or without certain conditions. These conditions may require Department of Social Services to supervise the child’s living condition. There may also be the condition that the Department and the parents or guardians reach an agreement for support services and custody. If the Department does not see any improvement in the family situation and considers the child in need of protective services, the Judge will allow the case to continue.
- The Judge may place the child under Temporary Guardianship for 1 year. If the child were under 6 years of age, the temporary guardianship would be for a maximum of 9 months. Guardianship under a Temporary Guardianship Order is shared with Child Services. They will place the child in either a foster home, other institution or the child’s own home. During this time, the child’s parents or guardians may have access to the child with certain conditions or in the form of visits. They may also be required to financially contribute to the child’s day-to-day expenses. An application by the parents, guardians or the Department must be made to the Court in order to end or extend the Temporary Guardianship.
- The Judge may place the child under Permanent Guardianship, where the parents or guardians will permanently lose all rights to the child. Visits between the parents or guardians and the child are still possible under the Permanent Guardianship order. It is also possible to obtain Joint Guardianship Orders, in which guardianship will be split between the parents or guardians and the Children’s Permanent Guardian. Visitation or split guardianship orders will not be allowed if there will be interference with the adoption of the child. Although Permanent Guardianship may be ordered when the child is first found to be in need of protective services, the most common Court Order is for Temporary Guardianship. If the family home situation does not improve, the Children’s Guardian may then apply for Permanent Guardianship.
Again, anyone who reasonably believes that a child is being abused or neglected must report the matter to any of the below agencies:
The 24-hour hotline for reporting children in need of protection is 1-800-387-5437. All reported cases are investigated.
There is also free Legal Representation for Children and Youth (LRCY) provided by the Office of Child and Youth Advocate. You may contact them at 1-888-890-2020.
The Kids Help Phone 1-800-664-2907 is a privately funded charitable organization that children may call for help when they suffer neglect, abuse or any other problems at home.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.