The Child and Family Services Act & the roles of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and the Children’s Aid Society

Every province within Canada has enacted child welfare legislation with which to inform and regulate the child protection process. Ontario’s governing child welfare legislation is the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990. One of the foremost guiding principles of all the provincial statutes is the “best interests of the child”. In considering the child’s needs and interests, the objective of the legislation is intended to respect and support the autonomy of the family, and to ensure the stability and permanence of the child in as continuous a family environment as possible.

Notwithstanding the policy concerns of supporting the family’s autonomy, a paramount objective of the legislation is the protection of children from harm. Only a child that is found to be a “child in need of protection” is subject to involuntary state intervention through a child welfare agency. This intervention can happen with or without the consent of the parents, although the majority of cases involve non-consenting parents.

In a child protection proceeding commenced by a child welfare agency, the court must determine whether the child in question is in need of protection. The onus is on the agency to prove their case, although the agency will typically have at least some legitimate cause for concern. The parties, including the child’s parents (or their counsel, if any) and the child’s counsel (who, if any, would be appointed through the Office of the Children’s Lawyer), have the opportunity to request and receive disclosure of the documents and records compiled by the Children’s Aid Society in making their case. Parties can submit a “plan of care” to the court that outlines how and with whom they intend to provide for the child’s wellbeing should the child be returned to their care.

Please contact us for more information about child protection.