Has a social worker contacted you about your children?
If a social worker from the Ministry of Children and Family Development or a delegated agency contacts you or visits your home, they might think your child is at risk. This is part of the child protection process (also called an investigation.) An investigation is serious, and may result in the social worker taking your child from your home.
You, your family, and your community have rights. The law says the ministry must respect your child's family ties and Aboriginal identity.
What is child protection?
According to BC law, if the ministry (or a delegated agency) gets a report about your child, they must look into it. If the ministry believes your child is at risk, they have to:
- go to court to get an order that supervises your child's care, or
- if necessary, take your child from your home.
This process is called child protection.
Your Rights: Child protection and Aboriginal families
BC law states:
- Aboriginal cultural ties are very important to the well-being of Aboriginal children.
- When the ministry makes plans for an Aboriginal child's care, the ministry should respect the child's family ties and Aboriginal identity.
- The community should be involved whenever possible in the planning and delivery of services. This includes preventative and support services.
- The child's cultural identity must be considered when determining their best interests.
What you can do if a social worker has contacted you
Call Legal Aid
You have the right to get legal advice. Call Legal Aid immediately to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer:
604-408-2172 (Greater Vancouver)
1-866-577-2525(elsewhere in BC)
Ask Legal Aid BC about Parents Legal Centres
When you call Legal Aid BC, ask if you qualify for a free lawyer and advocate/Aboriginal Community Legal Worker (ACLW) through a Parents Legal Centre (PLC). You may qualify for this service if you've been contacted by a social worker.
The lawyer can:
- give you legal advice about how to resolve child protection concerns as early as possible,
- represent you during mediations, Family Case Conferences, and other meetings, and
- represent you at court hearings (if you don't have to have a trial).
Aboriginal Community Legal Workers (ACLWs) and advocates are available at Parents Legal Centres. They work with a lawyer to support you.
The ACLW/advocate can:
- provide information and support,
- help you connect to services such as housing, counselling, and recovery,
- speak with social workers on your behalf, and
- go with you to meetings with the social worker.
Ask for a mediator
A mediator can help you work with the ministry. A mediator is a professional who's specially trained to:
- not take sides,
- help people reach an agreement, and
- help people work out conflicts.
You can ask for a mediator as soon as the social worker has contacted you. You can also ask at any time during the child protection process.
Mediation is free for families who are involved with the ministry. Mediators can travel to remote communities.
What a social worker must do if they take your child
If a social worker takes your child from your home, they must:
- Notify your child's Aboriginal community representative (such as the First Nation band).
- Take steps to protect your child's family ties and Aboriginal identity.
- Consider your child's family ties and Aboriginal identity when choosing a foster home.
- In many cases, allow a representative from your child's band or Aboriginal community to go to court.
What you can do if a social worker takes your child from your home
- Get legal advice before the day of court. Call Legal Aid immediately to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer.
- Ask for visits with your child as soon as possible.
- Work out a plan with your band or community that supports your child's family ties and Aboriginal identity.
- Ask the social worker to place your child with another Aboriginal family.
- Ask for a mediator.
- Ask for the Report to Court, which explains why your child was removed.
What others can do if a social worker takes your child from your home
If a social worker takes your child from your home, and a family member or family friend would like to care for your child, they can speak to the social worker.
They should also speak to a lawyer to get legal advice about different agreements to care for your child, even after your child has been placed in a ministry foster care home.
Your family member or friend may be able to care for your child under an out-of-care order. This means the social worker places your child with them instead of in foster care. This is called out-of-care placement. The social worker does their own assessment of your family member or friend.
The assessment will likely include:
- police and ministry history checks,
- a request for reference letters,
- visits to their home, and
- personal interviews.
If they’re approved for out-of-care placement, they care for your child for a fixed period of time. They also receive financial support to care for your child.
If your family member or friend are approved for out-of-care placement of your child, they can also speak to family duty counsel at their local courthouse.
What your Aboriginal representative can do if a social worker takes your child from your home
If the a social worker takes your child from your home, your Aboriginal representative can:
Emily is struggling with addiction and an unhealthy relationship. She loves her son, Greg, but can't always take care of him. When Greg goes into foster care, Emily is heartbroken. But by getting legal help and with the support of her family, she gets Greg back. Emily's Choice is Emily's story.
KUU-US Crisis Line Society — Crisis line dedicated to the Aboriginal community — Call 1-800-588-8717 (no charge; available 24/7)
Parents Legal Centre — Provides a free lawyer and an advocate to help parents in select locations address the social worker's concerns about their children's safety (child protection) early on.
BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area
BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — See their Guide to Indigenous Organizations and Services in British Columbia for organizations that can help
PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help
Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help
Carole James, MLA, Community Office — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794
Department of Justice Community-based Justice Programs — Alternatives to mainstream justice processes
First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre) — Free legal help — Victoria
Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association of BC— Culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system — Call 604-985-5355 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-877-811-1190 (no charge outside Greater Vancouver)
Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola
UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (call no charge)
Upper Skeena Counselling & Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton
Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794