Has a social worker contacted you about your children?
You have the right to legal advice.
If a social worker from the Ministry of Children and Family Development or a delegated Aboriginal agency contacts you or visits your home, they might think your child is at risk (isn't safe). This is part of the child protection process (also called an investigation.) An investigation is serious. The social worker might take 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.
Find out below what you can do if a social worker has contacted you and how a Parents Legal Centre might be able to help.
What is child protection?
According to BC law, if the ministry (or a delegated Aboriginal 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 says:
- 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 BC
You have the right to get legal advice. Call Legal Aid BC 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 might qualify for this service if a social worker has contacted you.
The lawyer can:
- give you legal advice about how to resolve child protection concerns as early as possible
- represent you during mediation, family case conferences, and other meetings
- 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
- 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
- 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. For more information, see Mediation.
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 with you
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 BC 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 (see mediation).
- Ask for the Report to Court, which explains why your child was taken from your home.
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 might 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
- personal interviews
If they’re approved for out-of-care placement, they care for your child for a fixed period of time. They also get 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 a social worker takes your child from your home, your Aboriginal representative can:
- receive all court documents
- attend court with you
- speak at the child protection hearing
- call witnesses and question other witnesses
- take part in any mediation
- ask about ways to get you help
- suggest culturally appropriate services they might offer to support you and your child
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.
Mediate BC — Child Protection Mediation Program and a list of child protection mediators in BC
KUU-US Crisis Line Society — Crisis line dedicated to the Aboriginal community — 1-800-588-8717 (24 hours a day)
Parents Legal Centre — Provides a free lawyer and an advocate to qualifying parents to help address concerns about their children's safety (child protection) early on
Community support and services
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — See their Guide to Indigenous Organizations and Services in BC — Organizations that can help
Crisis support and counselling
Hope for Wellness Help Line — Free, experienced, and culturally competent help — Call 1-855-242-3310 (24 hours every day)
Kids Help Phone — Free, confidential, anonymous e-mental health service — Call 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868 (24 hours every day)
Métis Crisis Line — Call 1-833-638-4722 (1-833-MétisBC), 24 hours every day
Native Youth Crisis Hotline — Call 1-877-209-1266 (24 hours every day)
Health and wellness
BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area
Parent Support Services Society of BC — Gives support to parents and caregivers, and has a support line for grandparents raising grandchildren — Call 1-855-474-9777
Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794
Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help
BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211
Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola
Department of Justice Indigenous Justice Program — Alternatives to mainstream justice processes
First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre, University of Victoria) — Free legal help — Victoria
Lawyer Referral Service — Helps you find a lawyer to take your case — Call 604-687-3221 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-800-663-1919 (elsewhere in BC)
Native Courtworker 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 (elsewhere in BC)
PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help
UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (elsewhere in BC)
Upper Skeena Counselling Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton