Child protection and Aboriginal families
If the Ministry of Children and Family Development (or a delegated agency) gets information that your child may be at risk, BC law says that they must look into it. This means that a social worker will contact you or visit your home to ask questions about your family. This is part of the child protection process.
A mediator can help you work with the ministry. You can ask for a mediator as soon as the ministry has contacted you.
What can I do if the ministry contacts me about my family?
You have rights — Call Legal Aid
If the ministry contacts you about a child protection concern, you have the right to get legal advice. If the social worker has serious concerns, they may take your child from your home. 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)
You and your family have the right to be involved in decisions about your child.
Ask for help from a mediator
How you respond to the social worker is important. If you stay calm and listen, they're more likely to trust you. If the social worker thinks there's a serious problem, they may take your child from your home. But if you're willing to work with the ministry and make changes to keep your child safe, the social worker may leave your child with you.
A mediator can help you work with the ministry.
You can ask for a mediator as soon as the social worker has contacted you. You can also ask at any stage of the child protection process.
Mediation is free for families who are involved with the ministry. Mediators can travel to remote communities.
What do mediators do?
A mediator is a professional who's specially trained to:
- not take sides,
- help people reach an agreement, and
- help people work out conflicts.
Mediators don't work for the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Instead, the Attorney General chooses and hires them. This is so that mediators don't take sides.
Mediators help everyone involved in your child's case to work together to:
- decide on a plan of care that puts your child's best interests first, and
- come to a resolution that works for everyone.
How can mediation help me?
Mediation gives you a chance to have your voice heard and to share your side of the story.
Mediation can help everyone agree on what's best for your child. It may help you resolve some or all of the issues involved in your child's case. This means you may not have to go to court.
Mediation can help:
- you communicate with your social worker or other people involved in your child's case,
- create a plan of care for your child that builds on your strengths and the strengths of your family and community, and
- you understand the court process.
How does mediation work?
Mediation is voluntary (it's your choice).
You can use mediation to work through a number of issues, including:
- What services your family will get and take part in as part of your child's plan of care. This includes culturally appropriate plans and community services.
- The specific terms of consent orders or supervision orders.
- Other matters related to your child's care or well-being.
- How long someone else will care for your child.
- Deciding the amount and type of access you or others will have with your child.
- Developing a plan for your child to be returned to you, your family, or community.
The following issues can't be mediated:
- whether your child needs protection, and
- why your child needs protection.
Your lawyer can be there during mediation to support you and give you legal advice.
When should I ask for mediation?
Remember: You can ask for mediation at any stage of the child protection process:
If you can't reach an agreement, you can still go to court after mediation.
- Right away — as soon as a social worker has contacted you to ask questions about your family. You don't have to wait until the social worker has taken your child from your home.
- If your child is in foster care (temporary or permanent care).
- If the ministry has placed your child with a family member or friend.
- If your court date is already set, you can ask for court to be adjourned to give you time to go to mediation.
- After the court hearing.
Can mediation meet my family's cultural needs?
You can ask for an Aboriginal mediator. Aboriginal mediators:
- Come from a variety of Aboriginal cultures across BC and Canada
- Come from both urban (cities) and rural communities (the country)
- Many are chosen because they're respected members of their home communities
Meeting your family's needs
Mediators aren't experts in all Aboriginal cultures. But the mediator will work with you to meet your family's unique needs. For example, you can ask the mediator to:
- involve your family, band, First Nation, or urban Aboriginal representative in decision making;
- incorporate traditional practices such as:
- cedar brushing,
- offering prayers, or
- traditional foods.
- involve an elder. The elder may be someone you know and are comfortable with. Or you can ask for help with finding an elder who can support you; and
- use a space that meets your family's cultural needs, such as:
- your local Aboriginal agency,
- your local friendship centre, or
- a traditional setting.
If you're interested in working with a mediator from a particular culture or nation, ask your lawyer or social worker for help.
How do I find a mediator?
Mediators are available across BC. How you get a mediator may be different in every community. Ask your lawyer or social worker for more information.
See Mediate BC's website for a roster (list) of mediators in BC.
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
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