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What to do if CAS Contacts You?

The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) oversees the safety of children in Canada. This institution is not-for-profit and independent, overlooked by a Board of Directors that are elected from the community. This institution is directed by the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, as well as the Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA).

The obligations of the CAS are set out in section 35(1) of the CYSFA. It stipulates things like the obligation to investigate claims that indicate that children need protection, and then taking the required steps to safeguard the children. In Ontario, there are forty-nine CAS organizations – eleven of them being in Indigenous communities. The disproportionately high level of CAS organizations in Indigenous communities compare to the rest of Canada might be an indicator of how intergenerational trauma might manifest in familial conflict. For context, 1/20 of people in Canada are Indigenous, yet the number of Indigenous-based CAS organizations make up ¼ of all the existing CAS organizations.

Within the criminal law and family law context, the CAS has broad powers to protect children and take the necessary steps to remove children from an unsafe living environment at home. This institution takes on the role of the Crown in court proceedings. The CAS can get involved not only in scenarios where there is alleged child abuse, but also when there is a crime being committed in the presence of children.

How does the Children’s Aid Society Investigate?

The CAS can only investigate cases that have been explicitly referred to them. And moreover, they have a duty to investigate any and all claims of child safety concerns that are reported to them. There are many different groups that might have reported a case of child abuse or neglect to CAS. This commonly includes someone at school, someone from the public, a health care provider like a doctor, or the judicial system. CAS is also notified in cases involving sexual interference or other sexual offences involving children. The CAS might step in if they believe a child is being harmed or is at risk of being harmed.

Once the CAS receives a complaint, they will begin collecting evidence. This will include interviewing anyone with pertinent information on the matter, including the parents, the child, family members, teachers, doctors, or anyone else who may have relevant information. A children’s aid worker may also carry out a home visit, attending the home of the child allegedly in need of protection to assess the child’s home life.

Handling such sensitive matters requires careful legal navigation to both comply with CAS and protect one’s legal rights. Engaging an experienced lawyer who can offer guidance on these matters is highly recommended.

Stages of the Criminal Justice System

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What Happens if the CAS have Initiated Court Proceedings Against me?

Where a child protection worker has reason to believe a child that are investigating is in need of protection, they may remove the child from the home and initiate court proceedings. Court proceedings must be initiated within five days of the child being removed from their home. The first court date is known as the first appearance of the child protection hearing. The CAS will attempt to place the child in a home mutually agreed upon with the child’s parents or legal guardians. At the hearing, both the CAS worker and the parents or legal guardian of the child will have an opportunity to present evidence to the court regarding where the child should be placed. Once all relevant information has been presented to the court, the court will determine whether to return the child to their parents or legal guardian, to return the child but monitor them for a period of time, or to place the child with another family either temporarily or permanently.

Why did the Children’s Aid Society Contact me Following my Arrest?

If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offence involving the sexual abuse of a minor, and you reside with or have access to children, you may be reported to the CAS. In addition to investigating reports regarding child abuse, the CAS also investigates where individuals charged with sexual offences against children have access to children. For example, an individual charged with child pornography offences who lives with their 10-year-old child is likely to be investigated by CAS.

In addition to being investigated by CAS, an individual charged with sexually abusing a minor may also have their access to children, including their own children, restricted by the criminal court. The police or a bail court may place restrictions on an accused individual’s access to children by prohibiting them from attending schools, playgrounds, community centres or anywhere else children are known to frequent, or by prohibiting the individual from being alone with children. These conditions may be put in place even where the children in question the accused’s own children. Such conditions would remain in place until the accused’s case concludes, or the court orders otherwise.

What’s a Crime in Canada?

Tips for Interacting with the Children’s Aid Society

Handling interactions with CAS during criminal investigations involving child abuse or neglect demands careful legal navigation:

  • Understanding CAS’s Role: CAS is tasked with child protection and responds to various allegations of child safety concerns.
  • Know your Rights: Being aware of your rights during a CAS investigation can be the difference between receiving jailtime and a finding of not-guilty. Some important rights include your right to remain silent and your right to legal representation.
  • Cooperation with CAS: Cooperate with CAS under the guidance of legal counsel to ensure your rights are protected without self-incrimination. Failing to cooperate is unlikely to have positive results.
  • Seek Legal Representation: Engage a lawyer experienced with CAS and criminal law to navigate the complexities of the case and represent your interests.
  • Maintain Documentation: Document all interactions with CAS and other relevant parties, noting dates, times, names, and conversation details.
  • Understand the Impact on Custody: CAS investigations can affect child custody arrangements, making it important to proactively prevent and address CAS concerns.
  • Prepare for Interviews and Home Visits: If CAS schedules an interview or a home visit, it is vital to make sure that your home is safe and child-friendly, and prepare to address any concerns raised by CAS.

Given the broad powers of CAS and the serious nature of allegations involving child exploitation or abuse, finding a skilled and experienced lawyer is essential for navigating these sensitive matters smoothly. Given how seriously Canada views these crimes, being charged with such an offence can be a devastating experience.

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Recent Cases

G. v. C., 2013 ONSC 893

The case in question revolved around the debate over the appropriateness and necessity of conducting assessments within the context of custody and access disputes. The central issue was determining whether an assessment was essential for understanding the best interests of the child in a particularly complex custody scenario.

The Court stated that such assessments could provide important insights into the family dynamics and the specific needs of the child, which are pivotal for making well-informed decisions regarding custody and access arrangements. It emphasized the potential benefits of gaining a comprehensive understanding of the child’s relational dynamics with each parent and any psychological or emotional factors that could influence the child’s well-being.

After careful consideration, the Court concluded in favour of mandating an assessment. It recognized the assessment as a valuable tool to thoroughly evaluate and address the disputed issues, thereby aligning with the best interests of the child. This decision underscored the court’s commitment to employing all available resources to ensure decisions that best serve the child’s overall well-being, health, and happiness.

A.M. v. C.H, 2019 ONCA 939

The case of A.M. v. C.H. heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA), addressed several significant questions in regard to child custody and parental behaviour. The main principle guiding the Court’s decision was determining the best interests of the child, a key concept in family law that deals with the prioritization of children’s well-being in legal contexts regarding custody and access.

This particular case emphasized the problematic conduct of one parent, which involved attempts to isolate the children from the other parent. These actions are generally referred to as parental alienation. Parental alienation is of central importance in custody battles as it can significantly impact a child’s mental health and emotional well-being. The Court closely examined how one parent’s behaviour could detrimentally affect the children’s relationship with the other parent, viewing such actions as contrary to the children’s best interests.

Another significant aspect of this case was the court’s discussion on its authority to order counseling for children caught in family disputes. The OCA affirmed a lower court’s decision that supported the need for counseling. This was aimed at addressing the negative effects of parental conflict and alienation on the children. This decision showcases the Court’s proactive approach in utilizing therapeutic interventions to safeguard children’s best interests amid familial conflicts. The Court’s readiness to prescribe psychological support underscores its commitment to providing holistic solutions that address the mental health challenges arising from contentious custody disputes.

R. v. F., 2015 ONCA 277

This case dealt with the legal weight and value of critique reports concerning Section 30 assessments under the Children’s Law Reform Act. The primary issue revolved around the admissibility and influence of these critique reports on the court’s decision-making process in matters of child custody and access.

The Court’s rationale indicated that while critique reports can provide important insights into the initial assessments, their value largely hinges on the credibility and thoroughness of the critiques themselves. The Court thoroughly examined the specific critiques presented, considering them within the broader context of evidence and evaluating the qualifications of those who provided the critiques.

Ultimately, the Court upheld the inclusion of critique reports as a crucial component of the evidentiary process. It acknowledged that well-founded critique reports can significantly enhance the court’s understanding of the initial assessments. This, in turn, helps the Court in making informed and sensible decisions that serve the best interests of the child. This shows the importance of such reports in judicial evaluations of complex custody and access cases.

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About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.