Child Protection FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Protection:

In Nova Scotia, there are government or other agencies whose job is to make sure children are protected from harm, abuse and neglect. Their job is also to see that children are kept with their families whenever that is possible and best for the children.

In most of the province of Nova Scotia, the name of the agency that looks after child protection matters is called the Department of Community Services. The private agency looking after child protection matters in Mi'kmaw communities is called Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services.

Child protection services are about protecting children under 19 from abuse and/or neglect while making every effort to keep families together. 

Under the Children and Family Services Act, child protection social workers in child welfare agencies are required to investigate (look into) reports of child abuse and neglect.

Child welfare social workers also work with children who are in the care of the agency as well as with children who are being adopted.

The purpose of an investigation is to determine if a child has been, is being, or is at risk of being, abused or neglected.

During an investigation the child protection social worker gathers information. This can include talking to the children in the family, the parents, and other people who may be able to provide information (such as a family doctor, school teacher, or other family members).

This investigation may be completed with the police if there is an indication that a criminal offence has occurred. The child may also be examined by a doctor as part of this investigation.

After the information has been gathered, the agency will make a decision as to whether there is evidence that the child has been, is being, or is at risk of being, abused or neglected.

If the agency concludes that the child has not been abused or neglected and is not at risk of being abused or neglected in the future, services to support the family may be offered and/or the file would be closed.

If it is determined that the child has been abused or neglected, or is at significant risk of being abused or neglected, the agency will open the family’s file to provide ongoing services. The purpose of these services is to address the issues that are posing a risk of harm to the child and provide the family with supports.

A parent may already be aware of services that could help. The child protection social worker could help in arranging these services, and may also suggest other services. Some of the services that may be offered are:

  • counselling

  • family support services

  • treatment for drug or alcohol misuse

The child protection law in Nova Scotia is called the Children and Family Services Act (CFSA). All social workers working with child welfare agencies and all judges in Nova Scotia must follow the law and regulations of the CFSA in doing their work.

When child protection services are being provided to Indigenous children and families, the federal legislation, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Children, Youth and Families, will apply.  This will ensure that specific cultural needs will be considered.  

Child welfare law in Nova Scotia covers any child under the age of 19. A range of child welfare services may be provided to any child and their family where there are risks of abuse or neglect. While any child under 16 years of age may be taken into care, a child who is over 16 years of age can only be taken into care if there is an ongoing child protection proceeding.

Depending on the circumstances, child welfare agencies in Nova Scotia may provide care and/or assistance to children in their care until the child reaches the age of 21, under court order.  A child protection agency can voluntarily provide continuing assistance to children in care who have become adults and are 21 years of age or older, if the person in care agrees and there are special circumstances, for example, the person has a disability.

Child protection workers that deal with families are social workers.  They have special training to work with families. Other staff may help families too. Family support workers or case aides are not required to be social workers, but have other relevant training. They may be asked to help families in the home to assist with teaching parenting skills or to make sure that visits between parents and children are safe and supported.

There are different ways in which child protection may be involved with a family. Child protection may be involved to investigate a report made to them about possible child abuse, neglect or harm to see if there is a problem.  

If there is a problem, child protection may ask the parent(s) to accept services so that they can receive the help and support they need to safely parent. These are called ‘voluntary services'. There may be friends, family members, community members and other service providers who can help in these situations too. If the situation is serious, there may be a need for children to come into care.  Depending on the circumstances, this may be done voluntarily with the parents.  A placement may be provided for the children while the parent(s) and/or children receive the help and support they need.

Friends or family members may be able to help by caring for the children in their home, with the agreement and support of the child protection agency.

In other situations, child protection social workers may offer services to the family to support the children staying in the home. In these situations, the agency and the parents would make a plan which would set out what the expectations are, what services are being put in place, and so on. These arrangements are made without there being a court case. 

If the situation is serious and the children are being harmed or are at serious risk of harm, then the children  may need to be removed from their parent(s)’ care, or require that the parents care of their children be supervised. In these cases, the agency must make a court application.

For more information about what happens when an application is made to court, please see the Child Protection Booklet What you need to know when child protection takes your children into care. The booklet is also available in French: Ce que vous devez savoir lorsque les Services de protection de l'enfance prennent en charge vos enfants and Mi'kmaq: Ta'n nuta'q +kjijitun ta'n tujiw lkalkewaq wesua'la'tiji kinijink anko'tasinu.

You are advised to consult with a lawyer if you have any questions. 

The Court offers a video which is intended to help you understand what happens when the Child Protection Agency becomes involved with your family. The video and the booklet that comes with it will answer some of your questions. What has happened? Where are your children? When can you see them? What can you do to make sure your family stays together? If your children have been taken into care, what do you need to do to have them returned to you?

To view the video in English, click here.

To view the video in Mi'kmaq, click here.

The video was produced with the collaboration of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court Family Division, Executive Office of the Nova Scotia Judiciary, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, Nova Scotia Department of Justice , with funding from The Law Foundation of Ontario. While financially supported by The Law Foundation of Ontario, the views expressed in this video production do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foundation.

It is recommended that anyone going through any kind of legal proceeding should have legal advice, and legal representation whenever possible.

Child protection matters are very complicated with, many possible outcomes. Families are supported to care safely for their children and get the supports they need.  When children are not safe to remain in the home, they may be temporarily removed while parents work to make changes. In some cases, children are not able to return home and are permanently removed from their parents’ care, with or without future contact.  The goal is to achieve permanency for children and in these cases, children may end up being placed for adoption.

Nova Scotia Legal Aid offers one hour appointments to clients who need legal advice when they are involved with a child protection agency. Check with your local Legal Aid office to see what services they may be able to offer to people in their area.

For more information on how to get legal advice or find a lawyer, click here.

Sometimes parents are unable to care for their children. There can be many reasons for this. Sometimes a child has special needs that the parents find difficult to deal with, or parents may have personal challenges that keep them from being able to care for their children properly. Sometimes there are problems with things like alcoholism, drug use, lack of housing, lack of food, family violence, or lack of medical treatment being provided to a child.

In these kinds of cases, parents may decide or agree to place their children in ‘voluntary care.’ Placing children in voluntary care happens when a child protection agency gets involved with a family that is having problems and the family agrees that:

  • they need help in caring or learning to care for the children and

  • the children need to leave the home while the parents (and/or children) get the needed help. 

The child protection agency will try to offer services or help to families to make the situation better in these situations. The kinds of services the agency offers could include help to improve the parents’ parenting skills, anger management programs, addictions treatment, or other counselling programs. What is offered will depend on the situation and the problems involved.

Sometimes children may be placed in the care of extended family or community members. At other times, children will be placed with unrelated people, called ‘foster parents.’ Foster parents are people approved by the child welfare agency to look after children in these situations.   

For more information about foster parenting, click here.

Agency social workers will try to place children with family members in their community whenever that is possible and safe. Each family’s situation is different. Where a child is placed in any situation will depend on what is best for them.


Sometimes children require special care or treatment if they are suffering from serious emotional and/or behavioral disorders. In some cases, these children may need to receive individualized treatment in a safe and secure place. In Nova Scotia, there is a child and youth caring program at Wood Street Campus, where children who are in the care of the Minister of Community Services can receive specialized treatment in a secure setting if they meet the criteria.  The Wood Street Campus is located in Truro.

For more information about this service, click here.

Each child and family situation is unique and decisions about a child’s care are made once all information is gathered from family members and others, and the information is assessed.   Most cases that go to court involve parents being able to keep their children at home while under the ‘supervision’ of the child protection agency.  The agency provides support or arranges outside help to support the family during this time.

In some cases, the risk to the child is too high, the parents refuse help, or they are not ready to care for their children. In these cases, children may need to be taken into care to make sure that they are safe and well cared for. Services will still be provided to the family to help them learn to keep their children safe, secure and well cared for in the future.

Not necessarily. If the child has been taken into care, the agency will try to find a placement that allows a child to maintain contact with the child’s relatives and friends, and maintains the child’s cultural and racial heritage. The agency must always be sure that the placement is in the child’s best interests.

It is also possible for relatives or community members to be a placement for children. The judge has to be sure that this arrangement is in the child’s best interests. The court needs to consider whether it is possible to place a child in the care of a relative, neighbour, or other member of the child’s community, or an extended family member, whenever the judge looks at removing the child temporarily or permanently from their parents.

Anyone seeking to have children placed with them should have legal advice and representation, if possible, when putting forward a request to have children placed in their care. These matters are complicated because there are different ways in which people can put forward their request to be a part of child protection proceedings. For example, in some situations, these people can apply for ‘third party status.’ If third party status is granted to a person, then that person has permission to take part in the child protection case at court, and would be able to have a say in court.

For more information about what happens when an application is made to court, please see the Child Protection Booklet - What you need to know when child protection takes your children into care. The booklet is also available in French: Ce que vous devez savoir lorsque les Services de protection de l'enfance prennent en charge vos enfants and Mi'kmaq: Ta'n nuta'q +kjijitun ta'n tujiw lkalkewaq wesua'la'tiji kinijink anko'tasinu.

You are advised to consult with a lawyer if you have any questions. 

A case conference is a meeting that may be held in a child welfare case. Who is involved with this kind of meeting will depend on the circumstances. A case conference usually involves the parents, the agency social worker and any counsellors or social workers or other professionals who are involved with the family. If the case is before the Court, the parents’ lawyers and the agency lawyer, may also attend.  Other support people or relatives, who may be involved in the parents’ plan to care for the children, may also be involved.   

Case conferencing may not be used in every case or in every part of the province. Speak to your child welfare social worker or your lawyer to see if it may be a good option in your situation.

A case conference is different from ‘conferencing.’ Under the Children and Family Services Act, ‘conferencing’ is a formal process. Judges may refer parties to conferencing instead of making a protection finding. There are specific requirements for conferencing, and the matter will continue with the court if the issues are not resolved during conferencing.

Everyone has the duty to immediately report abuse or neglect to a child welfare agency (child protection services), even if it is a suspicion or if the information is confidential.  Reports may be made anonymously. Once a report is made, child protection staff will look at the information received to decide whether they need to investigate more.  Child welfare authorities will decide what other action may be needed.

If you see a crime in progress, call 911. You also have a duty to report the child abuse right away to a child welfare agency.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected or are a witness to child abuse, please contact the child welfare agency in the area where the child lives. It is best if you contact the agency by telephone or in person.

Here are the telephone numbers to reach a child protection agency:

Between 8:30 am - 4:30 pm on weekdays: call 1-877-424-1177.

Between 4:30 pm - 8:30 am on weekdays and on weekends or on holidays: call 1-866-922-2434.

For children and families living in Mi’kmaw communities, contact Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services 24/7 at 1-800-263-8686 (mainland) or 1-800-263-8300 (Cape Breton).

Click here to find the contact information for a child welfare agency in your area.

No, not unless you reported, knowing the information was not true or did so out of malice (with the intention of causing harm or pain to someone). There can be legal consequences if the report was made maliciously or you knew that it was not true.

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