1. What is Child Protection or Children’s Aid or Child Welfare?

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. There are also private agencies looking after child protection matters in some Mi'kmaw communities called Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services.

 

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2. What work does child protection services do?

Child protection services are about protecting children under 16 from abuse and/or neglect while making every effort to keep families together. 

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

Child welfare workers also work with children who are in the permanent care of the agency or with children in the permanent care of an agency who are being adopted.

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3. What happens when child protection workers do an investigation?

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

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, or is at risk of being, abused, neglected or harmed.

If the agency concludes that the child has not been abused, neglected or harmed and is not at risk of being abused, neglected or harmed in the future, the file would be closed.

If it is determined that the child has been abused, neglected or harmed, or is at significant risk of being abused, neglected or harmed, 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.

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 to you are:

  • counselling
  • ‘family support’ (someone working with you in your home)
  • treatment for drug or alcohol addiction

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4. What laws deal with child welfare matters?

The child protection law in Nova Scotia is called the Children and Family Services Act (CFSA). All 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.

 

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5. What ages of children do child welfare laws cover?

As of March 1, 2017, child welfare laws cover any individual under the age of 19. 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.

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6. Who are the child protection workers?

Child protection workers that deal with families are usually social workers.  They have special training to work with families. Other staff may help families too. Family skills workers or access supervisors are often not social workers, but have other training. They may be asked to come into the home and assist with teaching parenting skills or to make sure that visits between parents and children are safe.

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7. How can child protection become involved with a family?

Every person who has information indicating that a child is in need of protective services (is being harmed, abused or neglected, or is at serious risk of being harmed, abused or neglected) must report that information to a child protection agency. There are special laws that deal with people who have confidential or privileged information. They also have a duty to report.

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8. What happens if child protection becomes involved with my family?

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 parent. These are called ‘voluntary services.’ There may be friends or family members who can help in these situations too. If the situation is serious, the parent(s) may need to think about placing the children in ‘voluntary care.’ This is when the child protection services give a foster placement 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 of the child protection agency.

In other situations, child protection may want parents to agree to services being put into place, without the children leaving the home. In these situations, the agency may want parents to sign a document called a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ 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 child protection agency may remove the children from their parent(s)’ care, or require that the parents be supervised by them. 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 careThe 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.

PLEASE NOTE: These materials have been updated to reflect changes to the provincial Children and Family Services Act that went into effect on March 1, 2017. Individuals involved in child protection matters before the Courts should be aware that the ages and timeframes noted here have changed.

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 in your family life. 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.

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9. Should I get a lawyer?

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 serious, and often permanent, results. There are many possible outcomes. In some cases, children may be permanently removed from their parents’ care, with or without access to their parents. In some cases, these children may end up being placed for adoption.

Nova Scotia Legal Aid sometimes offers one hour appointments to clients who need legal advice on whether or not to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding. 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.

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10. What is ‘voluntary care’?

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 or other problems 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.

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11. Who looks after children who have been placed in voluntary care?

Sometimes children may be placed in the care of family 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 workers will try to place children with family members 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.

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12. What happens if parents do not consent to voluntary care for their children?

The answer to this question will depend on how serious the situation is. Social workers working at child welfare agencies will make decisions based on what they believe is best for the children. They will investigate. They may still try to work with the family to see if there are other options or placements or supports that can go into the home.

They may make an application to a court. In that application, they may request that the child stays in the home, on certain conditions, like the parents being under agency supervision, or attending counselling. The agency may decide to take the child into care because there are no other options or the risk is too great for the child.

Most children are not removed from their homes when a child protection application is made to a court. But, in some cases, social workers will take a child from the home if a child is in danger, is being seriously abused, harmed or neglected, or is at serious risk of being abused, harmed or neglected. The decision to remove a child from the home on an extended or permanent basis is made by a judge as part of the court application process.  

A hearing in court must be held within five working days if an application to court is made or the child is taken into care so that a judge can make a decision about what to do next. These hearings take place in Family Court, or in the Supreme Court (Family Division) in Cape Breton or Halifax.

For more information on this court process, 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.

PLEASE NOTE: These materials have been updated to reflect changes to the provincial Children and Family Services Act that went into effect on March 1, 2017. Individuals involved in child protection matters before the Courts should be aware that the ages and timeframes noted here have changed.

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

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13. What if my child needs special treatment?

Sometimes children require special 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 facility called the Wood Street Centre, 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 for placement and assistance.  The Wood Street Centre is located in Truro.

For more information about this service, click here.

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14. Do children have to be taken into care?

Whether children will be removed from the care of their parents and taken into care of the agency will depend on the situation.  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 problems are too serious or the parents refuse help. In these cases, children may need to be taken into care to make sure that they are safe and well cared for. Services can still be provided to the family to see if the problems can be fixed to allow the children to be safe and well cared for.

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15. If children are removed from their parents’ home (taken into care), do they automatically get placed with a family member?

Not necessarily. If the child has been placed in the voluntary care of a child protection agency, then the agency will usually try to consider 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.

If a child has been taken into care, then 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.

 

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16. What happens if I am served with an application to go to court?

For more information on this process, 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.

PLEASE NOTE: These materials have been updated to reflect changes to the provincial Children and Family Services Act that went into effect on March 1, 2017. Individuals involved in child protection matters before the Courts should be aware that the ages and timeframes noted here have changed.

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

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17. What is a case conference?

A case conference is a meeting held in a child protection case. Who is involved with this kind of meeting will depend on the circumstances. A case conference usually involves the parents and the parents’ lawyers, the agency social worker and lawyer, and any counsellors or social workers or other professionals who are involved with the family. Other support people or relatives, for example, 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. Check with a lawyer to see if it may be a good option in your situation.

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18. What is ‘conferencing’?

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.

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19. What do I do if I suspect child abuse or neglect?

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 they may need to take.

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20. What if I am witnessing child abuse?

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

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21. Who do I call?

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 worker:

Between 8:30 am -4:30 pm on weekdays:  call 1-877-424-1177 if you believe a child is in immediate danger of abuse 

Between 4:30 pm to 8:30 am on weekdays and on weekends or on holidays: call 1-866-922-2434 if you believe a child is in immediate danger of abuse 

To find the address for a child welfare agency in your area, please contact the Agency or District Office of the Department of Community Services nearest you for more information. Click here for a list of the agencies in Nova Scotia.

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22. Can I get into trouble if I report something that turns out not to be true?

Not unless you did so knowing the information was not true or out of malice (with the intention of causing harm or pain to someone). You can be punished if the report was made maliciously or you knew that it was not true.

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