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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.
This topic discusses the protection of children under the Child Welfare Act. Where a child is suspected of abuse or neglect, the matter must be reported to protective services. The Child Welfare Act requires that anyone who reasonably suspects that the “survival, security or development of a child is endangered” must report the matter. Examples of abuse and neglect include physical abuse, cruel treatment, improper care, food or medical attention, abandonment and an inability to control the child.
To report a child in need of protective services, dial protective services at 1-800-387-5437. This is a 24-hour confidential hotline. Your name is not given to the parents or guardians. Social workers from the Department of Social Services and Community Health investigate all reports as soon as possible.
If you think your own child may be in need, you can use the same service. Families who are in temporary crisis situations may voluntarily enter into custody agreements with the Department of Social Services and Community Health to ensure that their children are properly cared for until the crisis has passed.
If the social workers find evidence of abuse or neglect, they may leave the child in the family home which they will supervise and obtain the necessary counseling or financial assistance for the family. If the social workers feel the child is immediate danger, or if the situation does not improve after supervision, they may apprehend or remove the child from the home. A warrant is not required for apprehension by social services. The apprehended child may be taken temporarily to a foster home, a children’s institution or may even be returned to the family home.
Within 10 days of apprehension, the child is brought before a Judge of the Provincial Court, Family Division. During this time, the Department of Social Services assumes full responsibility for the child even if the child is returned home. The Department does not require the consent of the parents or the guardians when placing the child in a foster home or in an institution for medical care.
The Parents or guardians are given 2 day notice of the Court hearing so that they may attend. Neither the Department or the parents or guardians require lawyers at this hearing although they may bring one. The hearing is informal and closed to all of those not involved. The Court will carefully consider the evidence of the parents or the guardians, the social workers and others who have knowledge of the family situation and the apprehension. The Court makes it decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.
If the Judge finds that the child is not abused or neglected, the child is returned home. The Judge may order that the child be supervised for a certain time period after being returned home.
If the Judge finds that the child should be in protective services, three things may occur:
- The Judge may adjourn or recall the case at a later date. The child will be returned home with or without certain conditions. The conditions may require the child continue under the supervision of the Department of Social Services or under an agreement between the Department and the parents or guardians for support services and custody. If the Department does not see any improvement in the family situation and considers the child in need of protective services, the Judge will allow the case to be recalled at any time before the later court date.
- The Judge may place the child under Temporary Guardianship for 1 year. In this case, the Children’s Guardian, another government agency, will assume full responsibility for the child during the 1 year. They will place the child in a foster home, an institution or the child’s own home. The Parents or guardians may have “access” to the child, or visits to the child during this time. They also may be required to financially contribute to the child’s upkeep. An application by the parents, guardians or the Department must be made to the Court to end or extend the Temporary Guardianship.
- The Judge may place the child under Permanent Guardianship and the parents or guardians will permanently lose all rights to the child. Visits between the parents or guardianship and the child are still possible under the Permanent Guardianship order. It is also possible to obtain Joint Guardianship Orders which splits guardianship between the parents or guardians and the Children’s Guardian. Visits or split guardianship orders will not be allowed if they interfere with the adoption of the child.
Although Permanent Guardianship may be ordered when the child is first found in need of protective services, the usual Court Order is for Temporary Guardianship. If the home situation does not improve, the Children’s Guardian may apply for Permanent Guardianship.
In summary, anyone who reasonably believes that a child is being abused or neglected must report the matter. The 24 hour hotline for reporting children in need is 1-800-387-5437. All reported cases are investigated.
The Kids Help Phone 1-800-664-2907 is a privately funded charitable organization that children may call for help when they suffer neglect, abuse or any other problems at home.