Protecting Children - Your Role as a Relative
Most children get the support they need to grow up secure, healthy and independent. But not some children, who are abused or neglected. The harm they suffer can last a lifetime.
British Columbia has a law to protect children from abuse and neglect - the Child, Family and Community Service Act - administered by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Relatives have a vital role in ensuring the safety and well-being of children and youth. If you have a child-welfare concern in your family, please contact Child and Family Services (1 800 663-9122) or use the child protection office search tool and following information for immediate help and guidance.
Who do I call if I have a child-welfare concern?
If a child or youth (under 19 years) is being abused or neglected, you must report your concern to a child welfare worker.
Phone 1 800 663-9122 at any time of the day or night.
The social worker listens to your concerns and asks some questions. The worker may meet the parents and child and speak to teachers, doctors or other people who know the child and can provide relevant information.
If it turns out that the child is safe but the family is having problems, the worker may arrange for services like counseling, parenting programs or in-home support (child care, household or other services). The worker takes whatever measures are best for and least disruptive to the child. As a relative, you may have a role in planning or caring for the child at this stage.
If the worker decides to involve the courts, they may issue an order allowing the ministry to supervise the child's care. This means the child continues to live at home but the family must meet requirements and conditions monitored by the worker.
Children are separated from their family if there is danger and removal is the only way of keeping them safe.
Yes, within seven days ministry staff must attend a presentation hearing to explain the removal. The judge may determine that it's safe for the child to return home, without ministry supervision, and there are no further court proceedings.
If there are concerns about the child's safety, the judge has two choices: return the child to the family under ministry supervision, or; order that the child not return home and remain in the ministry's care. In either situation, a protection hearing takes place within 45 days.
During this period, the worker assesses the family and develops a comprehensive plan-of-care for the child. As a relative you can discuss and develop the plan with the worker. If you disagree with the proposals, then you may apply to the judge to involve you in the hearing to ask questions, present evidence or offer an alternative care plan. Please contact a family justice counselor, your local Family Justice Centre or a lawyer or legal-aid office for information about court procedures and applications.
If the judge decides the child needs protection, there are three choices:
- The child returns to or remains with their family under ministry supervision.
- The child is placed temporarily with another person, such as a relative, under supervision.
- The child remains in government care and is placed by the ministry in a foster home; sometimes a relative can provide the foster home.
When a child remains in care, the court can provide access orders for specific people - relatives or others - to visit and have contact with the child.
Social workers decide where children-in-care live. The law recognizes the importance of family connections, so the workers check for relatives who can provide a safe home and consider these factors:
- Your ability to care for the child and ensure their well-being and safety.
- Your capacity to immediately take and care for the child for a specified period.
- The age and needs of the child and their feelings about living with you.
- How the parents feel about you caring for their child.
- Whether other relatives are interested in caring for the child.
- The child's plan-of-care.
The worker recommends and the judge gives you temporary custody, under supervision, and the worker maintains contact with you and the child. This arrangement is most common when the plan's goal is for the child to return home when the family has overcome the problems related to the child's need for protection.
A child in government care lives in a foster home until it's safe and in their best interest to return to family. Please talk to the social worker if you would like to apply and be approved as a child's foster parent.
If a judge decides that returning to family is not in a child's best interest, you may apply for long-term custody under the Family Law Act (2013). A family justice counselor can help you with the application, free of charge, or contact your local Family Justice Centre. Please see the last section for more legal help.
If there is no relative who is capable of providing care, the ministry will place the child in an approved foster home.
Please talk to the social worker, who can arrange access if that's in the child's best interests. If the worker believes it's best that you not phone or visit the child, but you still want to maintain contact, then ask the worker's supervisor to review the decision or seek a mediator's assistance. If you are still denied access, you can apply to court and should get legal help.
A lawyer will help you with issues like access or with custody applications. The Lawyer Referral Service can help you find a lawyer practising child welfare and family law. The service offers a 30-minute consultation for $25 (plus tax) and then you can decide whether to hire a lawyer. Please call (604) 687-3221 in the Lower Mainland or 1 800 663-1919 (Mon - Fri, 8:30am - 4:30pm).
If you have limited resources, there are a number of low cost and free legal services available to the public, including legal aid through the Legal Services Society of B.C., which also offers self-help Family Law in BC and Abuse and Family Violence websites. Please note that legal-aid applications require income verification and any court documents you've received.
For more information about family law and legal services, please check the Family Justice website or use the following resources:
- Family LawLINE @ Clicklaw offers family law advice including access, custody and court procedures.
- The People’s Law School offers legal information.
- In Victoria, the UVic Law Centre (250) 385-1221 assists and represents people who cannot afford a lawyer.
Note – If you have questions or concerns about relatives' rights in cases of divorce or separation, please contact a lawyer or legal-aid office.