The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act is the Alberta legislation governing the authority of Child and Youth Services to support children in need of intervention, including child apprehension. In this post, we answer the 6 most common questions about child apprehension in Alberta.
1. What Happens if Someone Calls Child and Family Services About my Family?
Children’s Services is legally required to follow up on every phone call about the safety, health, or development of a child. It doesn’t matter who the call is from. Children’s Services will look into the situation to determine the validity of the report and what, if any, action must be taken.
This can lead to 3 possible scenarios:
I. Your Child is Not at Risk
If they don’t find there is any risk to your child, they will close the file and that will be the end of it.
II. Your Family Needs Support
If there is low risk to your child but your family would benefit from some support, a Family Enhancement Agreement may be put in place. This usually lasts for 3 months, though it can be extended. Your child will remain in your care, but Children’s Services will stay involved to provide support to your family. Typically, this would involve planned visits to your home by a social worker.
III. Your Child is at Risk
If your child is at significant risk, Children’s Services can remove your child from your care for an extended period of time. This is what is referred to as child apprehension. It is reserved for more serious cases.
2. When is Children’s Services Required to Intervene with a Child?
Children’s Services is required to intervene with a child if there are “reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the child is in need of intervention”. The survival, security or development of the child is at risk. Examples of this type of situation include:
- The child has been abandoned or lost;
- The child’s only guardian has died;
- The guardian is unable or unwilling to protect the child from abuse;
- The child is neglected by the guardian – A neglected child might not be receiving their basic needs including medical care and adequate supervision; and/or
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse is suspected;
- Signs of physical abuse include cuts, bruises, or fractures caused by non-accidental force.
- Sexual abuse includes inappropriate touch or contact and prostitution-related activity.
- Emotional abuse includes neglect, rejection, and exposure to domestic violence.
3. What Happens if a Child is Apprehended?
If Children’s Services apprehends your child, an application is made to the Provincial Court of Alberta for the initial custody of your child and a Guardianship Order. Your child will remain in foster care until the initial custody Court hearing between you (the parent or guardian) and Children’s Services.
You will be served a copy of the Order which will tell you the date you are to appear in court. You must be given 2 days’ notice of the court date. This hearing must be decided within 42 days of the apprehension.
If initial custody is granted to Children’s Services, your child will stay in foster care until the situation is resolved or reassessed. You might be allowed contact with your child during this time.
If initial custody is not granted, your child will come home. Children’s Services will either withdraw their application or change it to request a Supervision Order. (See below for more details on Supervision Order.)
4. What Factors Influence the Court’s Decision About a Child?
The Child, Youth and Family Act was written to protect the best interests of your child. The benefits and risks to your child will be assessed to prioritize what is best for your child at every point in the apprehension process. This includes the following considerations:
- Is your child a valued member of your family?
- Does your child have stable relationships?
- Does your child have access to educational resources?
- Does your child have access to health care?
- Does your child live in a safe, nurturing environment?
- What are your child’s opinions on this matter, if any?
Generally, if your child is over 12 years of age, they must have counsel appointed for them. In some cases, even children younger than 12 may have counsel appointed to represent them.
5. What are the Possible Orders the Court Can Issue About a Child?
There are 5 possible Orders the Court can issue about a child in a case of child apprehension:
- Apprehension Order
- Supervision Order
- Temporary Guardianship Order
- Permanent Guardianship Order
- Secure Services Order
1. Apprehension Order
An Apprehension Order allows Children’s Services to take custody of a child when there is reason to believe the child needs intervention. This Order also applies when a child has left or been removed from the custody of Children’s Services without the Director’s consent.
2. Supervision Order
When the Court decides that a child can be in the custody of their guardian but with the supervision and protective support of Children’s Services, a Supervision Order is issued. This Order often includes terms and conditions for all parties involved. For example, the Court might order a parent to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.
3. Temporary Guardianship Order
A Temporary Guardianship Order is granted when the Court decides a child needs intervention and must not stay in the custody of their current guardian. This Order is temporary because it’s issued when the Court expects the child to be returned into the custody of their guardian within a reasonable time or when the child is at least 16 years old and may be able to live independently.
Under a Temporary Guardianship Order, Children’s Services becomes a joint guardian of the child.
If the child is under 6 years old, this Order can only last up to 6 months. If the child is older than 6 years, it can only last up to 12 months. These time periods can be extended if the Court deems it necessary.
4. Permanent Guardianship Order
A Permanent Guardianship Order is granted when the Court believes a child will not be protected or cared for well enough by their guardian. It is permanent instead of temporary because the Court expects a change in the guardian’s situation to be unlikely within a reasonable period of time.
Under this Order, Children’s Services becomes the sole guardian of the child.
5. Secure Services Order
A Secure Services Order is a last resort, granted only when the Court has no other option. It gives Children’s Services the authority to confine a child to a Secure Services Facility for no more than 5 days (though that period can be extended, if necessary). It’s used in situations where the child is in immediate danger.
6. Can I Appeal the Court’s Decision About my Child?
You do have the right to appeal the Court’s decision about your child. Your appeal must be made within 30 days of the order being made or renewed.
Appeals can be made by a guardian or the child (if they are 12 years old or older).
An appeal can be difficult, complex, and is never without risk. It is advisable to speak to a lawyer to determine if your situation is right for an appeal. The family law attorneys of Osuji & Smith Lawyers are prepared to help you with your appeal. We can guide and support you through every stage of a child apprehension scenario.
More Resources About Child Apprehension in Alberta
For more information about child apprehension in Alberta, the following resources are good places to start: