Staying out of court

Options explained here are for child protection matters only — that is, if a social worker from the Ministry of Children and Family Development (the ministry) or a delegated Aboriginal agency is involved. They're not for solving most parenting issues under the Family Law Act.

Every family is different, so these options are different for everyone. Some of them might not apply to your situation. Information here is a basic guide.

An advocate can help you understand the different options.

A lawyer can give you legal advice.

When the ministry or a delegated Aboriginal agency has concerns about your child's safety, in most cases you have the right to be involved in decisions about your child's care. At any time in the child protection process, you can ask to negotiate (talk and work together) with the ministry or delegated Aboriginal agency to find the best way to keep your child safe and not have to go to court.

  • You can talk to a social worker and try to reach an agreement about what you can do to make sure your child is safe.
  • You can also use what's called collaborative (shared) planning and decision making to bring everyone together to decide what's best for your child.

Everyone involved has to agree with decisions before they become part of the plan for you and your child.

Collaborative planning and decision making

Collaborative planning and decision making can help you decide:

  • where your child will live, now or permanently
  • how to address the social worker's concerns about your child's safety
  • what services or help your family might need, and how to get the help
  • what supports you and your child will get from your community
  • if the ministry has removed (taken) your child, when your child can return home

You can participate in collaborative planning and decision making when:

  • you're dealing with a social worker
  • the court process hasn't started
  • the court process has started but court orders haven't been made yet
  • temporary court orders have been made

Sometimes collaborative planning and decision making can address one issue while the court addresses other issues. You might also be able to use collaborative planning and decision making after a judge makes a final order.

Collaborative planning and decision making doesn't guarantee an agreement with the ministry or delegated Aboriginal agency. If the social worker doesn't agree with the plan you suggest, you might have to go to court.

Collaborative planning and decision making is voluntary — you can choose to participate or not. If the social worker doesn't suggest it, you have the right to ask for it. But if the social worker offers it and you refuse to participate, the social worker might make plans for your child without involving you.

Depending on the option you use, a neutral person (someone who's not involved in making decisions about your child's protection) might be able to help guide you through it.

Collaborative planning and decision-making options are free. You can also ask the ministry for help to pay for your transportation to meetings. Meetings should take place near where your child lives. If you're Aboriginal, you can ask to have the meetings on your band's traditional territory.

Collaborative decision-making is also confidential (private) in most cases. If the matter goes to court later, though, the judge sees any agreements you made.

Options

Collaborative planning and decision-making options include:

  • a family case planning conference
  • a family group conference
  • traditional decision making if your child is Aboriginal
  • mediation

Family case planning conference

You can ask for a family case planning conference for a fast response to the situation. The conference normally lasts no longer than 90 minutes. It focuses on immediate concerns, next steps to keep your child safe, and how to move the plan forward for your child's care.

  • You meet with a trained facilitator.
  • You can invite your family and support people to attend.
  • Everyone who attends gets a copy of the written plan at the end of the conference.

Family group conference

You can ask for a family group conference, sometimes called family group decision making, at any time during the agreement process. You meet with family members and other people involved in caring for your child. If you don't have a lawyer and your extended family is available, a family group conference is useful to develop a plan of care. You can also ask your lawyer, advocate, or friends to take part.

  • A person called a family group conference coordinator organizes the conference and might be there.
  • You meet in a place where everyone feels comfortable.
  • The people you invite talk over concerns about your family and how to deal with them.
  • You and your family members who participate in the conference decide how best to care for your child.
  • A social worker reviews your decision and discusses it with you

A traditional decision-making meeting is like a family group conference.

  • You can ask to have the meeting on your community's traditional territory.
  • Your extended family can come to the meetings. Your community's leaders might be there.
  • You can make decisions based on your cultural traditions and values.
  • You can ask to use traditional decision making at any time when you deal with a social worker.

Ask your advocate or lawyer about using this option.

Mediation

Mediation brings together parents, child protection social workers, and others to talk about concerns and ideas for your child's plan of care.

  • A mediator (neutral person with special training) leads the meeting and makes sure each person has the chance to speak and be heard.
  • The goal in child protection mediation is to reach an agreement that's in your child's best interests and acceptable to everyone. The mediator doesn't make decisions but can help put an agreement in writing.
  • You can ask for mediation any time in the child protection process, including as soon as a social worker contacts you about a child protection report. You can also ask for an Aboriginal mediator.
If you ask for mediation and the ministry or delegated Aboriginal agency doesn't provide it, get legal advice about what to do next.

When you go to a meeting

  • Have a notebook for your notes, a folder for all your papers, and a calendar or planner.
  • Take notes at every meeting you go to and during every phone call. Write down what you agree to do. Write down what other people say they'll do and when they'll do it.
  • Use your calendar or planner to keep track of all important dates.
  • Make sure you understand everything. If you don't understand something, or you're not sure you understand, ask the social worker or someone else to explain it to you. 
  • Always put your child's best interests first.
  • If you need more time to think or get legal advice before you make a decision, ask for it. If you're told you can't have more time, make a note of the reason so you can tell your lawyer or advocate later.

What agreements can be made

You can make several kinds of plans and agreements using collaborative planning and decision making at any stage of the child protection process. You can make an agreement even after you've been to court.

Before you sign any agreement with the ministry or a delegated Aboriginal agency, get legal advice. Even if you already signed a document but you're unhappy with it, ask a lawyer if you can get it changed.
Wellness

Many parents who used one of these options said it was a positive experience.