How to get help if someone reports you to the ministry
The judge may order that you attend a family case conference.
A case conference is a meeting that's less formal than a court hearing. It provides an opportunity for negotiation and agreement. It's like mediation, except a judge leads the discussion instead of a mediator. Case conferences last about one hour.
Even though a case conference isn't a court proceeding, it's very important. You and your lawyer should be well prepared for it as the outcome of your case may depend on it.
Case conferences are held before full hearings. A case conference provides another opportunity to reach an agreement and can happen at any time after your child has been removed from your home.
- The child protection worker, you, or your lawyer may ask for a family case conference at any time in the process.
- The judge may order a family case conference at the first appearance of a presentation hearing. In this case, you might want a case conference, but the child protection worker may not, or you may both agree. The judge decides whether or not to have a family case conference in this situation.
- The judge can order a family case conference at any other time in the process.
- The judge must order a family case conference at the first date for a protection hearing if you and the ministry can't agree at this stage.
If a case conference is scheduled, you must attend.
- A case conference includes you, your lawyer, the child protection worker, the ministry lawyer (often called director's counsel), and a judge.
- You have the right to ask that your advocate to be there. You might want your advocate there if, for example, your ex-spouse will be at the case conference and you're afraid of him. However, only the judge can give permission for the advocate to be present.
- The judge may also ask that your child, other family members, or people involved with your child be there.
- If your child is Aboriginal, a representative of the Aboriginal community may also be there, unless you've told the judge you don't want such a person there.
- Other support workers, advocates, and interested family members are also often permitted to attend, but they may be asked to wait outside the room.
The conference is kept private (even if it's held in a courtroom), and only those people directly involved in your case will be allowed in.
In larger courts, the case conference is usually held in a courthouse conference room and is conducted by a provincial court judge. The room is often small and everyone, even the judge, sits at the same round table.
Other times, and in rural areas, the case conference takes place in the courtroom with the judge sitting at the same table as you. This setting is intended to encourage open conversation about the issues and possible solutions.
At the case conference, the judge will try to get you and the ministry to work out a solution so that you and your child won't be dealing with uncertainty for too long. The judge will want to hear from both sides.
- Both your lawyer and the ministry lawyer will speak, but you need to be prepared to speak for yourself because judges usually want to hear directly from the parents. You may want to discuss what to say with your lawyer beforehand. Whatever you say at the case conference can't be used as evidence in either the presentation or protection hearing, but the ministry can try to use what you say to find out more information about your case.
- During a case conference, you and the ministry may agree to go to mediation to work out some issues. Mediation is a meeting conducted by a mediator (rather than the judge) who helps everyone come to an agreement. Generally, mediation involves much more time than a case conference and could last all day. It's often helpful to take the extra time to reach an agreement at the case conference.
- If the case conference is part of the protection hearing proceedings, it's also an opportunity to discuss trial preparation. This should include asking what witnesses will be called, what they're expected to say, and what expert evidence will be presented. Both sides should also make sure that copies of all relevant written information have been exchanged. Both sides have to provide each other with copies of documents if requested.
- No court orders for custody, supervision, or the return of the child can be made at the case conference unless everyone agrees. If you don't agree with the order that's suggested for your child, you have the right to say you want a formal hearing about your case.
If you and the ministry can't come to an agreement in the case conference, or if there are still some things that need to be decided, your case will go to a full protection hearing.
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