Your family’s situation may have been reported to a child welfare agency by anyone who has concerns for the safety and well-being of your children:
- A teacher or daycare worker
- A neighbour, co-worker, friend or family member
- Your family doctor
- A doctor or nurse at the hospital, a police officer
- A counsellor or therapist
- Your partner/ex-partner
Women’s legal advocates have the same duty to report as all other professionals.
Whenever possible, most women’s agencies will:
- Discuss the legal duty to report with you at the beginning of your relationship with the agency and remind you of it throughout your time working with them.
- Explain their role and obligations under the law.
- Continue to support you and be your advocate even if they have to make
- a report.
- Encourage you to make the report yourself, with their support.
- Explain the role of the child protection agency so you know what to expect.
- Validate how you feel.
- Talk with you about any relevant cultural or religious supports that you can access to assist you in working with the child protection agency.
- Work on a safety plan with you to take into account the fact that your ex-partner may lash out once he is aware a report has been made to the child protection authorities.
What you can do
You may be worried or scared when you hear that a child welfare agency wants to talk to you about your children.
You might also be relieved that the secret of the abuse has been shared and hope that the child welfare agency can assist you and your children to move on.
If you have to meet with a worker from a child welfare agency, we strongly encourage you to:
- Let your lawyer know, if you have one, and get some advice from them before the meeting, when possible.
- Work with a women’s legal advocate to prepare for the meeting and, if possible, have the advocate accompany you to the meeting, letting your CAS worker know that you plan to do this.
- Be polite and cooperative, but speak up when necessary.
- Take notes and document the worker’s name and contact information as well as any instructions they give to you.
Talk about the abuse you have been subjected to
In talking about your family, let the worker know the impact you believe the abuse has had on your children, stress the steps you have taken to protect your children from the impact of the abuse, and let the worker know your plans for the future.
Encourage the worker to focus on your partner’s responsibility for the abuse and the children’s exposure to it. Make the worker aware of his different abuse tactics.
For example, does he:
- Engage in financial abuse that deprives your children of a decent standard of living?
- Physically abuse you in front of the children?
- Attempt to alienate your children from you?
- Put you down in front of the children?
- Use the children to spy on you and report to him about your activities?
- Damage the home?
- Hurt or threaten to hurt family pets?
- Threaten to hurt the children?
- Discipline the children inappropriately?
- Undermine your approach to parenting?
- Draw the children into his abuse of you?
If your partner is aggressive, abusive or physically violent with your children, tell the worker. Also, tell them what you do to protect the children from direct abuse.
Let the worker know if the children have ever been hurt while trying to protect you.
Ask for CAS’s support
If you are applying for custody of your children or want to limit your ex-partner’s access to them for safety reasons, talk to your CAS worker about whether they can provide a support letter.
These letters are usually quite general, but they can identify for the court when the CAS became involved, what, if any, its ongoing involvement is and which parent initiated whatever incident led to the police/CAS becoming involved.
This letter could also contain a sentence that confirms that while the CAS is involved, it has no concerns about your parenting, which can assist the court to draw the appropriate conclusions about which parent may pose concerns with respect to the children.
Child welfare can provide important support to a family dealing with woman abuse. However, you should always be aware of the legal power the agency has and ensure that you have legal advice and representation in any formal dealings you may have with a child protection agency.