The Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) is the Ontario law dealing with child protection. Its purpose is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children.
The CFSA authorizes children’s aid societies (CAS) to:
- investigate allegations or evidence that a child may be in need of protection
- protect, care for and supervise such children
- provide services to families
A child is in need of protection if:
- the child has suffered physical, sexual or emotional harm, through actions or neglect
- there is the risk of any such harm
Exposure to woman abuse is one risk factor among others in determining whether a child may be in need of protection.
Anyone who has ‘reasonable grounds to suspect a child may be in need of protection’ is required to report this to the CAS. This could be the police, a teacher or day care worker or anyone else who is aware of the abuse in the family. If this happens, you may get a call from a CAS worker who wants to meet with you. If the CAS believes your children are at ongoing risk of physical or emotional harm because of the violence in your home, they will become involved.
However, if you have taken steps to protect your children from future exposure to woman abuse, the CAS may decide it does not need to become involved. The steps could include:
- coming to a shelter with your children to live
- taking steps to find housing separate from your abusive partner
- reporting the abuse to the police and separating from your partner
- hiring a family law lawyer
- starting a custody and access application in family court
The CAS is required to intervene with a family in as minimally intrusive a manner as possible, bearing in mind the best interests of the children. Removing a child from its parent(s) is a last resort that would only be employed if no other strategy was available.
Anyone involved in a child protection proceeding should have a lawyer. Legal aid is available in child protection cases to those who qualify financially. Duty counsel is available to assist women who do not have a lawyer.