Answer: The Children’s Law Reform Act section 5 states: “The entitlement to access to a child includes . . . the same right as a parent to make inquiries and to be given information as to the health, education and welfare of the child.”
Generally, this provision refers to school report cards and medical/health care records. It gives the access parent the right to information but not decision making. In other words, just because the access parent has a legal right to receive a copy of the child’s report card, it does not give him the right to enter into decision-making related to the child’s progress at school.
The provision does not create an obligation on the primary caregiver to provide the information to the access parent. Ideally, the access parent would make his own arrangements with the school, child’s doctor, etc. to receive this information directly and the mother would not have to be involved at all.
Safety – both physical and emotional – is an important factor for women to consider with respect to the sharing of this information about the child. As her legal advocate and/or service provider, you can encourage women to consider the following:
Some judges seem to think that it is the responsibility of the custodial parent to provide this information to the access parent. It is not. Where possible, the woman should seek a custody and access order that says the responsibility to get the information rests with the access parent.
Because an abuser will use any opening as an opportunity to continue to harass and intimidate their former partner, he may see his right to access the child’s education and medical information as an invitation to involve himself with the mother. For instance, he may decide, once he has read the child’s report card that he should call the mother and engage her in abusive conversations about the child’s progress at school. Similarly, he may use his review of the child’s medical record as an excuse to berate the mother for health care decisions she has made. If possible, the woman should seek a custody and access order that makes it clear the access parent has a right to the information and nothing more.
The order can also include a clause that prohibits the access parent from contacting the teacher or health care provider directly.
The order should also take into account safety issues related to information about the child’s (and mother’s) address, telephone number and so on. If this is of concern to the mother, she should ask that any school or medical information provided to the father have this deleted.
Challenges may arise once the child reaches the age of consent with respect to privacy. In the education setting, this is at 18 – before that, the child does not have to consent to the release of any information contained in her Ontario School Record, although she does have privacy with respect to the release of other information. In the health care setting, the age of consent with respect to records is 16.