How can I manage the impact of calling CAS about a client’s children?
This is the second of two posts on reporting to child protection. The first explored your duty to report.
A woman who learns that her children are under investigation by child welfare may have many different feelings. She might be:
- Afraid that her children will be taken away
- Afraid that the investigation will have an impact on her immigration status
- Afraid of retribution by her partner for telling the family secret
- Relieved that the secret has been shared
Her feelings towards you, as the person who made the report, will likely be complex and could include a combination of apparently contradictory emotions such as anger, gratitude, numbness, sense of betrayal, confusion, relief and anxiety.
You can help maintain a positive relationship with the woman if you let her know that you called the CAS to protect her children, not to be punitive to her, and that you have encouraged the CAS worker to focus attention on the abuser’s behaviour.
If the woman does not want to continue to work with you, you should discuss whether or not to transfer her to another worker. Whatever you do, you need to assure her that you continue to support her even though you have made a report to the CAS.
Women from marginalized communities have particular fears related to CAS involvement with their families, so you need to be ready to address these issues both with the CAS worker when you make your report and with the woman.
These fears are justified. Both historically and in the present, there can be over-involvement by the CAS in some communities:
- Indigenous communities
- Women with mental health issues
- Women who are substance users
- Families living in poverty
- Racialized families
- Young mothers
Indigenous children are significantly over-represented in the care of child protection agencies.
Child protection investigations can reflect cultural biases towards and about non-dominant cultures and races. Workers may bring personal biases about substance use and mental health issues that lead to incorrect assumptions that minimize the parenting strengths of mothers dealing with either of those issues.
Share appropriate resources with the worker so she can learn more about the barriers that a woman from a marginalized community may be facing so the CAS can assist her to overcome those barriers rather than add to them. For example, you may want to encourage an Indigenous woman to work with an Indigenous child protection authority, if one exists in your community. A woman with disabilities may benefit from advocacy by an organization that works with her disability.
Strategies for making a report
How you communicate with the woman about your duty to report is important if you want to maintain a relationship of trust with her. Consider the following:
Before the issue arises
- Discuss the legal duty to report with a woman at the beginning of her relationship with your agency and remind her of it throughout her time working with you
- Explain your role and obligations under the law
- Assure her that you will continue to support her and be her advocate even if you have to make a report
If you must make a report
- Discuss with the woman whether she would like to make the report herself, with you present, while also letting her know that you will have to make the report if she does not
- Explain the role of the child protection agency; in particular, let her know that a report does not necessarily mean her children will be taken away from her
- Validate how she feels, including any negative feelings she has towards you
- If the woman is from a vulnerable or marginalized community, talk with her about supports you can offer to assist her in working with the child protection agency
- Do safety planning with her to take into account the fact that the abuser may lash out once he is aware a report has been made to the child protection authorities
Before you make the report
- Review your organization’s policies and procedures related to the duty to report as well as with the legal requirements that we have just reviewed
- Discuss the situation with your supervisor
- Make a non-identifying consultation call to the CAS to help you clarify whether or not you have a duty to report. You can discuss the situation in a way that does not identify your client and ask the CAS worker whether or not they believe you need to report it
When you make the call
- Have relevant information ready.
- Be sure to ask for and write down the name of the person you are speaking with and their contact information.
- Let the worker know about any high-risk factors before you get into any other details about the situation.
- If the abuser has abducted the children in the past or has made ongoing threats to abduct the children, let the CAS worker know about this.
- Keep the focus on the abusive partner. The more details you can provide, including specific examples, the better. Share information about the impact of his behaviour on the children.
- Be thoughtful about your language. Use language that places the abusive partner’s violence at the centre of the story instead language that keeps the mother at the centre and assigns her all responsibility for the children’s safety.
- To help the child welfare worker focus on how the abuser’s actions impact the children, gather as much information as you can about his tactics, particularly those that involved the children (e.g. spying, putting her down, threats about them), or hurt items in home (including pets, their toys, the home itself) as well as his parenting and share it with the worker when you make your report.
Be prepared for questions from the worker about the impact of the abuse on the woman and about her parenting.
- Focus your response on what the father did rather than what the mother did or did not do and describe the many reasons women stay in and return to abusive relationships
- Do your best to keep the lines of communication open.
After you make the call
- Document everything, according to your agency recordkeeping policies and procedures
- Let your supervisor know what has happened and what you expect to happen next
- Check in with the woman so she knows what has happened and so you can discuss next steps and ongoing support with her
Managing the impact on you
Making a report will likely have an emotional impact on you. By calling the CAS, you are setting in motion a process over which you and the woman will have little control.
This is not a situation you should manage on your own.
- Involve your supervisor, as you decide to make the call, as you plan what to say to the CAS worker and how to say it, and after you have made the call
- Make a clear plan with your supervisor about how to manage your ongoing relationship with the woman and about what your next steps are going to be
- Clear some time in your schedule after you make the CAS call – you won’t be at your best to meet with a client at this point and you deserve to have some time to review the situation without rushing on to another appointment
- If possible, get out of the office for a short break. Go for a walk, get some lunch, sit in a park. Then, when your head is clear, come back to the work that is waiting for you
- Debrief with co-workers who you know will be supportive and constructive in any feedback they have for you
- Take time for yourself away from work too – have a massage, go for a swim, go to a movie, go home and read a good book
Letters for the court from CAS
Many women are frustrated when the CAS becomes involved with their family and identifies violence within the family as a child protection concern, but then does not play a role in the family’s custody and access case.
In some communities, CAS workers are prepared to provide a letter to support a woman’s family court case for custody. These letters are usually quite general, but 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 the mother’s parenting, which can assist the court to draw the appropriate conclusions about which parent may pose concerns with respect to the children.