Saskatchewan's child protection laws are intended to promote the well-being of children "in need of protection." Under child protection laws a child is any unmarried person under 16.
A child may be in need of protection when they are at risk of physical or emotional harm or exposed to inappropriate sexual activities or family violence. Children may also be in need of protection if no adult is willing and able to provide for their needs. When the parent of a child under the age of 12 is not meeting the child's needs and the child commits a crime, the child may be considered in need of protection if family services are required to prevent further incidents.
In Saskatchewan, child protection services are provided by the Ministry of Social Services and by First Nations Child and Family Services Agencies (FNCFS). FNCFS agencies provide services to First Nations children and families living on-reserve. In this material Social Services and FNCFS agencies are called agencies.
When a child protection agency gets a report about a child and has reasonable grounds to believe that the child may be in need of protection, they must look into the matter.
If the child protection agency believes that a child is in need of protection they will decide what is necessary to protect the child. The agency and a case worker will work with the family to help ensure the child's safety within their family and kinship networks whenever it is possible and safe to do so. In some cases it may be necessary to have the child live apart from their family while the agency works with the family to develop a plan to address child protection concerns. Removing the child from the home is often temporary but can be permanent.
If a child protection agency finds that your child must be removed from your care for their own protection, you must be told the reasons for this decision. You must be given contact information for the child protection worker in charge of your case. You must also be told that you have the right to talk to a lawyer about the matter. You must be offered services that could help you have your child returned to you.
If your child cannot be returned to your care within 48 hours, the agency must apply to a court for a protection hearing within the next 7 days. This type of hearing must begin within 14 days of when your child was removed from your care.
Sometimes it may be possible to have the child returned to your care with conditions in place for their protection. The agency may offer to provide family services if you acknowledge the need for services and agree to participate in services.
If your child is removed from your care they can be cared for in a relative's home or foster care. If your child is in need of medical attention they may be taken to a hospital. You may be allowed to visit your child.
Your child must be returned to your care as soon as it is safe to do so. You have the right to ask questions about your child and your case, and to work with your case worker in order to have your child returned to your care.
If your child is returned to your care without a court hearing, the agency will continue to work with you and your family to help ensure your child's safety. Family services could include counselling or the help of a parent‑aide. The application for a protection hearing may then be withdrawn.
You can enter into a voluntary agreement with the agency to take care of your child. This type of agreement can be made for periods of up to one year, with some room for renewals. You may recognize that you need this time to address issues that are affecting your ability to parent your child.
If the agency hasn't returned your child to your care and a voluntary agreement is not right for you, you should go to court. If you have been notified about a court date and you do not attend, the court can go ahead and make decisions about your child without hearing from you.
Going to Court
You must receive notice of a protection hearing. The notice will tell you the day, time and place of the protection hearing. The notice will also set out the reasons why your child was taken into care. Each parent must get a copy of the notice at least 3 days before the hearing, unless you agree to accept the notice closer to the hearing date.
Once you get to court your case may be adjourned from time to time to allow your protection worker to work with you and provide appropriate family services. Your case may also be adjourned if another court is dealing with custody issues involving your child.
The case will usually be heard first in Chambers. Chambers is a court room. The agency will prepare a written document that describes why the child is in need of protection and their proposed plan for the child. You can see this document before the Chambers appearance. If you do not have a lawyer you will be asked to go to the agency's office to read these materials. If you do not agree with what the agency is planning for your child it is very important to attend court and voice your objections.
If you do not agree with the agency's plan, the court will usually set another court date for what is called a pre-trial conference. A pre-trial conference is held in a court room with a judge, the agency and the parents. At the pre-trial conference the case will be discussed and the parents and the agency may be able to agree on a plan of care for the child. If there is no agreement following the pre-trial conference, the judge may set the matter for a trial.
At the trial a judge will decide if your child should stay in protective care or be returned to your care. The court can hear oral testimony of witnesses (parents, caseworkers, supervisor, specialists, community supports) and/or written evidence.
Depending on the age of the child, the court may want to hear the wishes of the child. Often evidence of the child will be heard without them having to testify in court. In some cases the Counsel for Children program may appoint a lawyer for a child or youth who is involved in a protection hearing. The lawyer ensures a child's or youth's voice is heard.
The judge may designate someone close to your child, such as a relative or Band member, as a person having sufficient interest in your child's care. This means they will also be involved in your child's case and can go to court and be involved in the process.
Most court rooms are open to the public and anyone may attend court. In rare cases, protection hearings may be held in private so that the evidence does not become known to the public. The judge may choose to order a publication ban to prevent any evidence from being publicized.
Making a Decision
At the protection hearing the judge will listen to all the evidence, including the reasons why the agency removed your child from your care, what you have to say, what the child has to say and any evidence from other courts about you and your child. The judge will consider the agency's recommendation and make a decision based on what is best for your child.
The judge may find that your child is not abused, neglected or otherwise at risk and order that your child be returned to your care.
If, however, the judge finds that your child is in need of protection, they may order that your child...
- be returned to you under certain conditions
- be placed with another person, such as a relative or a person having sufficient interest in your child
- stay in the care of Social Services or FNCFS temporarily
- stay in the care of Social Services or FNCFS permanently
- go into long-term care (up to the age of 18)
- be a permanent ward of the government
Removing your child from your care is considered a last resort. If your child is removed from your care the agency will try to place your child with extended family whenever possible and take other steps to keep your child connected to their family and culture. If you do not agree with the court's order, talk to a lawyer right away about an appeal. An appeal must be made within 30 days after the order is made.
Child protection agencies will continue to work with you and your family to develop a plan that adequately addresses any child protection concerns so that your child can be returned to your care. Your worker will consider your individual family situation, cultural needs, relationships with other family members and extended family, and resources that are available in your community.
A lawyer can advise you of your rights and help you get ready for court. A lawyer can speak for you in court and will help you get more information from the child protection worker. If you get a lawyer, be sure to tell them everything, so they can best act for you. Also be sure you understand from your lawyer what is going on and what the agency wants to do. You have the right to ask questions about what is happening and to tell your lawyer what you want to see happen. If you don't have money for a lawyer, contact your nearest Legal Aid Office to determine if you qualify for assistance.
For More Information
Other PLEA Resources
Family Law Saskatchewan