CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETIES (CAS)
Facts about CAS
Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) serve to help protect infants, children and youth. Some of these children may be experiencing abuse, neglect, abandonment or are at the risk of it. CAS works alongside many other service workers and families to assist in ensuring the children or youth are safe and in conditions to help them thrive. Some examples of services include counselling, mental health and developmental services, parenting and youth programs.
In 97% of case investigations done by CAS, the children receive supportive services while remaining at home. However, if the children are not in a safe environment at home, CAS must move the child to another safe alternative. This can be a close relative or friend’s home where the child can remain there temporarily until home environments improve. In extreme cases where that is not possible, CAS will look for next best alternatives.
In Ontario, CAS has the exclusive responsibility to provide child protection services 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Children’s Aid Societies are monitored by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services in addition to formal oversight by Ontario’s Family Courts, Child and Family Services Review Board, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
The work of CAS is also influenced by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Internal Complaints Review Panel.
And, each CAS is governed by a local Board of Directors.
If you have a complaint against CAS, you can contact a CAS to initiate a review process. Each CAS has its own Internal Complaints Review Panel (ICRP) which works to address any written complaints from people who are receiving services from CAS. The complaint will be reviewed by a panel of individuals (who were not involved in the complaint) where there is at least one individual not employed by the agency. 1
What happens when someone calls CAS on you
When someone calls CAS, the child welfare workers will first assess the situation for signs of abuse or neglect. They will check if the child has been harmed or is at risk of being harmed.
Most of the time, the child is not removed from the home during the investigation. But if the child welfare worker sees signs that deems the child may not be safe at home, they will take steps to ensure that the child lives in a safe environment.
If the child has to be removed from home while any of the problems the child has been facing are being solved, the child welfare worker will work with the family to temporarily or permanently place the child in another home where they can be cared for. This is called placing the child “in care.” The first choice for a caregiver in this situation would usually be a kin connection or a foster family. 2
Important Information to Know Before a CAS Visit
Please exercise caution in your interactions and communication with a representative from the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and be mindful of your words and actions. Anything you say or how you behave in their presence can be reported to a court by the CAS worker.
While you have the right to hold differing opinions regarding their concerns or actions, it is important to cooperate with them. They are obligated to perform certain tasks, such as conducting interviews with you and your child.
Here are some recommended guidelines to follow:
- Listen attentively to their statements and inquiries.
- Provide honest answers to their questions.
- If possible, have a trusted friend or family member accompany you to offer support.
- During the meeting, consider taking notes, and afterward, make detailed records of the discussion.
- Refrain from signing any documents until you have reviewed them with a lawyer.
- Provide the names of close friends and family members who are familiar with your child and could temporarily provide care, if necessary.
- If you or your child identifies as First Nations, Inuk, or Métis, it is advisable to have a representative from your band present, especially if your band and CAS have established a collaborative working arrangement.
The CAS worker has the authority to inquire about any matter they deem as potentially endangering your child’s well-being. They are required to maintain records of their observations, conversations, and interactions with you. For instance, they document instances where you:
- Decline to answer questions.
- Evade questions.
- React with anger or violence.
These recorded details may be utilized as evidence in court proceedings. You also have the right to request a copy of the CAS worker’s notes.
Also, ensure that you home is representable:
A Child and Family Services (CAS) worker typically arranges a home visit during their communication with you, whether it be through phone or in-person conversations. However, in cases where immediate safety concerns arise regarding your child, they may also arrive unannounced, possibly accompanied by law enforcement.
When CAS informs you of their upcoming visit, it is important to ensure the following:
- Sufficient food is available in the refrigerator.
- The floors are clean and tidy.
- Your home is child-safe, meaning cleaning supplies, knives, and medications are stored out of your child’s reach.
- Functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in your home.
- Children’s rooms contain appropriate furniture, such as a crib for infants.
If your home appears disorganized or chaotic, it could give the impression that taking care of your child is challenging for you. CAS workers are required to take notes on their observations of your home environment. 3
How Long Does CAS Take to Investigate?
The completion of a child protection investigation should occur within a period of forty-five (45) days from the time the referral is received. However, it is crucial to prioritize the quality and thoroughness of the investigation without compromising it solely to meet the 45-day deadline. For instance, in cases involving complexity or when the CAS requires additional time to tailor the investigation to address the unique needs of children and their families, the investigation may extend beyond the initial 45-day timeframe. In such situations, the decision to extend the timeframe, up to a maximum of 60 days from the referral date, rests with the supervisor. The rationale behind the extension is duly documented in the case record.
Common Steps Child Protective Services Take When Initiating an Investigation in Ontario
As of September 2021, here are some common steps that Child Protective Services (CPS) may take when initiating an investigation within Ontario, Canada:
- Receiving a Report: The investigation process usually starts when someone files a report or a complaint to the local child protective services agency. Reports can be made by various individuals, including teachers, healthcare providers, neighbors, family members, or concerned citizens.
- Assessment of the Report: Upon receiving the report, CPS will assess the level of risk to the child. They will review the information provided and determine the urgency and severity of the situation.
- Initial Contact: CPS will contact the family or caregivers of the child mentioned within the report. The purpose of this initial contact is to gather more information about the child’s living situation, safety, and well-being.
- Home Visit: A caseworker will likely conduct a home visit to observe the living conditions, interview the child and other family members, and assess the overall environment for potential risks.
- Interviews: The caseworker will interview all relevant individuals, such as parents, siblings, teachers, neighbors, and anyone else involved within the child’s life.
- Collateral Contacts: In some cases, CPS may reach out to other professionals, such as doctors, therapists, or school personnel, to gather additional information about the child’s situation.
- Assessment of Risk: Based on the information gathered during interviews and home visits, CPS will assess the level of risk to the child. This assessment helps determine the appropriate level of intervention required.
- Safety Planning: If the investigation reveals immediate risks to the child’s safety, CPS may develop a safety plan in collaboration with the family to ensure the child’s protection. The safety plan may involve placing the child with a relative or in foster care temporarily.
- Case Decision: After completing the investigation, CPS will make a decision on whether there is evidence of child maltreatment or if further intervention is necessary.
- Intervention or Referral: Depending on the findings, CPS may offer supportive services to the family, such as counseling or parenting classes, or they may refer the family to other community resources for help.
- Legal Action: In severe cases where children are at immediate risk, CPS may seek court intervention, such as obtaining a court order for the child’s protection or seeking temporary custody.
Throughout the investigation process, CPS aims to balance child safety with family preservation when possible. The goal is to ensure the well-being and protection of the child while offering support and resources to the family.