In Alberta, the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act gives Alberta Child and Family Services the power to take measures to protect children from abuse and neglect. The Act recognizes the importance of the family in raising and caring for children. A child will be left in a family and community setting where that can be done without risk to the child. When it is necessary for the government to step in to protect a child, this is done in such a way that the focus of the intervention is the best interests of the child and the preservation of the family unit. Children are defined as persons less than eighteen years of age. In extreme cases, child welfare workers have the authority to take a child in need of intervention out of the parents’ home and hold that child in custody until a court decides what shall be done with the child. In most cases, a court order allowing the apprehension of a child must be obtained in advance.
Definitions of “Child in Need of Intervention”
The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act states a child is in need of intervention if there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the survival, security, or development of the child is endangered because of any of the following:
- A child who has been abandoned or lost;
- A child whose guardian is dead and who has no other guardian;
- A child whose guardian is unable or unwilling to provide the child with the necessities of life, including essential medical treatment;
- A child who faces a real risk that she will be physically and/or sexually abused;
- A child who has been emotionally injured by the guardian or whose guardian is unable or unwilling to protect the child from physical injury, sexual abuse, emotional injury or from cruel and unusual treatment or punishment;
- A child who is totally unmanageable and whose guardian cannot provide the child with adequate care and supervision.
The Act gives definitions of neglect, emotional injury, physical injury, and sexual abuse. Any person found mistreating or neglecting a child may be imprisoned and/or fined, although it is often very difficult to prove child abuse where the parents are the responsible parties. It is an offence not to report the mistreatment of children. Therefore, you are under a legal duty to report any suspicion of child abuse to the Child Abuse Hotline. To report the alleged child abuse call 310-0000 to get the telephone number of your local Child and Family Services office, or call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-387-5437. Remember, any information you give will be treated as confidential if that is necessary to protect you. However, the Minister of Child and Family Services can consent to your name being released.
Once a report is made, a child welfare worker will investigate the situation to determine whether the complaint of abuse is well-founded. If the child is in need of protection, the director under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act may make an agreement with the child’s parent or guardian to place the child under the guardianship of the director. The director is the person appointed by the Minister of Alberta Child and Family Services to handle these matters. If the director and the child’s parent or guardian cannot reach an agreement to place the child under the guardianship of the director, a court hearing will be held to assess the child’s situation. If the child welfare staff thinks it is an emergency, the child may be removed from the parent’s home until the hearing. The court will have to decide whether the child has been abused or neglected and whether the child should be taken from the parent’s home temporarily or permanently.
Hearings are as informal as possible and the parents or guardians may have the right to explain their side of the story to the court. However, the court may exclude any person from the hearing, even a parent or guardian, if it concludes the parent’s or guardian’s presence would be injurious or prejudicial to the child. The parents or guardians are entitled to be represented by a lawyer at the hearing. A lawyer may also be appointed to represent the child’s interest. Legal Representation for Children and Youth (LRCY) is a free service that is provided to young people by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (1-888-890-2020). LRCY receives referrals for the appointment of lawyers, for children and youth, from young people, child welfare caseworkers, the Court, parents, foster parents, other caregivers, and concerned individuals. The decisions of this court may be appealed to a higher court.
Supervision Orders, Temporary and Permanent Guardianship Orders
After hearing all the evidence, the court may order the mandatory supervision of the child and her family in their home if it is proved that the child may be inadequately protected. If the court concludes the child cannot be adequately protected if she remains with her guardian, but it can be anticipated the child may be returned to her guardian within a reasonable time, it may make a temporary guardianship order whereby the director is temporarily given custody of the child. If the court determines the child is unlikely to be returned to her guardian within a reasonable period of time, it may make a permanent guardianship order.
If a child is placed under the temporary guardianship of the director, the guardianship order must be reviewed at the expiry of the term of the order. It may be reviewed sooner on the application of the guardian or the child. Then the child may be returned to the parents, may remain under temporary guardianship, or a permanent guardianship order may be issued. The parents could be required to pay money to the province for the care of the child. Efforts will be made to find permanent homes through adoption for children who are subject to a permanent guardianship order. Whenever possible, children will be placed in substitute family settings rather than institutional or group home environments. Foster parents must be approved and their homes inspected by child welfare workers. Efforts will be made to match foster families to children of similar cultural, familial and/or social heritage. If possible, agreements will be made with Indian bands to have native communities take care of their own children.
A child who is the subject of a permanent guardianship order remains as such until she reaches the age of eighteen (or later if involved in school or training), or is adopted or otherwise freed from guardianship. An adult who has an important and continuing relationship with such a child may apply to become a joint guardian with the director.
If you as a parent or guardian are temporarily unable to care for your child, you may make an agreement with the director to provide support services to you so that your child will remain with you. You may also agree to give the director permanent guardianship or custody of your child. You will be breaking the law if you attempt to take a child from the custody the court has ordered unless you can prove that your actions were necessary to protect the child from harm. You must use the proper legal channels to change court-ordered custody or guardianship, e.g., by appealing to a higher court.
The Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act provides protection for children involved in prostitution or prostitution related activities. Such children are victims of sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation and require protection.
The Drug-endangered Children Act provides protection for children exposed to an adult’s involvement in drug activity, such as manufacturing and trafficking. Such children are exposed to health and safety risks. They are victims of abuse and require protection.
Criminal Laws Relating to Child Abuse
The Criminal Code imposes a duty on a parent or guardian to provide the basic necessities for her child until that child reaches the age of sixteen. The law also penalizes those persons who assault or sexually abuse children. In addition, the Criminal Code also attempts to protect children from moral corruption by making it an offence for anyone to engage in adultery, sexual immorality, habitual drunkenness, or any other form of vice in the home or in the presence of a child.
Amendments to the Criminal Code were passed in 1988 to create three new criminal offences. These amendments were designed to protect children from sexual abuse and provide for prosecution under the Criminal Code. The new offences include sexual exploitation (including child pornography) and invitation to sexual touching. The amendments also allow videotaped statements of the child to be used as evidence so the child may not have to testify in open court.