How Do I Get a Needs of the Child Assessment?

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Needs of the child assessments

Under s. 37(1) of the Family Law Act, when the court or the parties are making orders or agreements about guardianship, parenting arrangementsA term under the ''Family Law Act'' which describes the arrangements for parental responsibilities and parenting time among guardians, made in an order or agreement. "Parenting arrangements" does not include contact. See "contact," "guardian," "parental responsibilities" and "parenting time." or contactA term under the ''Family Law Act'' that describes the visitation rights of a person who is not a guardian with a child. Contact may be provided by court order or by the agreement among the child's guardians who have parental responsibility for determining contact. See "guardian" and "parental responsibilities." with a childA person who is younger than the legal age of majority, 19 in British Columbia. See "age of majority.", the parties and the court must consider the best interests of the child only. Disagreements often arise around what's best when it comes to these decisions. In some cases, it can help to get the opinion of a neutral third partyA person named in a court proceeding or joined to a proceeding who is neither the claimant nor the respondent. A third party may be joined to a proceeding where the respondent believes that the person has or shares some responsibility for the cause of action. See "action," "cause of action" and "party.". Under s. 211 of the actIntentionally doing a thing; a law passed by a government, also called "legislation" or a "statute." See "regulations.", the court can appoint a person, typically a psychologist, clinical counsellor or social worker, to assess one or more of:

  1. the needs of a child in relation to a family law dispute,
  2. the views of a child in relation to a family law dispute, or
  3. the ability and willingness of a partyIn law, a person named as an applicant, claimant, respondent or third party in a court proceeding; someone asserting a claim in a court proceeding or against whom a claim has been brought. See "action" and "litigant." to a family law dispute to satisfy the needs of a child.

The professional appointed to prepare the report will usually: interview the child's parents or guardians; interview the children, depending on their age and maturity; watch each parentIn family law, the natural or adoptive father or mother of a child; may also include stepparents, depending on the circumstances and the applicable legislation; may include the donors of eggs or sperm and surrogate mothers, depending on the circumstances and the terms of any assisted reproduction agreement. See "adoptive parent," "natural parent" and "stepparent." or guardian interacting with and parenting the children; administer personality and parenting tests to the parents; read any reports that are available about the children's medical and mental health; and, interview a few people who know the family and the children. What the professional actually does will depend on the circumstances of the family and the sort of report they have been asked to write.

The report the professional will prepare is called a needs of the child assessment, and will provide a summary of what the professional has learned about the family as well as the professional's opinion about what is in the best interests of the children. (You might also hear these reports called section 211 reports. Under the old Family Relations Act, these reports were called section 15 reports or custodyIn family law, an antiquated term used by the ''Divorce Act'' to describe the right to possess a child and make parenting decisions concerning the child's health, welfare and upbringing. See "access." and accessUnder the ''Divorce Act'', the schedule of a parent's time with their children under an order or agreement. Access usually refers to the schedule of the parent with the least time with the child. See "custody." reports.) These reports are intended to be neutral and prepared without bias. They are evaluative because the professional is providing their expert opinion about the parents or guardians, the children and the arrangements that are best for the children.

Needs of the child assessments can be very helpful in resolving a dispute about the care of children. The court will usually give a great deal of weight to the assessor's opinion and recommendations.

Picking the assessor

Needs of the child assessments are routinely prepared by family justice counsellors, social workers, registered clinical counsellors, and psychologists.

Family justice counsellor reports

Family justice counsellors are public employees. Their reports are free as part of the Family Justice Report Service, but they are in very high demand and there is usually a long delay. The only way to be referred to the service is by court orderA mandatory direction of the court, binding and enforceable upon the parties to a court proceeding. An "interim order" is a temporary order made following the hearing of an interim application. A "final order" is a permanent order, made following the trial of the court proceeding or the parties' settlement, following which the only recourse open to a dissatisfied party is to appeal. See "appeal," "consent order," "decision" and "declaration.". Once the Family Justice Report Service receives both a copy of the court order and the referral form from the court registryA central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched, and reviewed., the report will be placed on a list for assignment to a family justice counsellor.

Not all family justice counsellors are trained to prepare needs of the child asssessments, and the delay between requesting a report to getting it done might be up to a year. You can call the Family Justice Report Service at 604 851-7059 or find a Family Justice Centre near you to learn more about the serviceIn law, to formally deliver documents to a person in a manner that complies with the applicable rules of court. Service may be ordinary (mailed or delivered to a litigant's address for service), personal (hand-delivered to a person) or substituted (performed in a way other than the rules normally require). See "address for delivery," "ordinary service," "personal service" and "substituted service.".

Private reports

As an alternativeIn law, a phrase used to indicate secondary relief or a secondary ground of relief in a claim or application, usually presented as an option to the primary relief or primary ground of relief. For example, "I'd like to have have all of the house but, in the alternative, I'll take half." See “motion," “pleadings," and “relief.", you can pay for a report to be prepared by a social workers, clinical counsellor or psychologist. These can generally be done much faster, but they come at a higher cost. The fees for reports prepared by psychologists typically range between $5,000 and $16,000, depending on the number of children involved, where the children and the parents or guardians live, and the amount of work that needs to be done.

To find a professional to prepare a needs of the child assessment, you can:

  • ask for a referral from a psychologist or counsellor you know,
  • get a recommendation from your lawyerA person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor.",
  • read through British Columbia court cases on the CanLII website to get the names of professionals who prepare these reports, or
  • contact the BC College of Psychologists for a referral.

Arranging for the assessment

The parties can agree that a needs of the child assessment will be prepared. They then need to pick someone to prepare it.

If they can't agree, either party can apply to court for an order that an assessment be prepared. If you have to apply to court for such an order, make sure that you do your homework before going to court so that you can tell the judgeA person appointed by the federal or provincial government to manage and decide court proceedings in an impartial manner, independent of influence by the parties, the government or agents of the government. The decisions of a judge are binding upon the parties to the proceeding, subject to appeal. what kind of assessment you want, who you think should prepare it, how much the cost will be and when it can be completed. The order will usually specify who is being retained to prepare the assessment as well as how the assessment will be paid for.

Once an assessment is ordered or agreed to, you should get in touch with the person who will be performing the assessment. The assessor will tell you what happens next, when the interviewing process will begin, and when the completed assessment will likely be ready.

You can find more information about needs of the child assessments in the chapter Children in Family Law Matters.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Inga Phillips, July 14, 2017.
Creativecommonssmall.png JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.
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