How Do I Get a Needs of the Child Assessment?
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 arrangements or contact with a child, 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 party. Under s. 211 of the act, the court can appoint a person, typically a psychologist, clinical counsellor or social worker, to assess one or more of:
- the needs of a child in relation to a family law dispute,
- the views of a child in relation to a family law dispute, or
- the ability and willingness of a party 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 parent 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 custody and access 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 order. Once the Family Justice Report Service receives both a copy of the court order and the referral form from the court registry, 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 service.
As an alternative, 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 lawyer,
- 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 judge 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.|
|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.|