The Ministry Has Taken My Kids
The Ministry of Children and Family Development or a delegated agency has the authority to remove children from their home if they are "in need of protection" because they believe that a child has been abused or neglected, or is likely to be abused or neglected. If the Ministry removes the child or children, the matter is taken to Family Court until it is resolved.
|If the Ministry has begun an investigation, you can ask for legal advice before the child is removed from the home (see the steps below).|
- If you need a lawyer but cannot afford one on your own, apply for legal aid representation. If you qualify, the Legal Services Society will appoint a lawyer to advise you and represent you in court.
- If you don't have a lawyer, consider getting some legal advice. Child protection is a very emotional issue and difficult to face without legal advice and support. See if there is an advocate in your community who can help. PovNet has a "Find an Advocate" feature on their website. As well, duty counsel can provide advice services.
- Contact the Ministry worker who removed your child, and see if you can negotiate for either the return of your child or contact with your child while in Ministry care. Take a friend or advocate with you when you speak to the worker. Make sure you have a lawyer review any agreement before you sign it.
- Within seven days of removing the child, the Ministry must go to Family Court and explain to a judge why the child was removed and what their plans are for the child until the matter is resolved. Attend this hearing. Even if you can't convince the judge to return the child right away, you can ask the judge for contact with the child. There is usually a duty counsel lawyer in Family Court who can assist you on the day of court. If your matter is called before you've had the chance to speak to duty counsel, tell the judge that you’d like to do so before proceeding.
What happens next
At the first court appearance, the judge will set a date for a presentation hearing. At this hearing, you will have a chance to convince the judge why the child should be returned to you. The judge may decide to make a supervision order (returning the child to you under supervision of the Ministry) or a custody order (leaving the child in the care of the Ministry) until a protection hearing is held.
A protection hearing must begin within 45 days from the end of the presentation hearing. Before or after the start of the protection hearing, you will probably be asked to attend a case conference (a meeting with a judge and the Ministry to see if you can reach an agreement about the child's care). If there is no agreement, the judge will hold a protection hearing. At the end of it, the judge may order that the child be returned to a parent or other person, or remain in the custody of the Ministry for a period of time, or (in rare and serious cases) remain in the custody of the Ministry on a continuing basis.
|The Ministry of Children and Family Development now offers a number of structured meetings — such as integrated case management meetings, partnership planning conferences, family group conferences and mediation — aimed at resolving child welfare cases outside of court. Even though legal aid does not usually cover the cost of your lawyer to attend these meetings, it is a good idea to have an advocate or other support person attend with you. If a meeting does result in an agreement, try to have a lawyer review it before you sign it.|
Where to get help
See the Resource List in this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:
- Legal aid representation, to apply for legal aid.
- Family Law in BC website, for forms, self-help materials and other legal information about child protection and removal.
- PovNet, for the "Find An Advocate" feature on their website.
- Family duty counsel (Provincial or Supreme), for some assistance on the day you have to appear in court.
- Family LawLINE.
- Access Pro Bono, Lawyer Referral Service, and private bar lawyers.
- The Clicklaw common question "What about child protection for Aboriginal people?"
- The Legal Services Society publication "Parents' Rights, Kids' Rights: A Parent's Guide to Child Protection Law in BC."
- The Legal Services Society publication "If You Can't Get Legal Aid for Your Child Protection Case."
Before meeting with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you bring copies of all documents relating to your case.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Stephen Wright, March 2017.|
|Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|