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Child Protection Process

Q - What is child abuse?

A - Child abuse covers many different types of behaviour that may harm a child. The Nova Scotia Children and Family Services Act seeks to protect children from harm. The Act talks about children in need of protective services rather than child abuse. A child may be in need of protective services because he or she is being abused or at risk of being abused physically, sexually, emotionally or because he or she is or is at risk of being neglected.

Q - Is child abuse a crime?

A - Some forms of child abuse may be a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. If you need more information about this, talk with a lawyer or call the Legal Information Society's Legal Information Line 455.3135 in HRM or 1.800.665.9779 toll free in Nova Scotia.

Q - Who investigates reports of child abuse?

A - Reports of child abuse are investigated by child protection agencies. They get their authority from Nova Scotia's Children and Family Services Act. To find out the name and telephone number of the agency in your area, you can contact Nova Scotia Community Services toll free at 1.877.424.1177 or look in your local telephone book in the government pages under child abuse. In an emergency you can always call 911. Agencies will have after hours emergency duty workers on call.

Q - If I believe a child is being abused, do I have to report it?

A - Yes, under the Children and Family Services Act everyone has the duty to report information indicating that a child is in need of protective services. Every person must report information whether or not it is confidential or privileged. It is an offence to fail to report such information. It is also an offence to report false claims against someone.

Q - Can I make a report without giving my name?

A - Reports can be made without giving your name, however, the more information the child protection agency has, including the name of the reporter, the better able the agency is to investigate the report.

Q - Will I have to go to court if I report child abuse?

A - You may be required to testify in court. You will be notified by the court and/or the agency if they require you to be a witness.

Q - Do child protection workers have the right to enter my home to investigate a report of child abuse?

A - A child protection worker does not normally have the right to enter the parent/guardian's home without first asking permission. However, if you refuse permission, the child protection worker may apply for a court order (warrant). If a child protection worker has obtained a court order, he or she is legally entitled to enter. As well, a child protection worker may enter your home without a warrant and search for the child for the purpose of taking the child into care, if the worker has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a child is in need of protective services and that the health and safety of the child is in immediate danger, The worker may have the assistance of a police officer if this happens.

Q - Can I find out who reported me to child protection?

A - The child protection worker does not have to tell the parent or guardian the name of the person who has reported a concern. If the matter proceeds to trial, your lawyer can ask for this information although the court may order that it not be revealed.

Q - Will child protection workers always remove the child from the home?

A - Child protection workers may remove the child from the home if they believe the child is in need of protective services and the child's health and safety cannot be adequately protected. The agency has options other than removing the child from the home including supervising the parenting, or removing a person from the home if contact with that person is causing or is likely to cause the child to be in need of protective services.

Q - My spouse has been charged with assaulting me; can a child protection remove my child from the home?

A - If your child is witnessing abuse from your spouse, this could be considered psychological or emotional harm and can greatly affect the child's life. Child protection services can intervene at this point. As well, the safety of your child depends on your safety. If you are being abused by your spouse, this puts your child at higher risk of being abused. If you are being abused by your spouse, you should contact the helpline or abuse shelter nearest you, or contact the police and Victim Services Division.

Q - Can my children be taken into care because I spanked them?

A - Yes, if there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the child has suffered harm (including physical or emotional harm) and the child's health or safety can't be protected adequately other than taking the child into care. In this case, a court would have to decide if the force used to carry out punishment was reasonable and whether the child suffered or risked suffering harm.

Q - Will I have to go to court if child protection is involved with my family?

A - If the child protection agency removes a child from the home, they must either return the child within 5 days or go to court to have a judge decide whether the child is in need of protection. If the agency applies to the court, then you will need to go to court.

The judge can decide whether to dismiss or continue the case. If the judge decides there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the child is in need of protection, then you will need to go to court again.

A parent may also have to attend Court if the agency seeks a Supervision Order. This occurs where there are serious protection concerns and the agency wants to provide the family with services. The agency must be satisfied that the child's safety and well being can be protected without removing the child from the home.

Q - Do I need a lawyer if my child is removed my child protection?

A - Yes, you should get legal advice and have a lawyer if you are suspected of child abuse. If you can't afford a lawyer, you may qualify for Nova Scotia Legal aid. To find out if you qualify, you can contact Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Look in the government section of your telephone book under Legal Aid.

If you don't qualify for Legal Aid and cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may have to represent yourself in court. Even if you are representing yourself you should make sure that you get some legal advice from a lawyer. You can call the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service at 1.800.665.9779 or 455.3135 for a referral to a lawyer.

Q - How long does the child protection process take?

A - The court process lasts between one month and 18 months, generally.

Q - What is the court process for child protection?

A - There are three stages to the process: the interim, the protection and the disposition hearings.

Q - What is the court process for child protection?

A - There are three stages to the process: the interim, the protection and the disposition hearings.

Stage 1: the interim hearing
This interim hearing is held within five days of the agency bringing an application claiming that the child is in need of protective services. Usually this first court appearance lasts for less than 30 minutes. At this hearing if the judge makes a finding that there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a child is in need of protective services. the court can order that the child be in the temporary care of the agency or be returned home under the supervision of the agency. If the judge finds that the agency did not have reasonable and probable grounds for the application then the proceeding will be dismissed.

If the parents or guardian do not agree with the order from the first appearance, the matter may be set down for a fuller hearing within 30 days of the date of the original application. At the hearing, the judge can dismiss the application if, after hearing further evidence, the judge finds that there are no reasonable and probable grounds to believe the child is in need of protective services. If the court finds reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the child is in need of protective services, the court can order one or more of the following:

  • the child be returned home, or should stay in the home, with or without conditions and under the supervision of the agency;
  • a parent, guardian, or other person will not live with or have contact with the child;
  • the child be placed with someone other than the parent or guardian (for example, a relative), with conditions and supervision by the agency;
  • the child remain in the care of the agency (for example, foster care);
  • if the child is not returned home, that the parent or guardian shall have access according to conditions set down by the court, unless access would not be in the child's best interests;
  • the child, parent, or guardian has a medical or psychiatric examination or assessment or that other services be put in place such as parent education or counselling.

Stage 2: the protection hearing
This stage must take place no later than 90 days from the date of the application. At the protection hearing, the court has to determine if the child is, in fact, in need of protective services as defined by the Children and Family Services Act. If the court finds that the child is not in need of protective services then the court shall dismiss the application. If the court finds that the child is in need of protective services then the matter is set over to the third stage.

Stage 3: the disposition hearing
The disposition is the final stage and will be held within 90 days of the Stage 2 protection hearing. At the disposition hearing, the court looks at what is the future plan for the child. The court has a number of options including:

  • dismissing the agency's application;
  • ordering the child be in the care and custody of a parent or guardian under the supervision of the agency;
  • ordering the child be returned to the care or custody of a person other than the parent or guardian, usually a relative, subject to the supervision of the agency. The relative would have to agree to have the child placed with him or her;
  • placing the child into temporary care and custody of the agency; or 
  • placing the child in permanent care of the agency

The court's decision is called the disposition. The disposition will generally be reviewed regularly unless at the Stage 1 interim hearing the application of the agency was dismissed or the child was placed in the permanent care of the agency. These reviews can continue for 12 to 18 months depending on the age of the child. Generally, at the end of the review time frame the court must either dismiss the agency's application or place the child in the permanent care and custody of the agency.

Q - Can I visit the children if they are placed in permanent care?

A - You may, in some instances, be allowed to have visits with your children if they are placed in permanent care. However, if the agency has permanent care and custody and there is no court order with respect to access, the agency can decide whether or not you see your children. If your children are placed for adoption or have become adopted, you may no longer be able to visit them.

Q - Can I get my children back if they are placed in permanent care?

A - There are time limits for appealing a judge's decision. You only have 30 days to appeal a judge's decision giving permanent care and custody to a child protection agency. You make the appeal by filing and serving a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the order. In some instances, a parent may be able to bring an application to terminate the permanent care and custody order. You should speak with a lawyer about your situation.

Q - Will I be on the Child Abuse Register?

A - Your name may be entered on Register if you have a criminal conviction for child abuse. As well, in some cases, your name may be entered on the Register if a Family Court makes a finding that a child "is in need of protective services" because of physical or sexual abuse by you. The agency may also make an application to add your name to the Register and, if granted by the judge, your name will be added.

If your name is submitted by the court to be listed in the Register, you will be notified and you can oppose the decision through the court.

If your name is listed on the Child Abuse Register as the result of a criminal conviction and the conviction is later overturned by the court, your name should be deleted from the Register.

Q - Can I find out if someone is on the Child Abuse Register?

A - You may have the right to inspect the information if you are hiring someone or taking on a volunteer who will be working around children, or through the Freedom of Information Act. Usually the police are responsible for checking the Child Abuse Register. If the person is listed on the Child Abuse Register as the result of a criminal conviction and the conviction is later overturned by the court, the person's name should be deleted from the Register.

Q - Where can I get more information?

A - For further information about child protection you can contact

  • The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services at 1.877.424.1177 or visit www.gov.ns.ca/coms/
  • Nova Scotia Legal Aid under 'Legal Aid' in the white pages or government section of your telephone book, or visit nslegalaid.ca;
  • Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia's Legal Information Line & Lawyer Referral Service at 1.800 665.9779 or 902.455.3135;
  • A lawyer in private practice,  listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book.  Look for a lawyer who does family law (including child protection).

This page was developed with the support of Nova Scotia Legal Aid.

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