Children In Danger
Children In Danger
Dear Tacit,

How do I know when I should be calling Children’s Services about a child I have concerns for?

Signed: Children in Danger

Dear Children in Danger,

Children’s Services (CS) often gets a bad rap.  But most of the people who work for this agency do so because they want to help families thrive in healthy and loving ways.  CS does this through MANY great programs.  Most people have no idea about all the supports that this agency offers.

The question you are asking relates to the CS Intervention Program.  Because this program is not a prevention program, there must be some type of injury to a child that has already happened before a CS worker is legally allowed to get involved.

The law is very clear about our individual responsibility to children in Canada (those who do not have the power, the voice or the wisdom to know how to protect themselves in unsafe family situations).  Anyone who suspects (you do not need to know for sure) that a child (anyone under the age of 18, in Alberta) is at risk (they do not have to be in imminent danger) of abuse or neglect MUST contact CS to report the concerns.  Failure to do so can result in fines and/or criminal charges.  A person who has concerns about a child’s safety and wellbeing can contact CS 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – they never close.

Neglect concerns include a parent or guardian’s inability or unwillingness to provide their child with the necessities of life (food, clothing, medical treatment, dental care, etc); with adequate (age appropriate) supervision; and/or with protection from the different types of abuse that are defined under the legislation.

The law defines 3 types of abuse: 1) physical abuse – which requires there to be observable injuries to some part of the child’s body; 2) sexual abuse – which includes the exposure to inappropriate sexual behaviours/content; direct inappropriate sexual contact; and the engagement of the child in prostitution or other sexually inappropriate behaviours; and 3) emotional injury – which requires there to be some sort of impairment of emotional or mental functioning or development as the result of: rejection; lack of affection; inappropriate criticism/humiliation; social, cognitive or physiological neglect; or exposure to mental or physical health issues; or exposure to family violence; or exposure to the guardian/parent’s addiction issues.

When someone calls CS with a concern about a child, their name is kept confidential.  The person who is reporting a concern should ideally be the person who has first hand knowledge of the issues.  When we are thinking about making a call to CS, we have to be careful that we do not confuse our beliefs about what we think is good or appropriate parenting with the legislated definitions of abuse and neglect.  Our own biases and experiences may cause us to believe a child could have a better home situation in some way, but that does NOT always mean that they are being abused or neglected. And CS can only get involved in situations where the legislated definitions of abuse or neglect are happening.

When a person calls CS to report their concern, they should be prepared to provide as much information as possible about the name of the children (and of the parents if its known), the ages/DOB’s of everyone involved, the address of the home, information about the schools/daycares that the children attend or the places where the parents work, and any extended family or support people involved.  The caller will be asked about dates/times of the concerns that are being noted. They will be asked about other complications that might be happening within the family – and they will be asked about the strengths of that family – so a full context can be developed.

It should be noted that while callers do not have to provide their name or the details of their relationship to the family when they call CS, their information will be taken more seriously if they are willing to do so (there is no risk to the caller by sharing this information.  So, refusing to identify one’s self sometimes might suggest malicious intent, rather than accurate details).  People who intentionally provide false information about abuse or neglect situations (who are perhaps angry at the parent and are just trying to cause them trouble) may find themselves dealing with police services instead.

Children’s Services is available to us all, at any time – NOT just when concerns for a child are being reported.  They answer questions, help provide links to community resources that could support a family in need, and assist loved ones in knowing how they can better help a family that is struggling.  They do all of this without opening a file, in many cases.  But when parents need more intervention (because they are unwilling or unable to access the help and make the changes needed for the wellbeing of the children), CS will step in and work alongside the family, in every way possible.

The legislation compels CS to take the LEAST intrusive measures possible when working with a family.  The past image of CS workers knocking on doors and snatching babies away has long since changed. The job is exhausting; workers see some of the most horrible of experiences; they are frequently abused and treated badly by the people they try to help; and they are limited in what they can do by the legislation and the government that directs their role.  But there are also many happy endings – families reunited and strengthened, positive connections developed and maintained, and extremely grateful families who could not get the help that they needed in any other way. So, if you are not sure if you should call CS, call anyway and just ask them!  It’s always better to err on the side of caution, then to look the other way while a child is being hurt.

Take care!

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