GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT CAS CASES
Controlling Your Anger When Dealing with the CAS or Children’ Aid Societies
By Andreas Solomos – an experienced Toronto lawyer handling children’s aid defence cases.
When the Children’s Aid or CAS comes knocking on your door, one of the most powerful emotions you will experience is anger: anger at yourself for getting into a situation that prompted someone to notify the CAS alleging your children are abused or run the risk of suffering physical or emotional harm; angry at your spouse for causing you all that trouble; or angry at the CAS’s workers for intruding into your life and your children’s lives.
I will discuss the anger you experience toward the Children’s Aid Society or CAS and its employees, agents, and associates.
In Ontario, child protection is governed by the provisions of the Child and Family Services Act (the Act). The primary purpose of the Act is to promote the best interests, protection, and well-being of children. However, there are five additional purposes, so long as they are consistent with the best interests, protection, and well-being of children. Two of these additional purposes are,
• To recognize that while parents may need help in caring for their children, that help should give support to the autonomy and integrity of the family unit and, wherever possible, be provided on the basis of mutual consent.
• To recognize that the least disruptive course of action that is available and is appropriate in a particular case to help a child should be considered.
Responsible parents have their children’s protection and well-being at heart. However, mistakes do happen. Feeling anger is natural and understandable when the CAS intervenes. However, unleashing uncontrollable anger at the CAS workers will hinder your efforts to keep the CAS at bay or to get your children back if they had been apprehended.
Parents often call me to announce that they had received a telephone call from the CAS agency who wants to send a child protection worker to their home to interview them about allegations of child abuse. “What should I say?” “What should I do?” “How should I handle the situation?” “Can I refuse to let them come to my home?”
There is no easy answer to these questions. Every situation is unique, and, hence, demands a unique response. However, the first thing I tell these disgruntled parents is to try to remain calm and let the CAS do its job. Preventing the agency from investigating such allegations is not a wise decision. The agency has powers to intervene with or without a warrant and with the assistance of the police.
You may wish to consult with a lawyer before agreeing to meet with the representative from the CAS, even if the allegations seem trivial to you. See the meeting as an opportunity to explain and alleviate the protection concerns. Also, use this opportunity to become a better parent. If little concerns are not addressed the situation may get out of hand later with more drastic consequences for you and your family.
Even if the CAS decides to intervene, excessive anger can - and often does - destroy the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and to demonstrate that the ‘least disruptive’ course of action should be applied to your situation. The words you use, the subtle gestures you make when you speak and interact with the CAS workers can convey a positive or negative response.
OBLIGATIONS OF THE CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETIES
According to case law, the CAS (also referred to as “Society”) has the following obligations:
- To conduct a thorough investigation before acting.
- To consider alternative measures for the protection of children before proceeding to court.
- To continue its investigation up until the time of a final court determination in a vigorous, professional manner.
- To treat all clients fairly and equally and with as much dignity as possible.
- To reassess its position as more information becomes available.
- To ensure that its workers are skilled in the performance of their roles.
Try to avoid exaggeration and insulting language. Communicating effectively with these people is a sign of competence in your abilities to properly parent your children. The opportunity to make these workers feel at ease is easily ruined when parents insult one another in the presence of the CAS workers and in the presence of the children, when they belittle one another, when they insult the workers with personal remarks, and when they harass the workers. Whenever you are forced to interact with these people, you will find yourself in a tense, uncomfortable and conflict-ridden situation.
To be able to communicate effectively, you should prepare yourself before the meeting by rehearsing how you will express your thoughts, concerns, opinion, feelings, and beliefs about the situation in a way that will create an opportunity for you to address the CAS concerns, learn something beneficial in the process, and hopefully prompt the CAS to close their file and leave you and your family alone. However, in situations where the evidence of abuse is obvious, the CAS would want to remain involved for as long as it takes to ensure the protection and well-being of your children. In such situations, they bring protection proceedings, and you would have to respond to the allegations at court.
If the CAS decides to bring protection proceedings by serving and filing a protection application and other related documents, you can continue to demonstrate confidence in your abilities as a parent to care for your children by learning to control your anger.
Parents communicate with the CAS workers and supervisors in angry ways often because they do not feel that the CAS is there to help them but rather take the children away from them. If the CAS had apprehended their children and placed them in foster homes, they become frustrated for not getting their children back soon enough. However, frustration can produce angry modes of responding.
Not every CAS employee is skillful enough at handling the frustration of an agonizing mother whose child is taken away from her. Some CAS workers can intentionally or unintentionally agitate or provoke a vulnerable parent to become angry; then the CAS can try to justify a radical response and argue that the parent has anger management issues. The good news is that many workers are well-trained and can often help you resolve the issues between you and your children so “that help should give support to the autonomy and integrity of the family unit.”
When you as a parent convince yourself that nothing positive can come out of your interaction with the CAS, the act of releasing anger and frustration can cloud your reasoning and get you into deeper trouble. In the middle of an argument or disagreement you may conclude, “This worker is a moron, he will never understand me, my difficulties and my situation.” But this is an Anger Reinforcing Perception that will obstruct your main objective of maintaining the “autonomy and integrity of the family unit.”
If you have not put enough effort into examining the validity of your perceptions by generalizing about the agency and its employees, you may not be able to use the opportunity to create rapport and gain empathy and understanding. Your anger may cut you off from getting the support you will need from the worker who may go out of her/his way to mention the positive points about you in her/his report to her/his supervisor.
Give the worker a chance to work with you. The moment you engage the worker in a hostile and critical way, you destroy whatever opportunity exists for you to build a better relationship that would ultimately yield to the desired outcome.
Many child welfare cases can be resolved by learning to master human interactions. Antagonizing the CAS workers will seldom yield a beneficial outcome. There are times, however, that you must stand your ground and fight for your legal rights; if the worker distorts the facts, uses innuendos, exaggerates, refers to your comments without the contexts, and looks for every opportunity to make you look a bad parent, you have every right to be angry. However, even in these situations, it will serve your cause to remain calm and collected. The times when consequences are the greatest are the times when the stakes are high, and you lose control of yourself. Dealing with the child protection court and legal difficulties with the local CAS requires that you learn to be “cool under pressure.” Going to court takes you out of your natural environment and places you in a position of helplessness and lack of control.
Dealing with the Children’s Aid Society is not easy. Try to use affirmations that fight your anger reinforcing perceptions. For example, try using the following affirmations:
• “Ruminating over the CAS vengeance will not make things any better. I have to try my best to get my life back on track”.
• “The CAS and its workers may seem as though they are set up to destroy my family. I can control a lot of what steps I will take to maintain the unity of my family, and with my actions (such as counseling, etc.), I can influence the outcome.”
• “Dealing with difficult CAS workers is always a pain in the ass; however, I am going to try my best to control the situation around these difficult people, and I must interact with if for no other reason than to keep my children.”
• “The least I can do to myself is to not let difficult people employed by the Children’s Aid Society have the satisfaction of getting under my skin.”
Controlling your anger when dealing with the CAS has practical benefits. There is little to be gained by having angry interactions with the agency. The important point is to disengage from angry interactions so that they do not escalate into problems that will negatively affect your efforts to keep your children or get your children back if the agency had taken them away from your care and custody.
A HANDFUL OF TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION IN THE CHILD PROTECTION COURT
We know that first impressions last and influence our behaviour. We should not go out of our way to try to impress someone, but we should be aware that our demeanour will be noticed. When it comes to courtroom demeanour, a first good impression will imprint an image of you in the mind of the judge (or jurors) and may have an influence on the outcome of your case. In theory, judges and jurors are supposed to be unbiased and neutral, but in reality, they are influenced by external stimuli, just like you and I. They are not only influenced by what they hear; your overall appearance, body language, the tone of voice and the way you go about asking and answering questions will have an impact on your case.
Your overall appearance
1. Be clean. Nothing is more offensive than a bad body odour; it creates a negative aura around the person and conveys the image of someone with low self-esteem and lack of confidence. I cannot emphasize enough how important cleanliness is. Even if you cannot afford to buy soap, a quick shower with just water will do the job. And for men, don’t forget to shave, unless you are prevented for religious reasons.
2. Wear clean clothes. You will be at a close proximity with court staff, lawyers, CAS workers, and witnesses. Most of us are tactful and we will not comment on the smell that radiates from your clothes, but we cannot help noticing it.
If as a parent of a child that the local Children’s Aid Society seeks to protect you must "take the stand”, that is to testify, you may be remarkably close to the judge, and odour of your body and your clothes will fill the air between you and the judge. Clean your clothes every day so you wear clean clothes in court.
3. Avoid flashy patterns and eccentric styles. There are studies on how juries and judges are influenced, and the style and colour of your clothes are some of those elements. Avoid dark browns, colourful patterns, and populated styles.
a. For men, I suggest plain blue or grey jackets with grey pants and white shirt. Some of my clients ask me if they should wear a tie. My response to that is "it depends.” If you are a blue-collar worker, avoid the tie because it will convey a message that is not really you; you are not there to impress. You are there to win your case. Be unpretentious. If you do not like blazers, and the weather permits it, wear a light cotton sweater. If you are a businessman or professional who wears ties to work every day, by no means, put on a tie; but it should be a plain tie that will match your clothes.
b. For women, I also suggest plain colours and clothes that are not too tied. As for colours, women can be a little more adventurous, but if you want to play it safe, wear plain patterns and avoid pinks or reds.
4. The tone of your voice. Cultivate an elastic voice. When you get up in the morning getting ready for court, practice singing the following: ding, dong, bing, bong, king, kong, alternating between low and high tones. Try it…diiiinggg, dooongg, bingiiiing, boooong, kiiiingggg, kooongg, loud, louder, and then deep and slow. Your voice will become elastic and when you speak in court, everyone will hear you. When speaking to the judge or the witnesses, modify the pitch of your voice to suit the distance between you and the listener. If you have to "speak up? then do speak up. Too often, soft voices are associated with nervousness and shyness, and the judges are sensitive to that and they will try to make you feel comfortable. For impact, however, vary the tone of your voice as you emphasize parts of your testimony.
5. Your body language. Avoid moving around too much. We know that communication is mostly body language and the tone of our voice. Try not to imitate courtroom drama you saw on television. To be dramatic actors and actresses move around a lot and point their fingers at the opposing counsel or witnesses. Avoid these tactics; they do not work in the real courtroom environment. Try to stay put in one place while speaking and move only when you have to show a document to a witness or pick up an exhibit from the clerk.
6. Move your hands gracefully. It is always a good idea to move your hands. Scientific research shows that more nerve connections exist between the hands and the brain than between any other parts of the body. Unconsciously, therefore, your hands reveal your attitude towards another person, place, or situation. By the way you position your hands, rub your palms, and fiddle your fingers you are telling anyone who is paying attention what you are really feeling. To show honesty, keep your palms facing up. When people hold their hands in a front facing open position the words that would match this position would be along the lines of, "Honestly, you can absolutely trust that I’m telling you the truth."
7. Facial expressions. Smiling helps, but not all the times. People with a perpetually sunny expression can be mistaken as frivolous or less serious. I tell my clients who must go to court because their children are apprehended (taken away) by the Children’s Aid Society or CAS to avoid smiling too often, for it conveys a message of lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation. If the apprehension relates to allegations of child abuse or criminal neglect regarding your children, your children, reputation, money, and liberty are at stake. Therefore, be composed and look serious, but not too grave. When you hear something that you do not like or which is totally false, remain composed. Avoid making facial expressions of disbelief by shaking your head. And look at the judge when you speak, establishing a good eye contact.
8. When being questioned as a parent, grandparent or other relative in the child protection court,
· Avoid being argumentative. During the course of my 35-year career as a family and children’s aid lawyer in Toronto handling child protection cases, I questioned many witnesses, both in the courtroom and in special examiners’ offices. Whatever you say becomes part of the record, and the judges will hear it or have it read to them. If you are too argumentative with the person who examines you-usually a lawyer-your testimony will be lost in the clouds of these arguments and will have an adverse effect on your case. The worst thing to do is to argue with the judge. Just listen and answer the question asked of you. You do not have to agree if something suggested to you is not true. You do not have to admit to child neglect if it is not true. Just say, "With respect, I do not agree with that statement" or "This is not what happened, your Honour". And then you explain.
· Admit the obvious. If the questioner, asks you something that is obviously correct, just admit it and move on. If you are perennially disagreeable, all of the sudden the cards will start falling and your case will be lost.
· Answer truthfully to the best of your recollection. If you tell lies, sooner or later you will be caught because judges and lawyers are sophisticated enough to test the accuracy of your statements by means of other witnesses and evidence, including expert evidence. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
· Do not blame or criticize your children. Also, you do not have to remind the judge how much you love your children. The court must establish that the children have suffered harm while under your care as defined by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.
IS YOUR CHILD OR GRANDCHILD IN NEED OF PROTECTION?
To determine whether a child is in need of protection, the court examines the evidence as a whole to determine if a child has suffered physical harm by your failure as a person in charge of the child (usually a parent) to adequately care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child, or if there is a pattern of neglect in caring for, providing for, supervising or protecting the child; the court will also determine is there is a risk that the child is likely to suffer physical harm inflicted by the person having charge of the child or caused by or resulting from that person’s, failure to adequately care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child, or) pattern of neglect in caring for, providing for, supervising or protecting the child; other considerations are:
- Whether the child has been sexually abused or sexually exploited, by the person having charge of the child or by another person where the person having charge of the child knows or should know of the possibility of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation and fails to protect the child.
- there is a risk that the child is likely to be sexually abused or sexually exploited.
- the child requires treatment to cure, prevent or alleviate physical harm or suffering and the child’s parent or the person having charge of the child does not provide the treatment or access to the treatment, or, where the child is incapable of consenting to the treatment under the Health Care Consent Act, 1996 and the parent is a substitute decision-maker for the child, the parent refuses or is unavailable or unable to consent to the treatment on the child’s behalf.
- the child has suffered emotional harm, demonstrated by serious anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or aggressive behaviour, or delayed development.
HOW TO BE PROACTIVE
1. Meet with and speak to your children’s teacher and service providers about your children’s issues.
2. Take an anger management course if you have anger management issues.
3. Take a parenting course to better your skills as a parent.
4. Expect your children to respect boundaries in your home.
5. If you are being investigated, follow up with the children’s aid worker to find out the status of your case.
6. If you feel that the worker is abusing his/her position of authority, do not hesitate to contact his/her supervisor of request a meeting with the managerial staff at the CAS office.
7. If you are being accused of negligence regarding your children do not hesitate to hire an experienced CAS lawyer who specializes in these matters.
8. Keep Your Home clean; have enough food in the home; clothe your children appropriately and adequately; keep all prescriptions in a safe place away from your children’s reach; equip your house with carbon monoxide, and smoke detectors; and children proof your home with proper electrical outlets and appliances.
WHAT ANDREAS SOLOMOS, ONTARIO CHILDREN’S AID DEFENCE LAWYER CAN DO FOR YOU:
1. Schedule a first meeting with you at no cost to discuss your child protection concerns.
2. Provide you with legal advice and representation.
3. Communicate with the children’s aid society about your concerns.
4. Address the concerns of the children’s aid society.
5. Provide you with a list of service providers that can assist you.
6. Guide you on how to legally handle your children’s aid situation.
7. Prepare you for court.
8. Speak to the judges and the CAS lawyers about your case.
9. Strive to protect your legal rights.
10. Provide advocacy on your behalf.
11. Follow up with all legal aspects of your case.
Our law office can get in touch with all the children's aid societies across Ontario, including Indigenous societies.
Contact Andreas Solomos, experienced children’s aid lawyer, for a free consultation. Parents (mothers, fathers), siblings (brothers, sisters) grandparents (grandfather, grandmother), aunts, uncles, and other relatives feel free to call for a confidential discussion about your situation involving children and the children aid society.