Advocates provide practical help navigating system

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff


An advocate can help families navigate the children’s services system, which often lacks consistency, Alberta child protection specialist Melani Carefoot tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“I think it’s an ongoing problem with children’s services particularly,” says Carefoot owner and principal of Positive Choices Counselling & Assessment.

While there’s adequate guidance on procedure with Alberta’s policy manual and the Alberta Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act, she says that much of the interpretation is left to the individual worker. And how they proceed is dependent upon a number of variables, including their own experience and the size of their workload, she says.

An advocate helps families understand their rights and responsibilities, accompanies them to meetings with Child and Family Services, formulates safety plans for children, advocates for family placements for children in care and provides support and education regarding court matters, Carefoot says. They will look at the individual circumstances and draw from previous cases to help parents better understand and work within the system.

Carefoot points to a recent file in which the worker is adamant that the parent must bear all costs associated with programs if they want to see their child. Yet in another case, children’s services picked up some of the tab, facilitating family members to come in from Ontario.

“So if they’re willing to do that on one file, why are they not willing to do that on another,” she says. “When you hire an advocate, that’s the type of information we have access to, and we can say, ‘We’ve had other files where you have paid for family members to come from out of town. Why won’t you pay in this case?’

“We are currently battling with the social enhancement legal team which represents the child welfare services in these matters because their senior lawyer is saying these parents already have an advocate, their lawyer. And we’re saying, ‘Well, they have a lawyer. But is it a true advocate?’”

A family advocate, she adds, can attend the meetings, consult on files and provide direction on the process and work collaboratively with the lawyer. And if the advocate becomes involved at the beginning of the file, they can be quite effective, she says.

In one case a baby was apprehended after the parent was accused of being a drug user. Temporary guardianship was being sought to keep the baby in care for six months.

“I went to meetings with the dad and helped connect him with the relevant services, in advance of children’s services issuing the plan. The baby was actually returned in relatively short order under a supervision order,” she says.

In another ongoing situation, the children have been in care for several months, and so far, the province hasn’t produced the plan, which outlines the action required by the parent or parents. The provincial policy stipulates that a plan will be produced within 42 days, but the worker hadn’t delivered one to set out a roadmap of how the protection concerns would be addressed.

The plan could include domestic violence programming, an assessment, residential treatment, attending Alcoholics Anonymous or getting a sponsor. Carefoot says her background of working in the system means she’s familiar with the process as well as the options that keep the best interests of the children to the fore.

“Without that, parents are floundering,” she says. “We know what consistency should look like. And we could help parents to even pre-empt what a concurrent plan might look like so that they’re being proactive. If you sit around waiting for children services, sometimes you’d be waiting a long time,” she says.