By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
Facing a child apprehension order is a traumatic and overwhelming experience for parents and the children, and it’s key to get professional support early in the process, says Alberta child protection specialist Melani Carefoot.
In child welfare cases, children can be taken from their homes if a social worker determines they are in physical or emotional danger, but it’s an extreme measure that should only be used when less-intrusive options have been explored, she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“It’s a very stressful event when your child is apprehended and parents often aren’t in a position to process the information the social worker is giving them — if they are given any at all,” she says.
Consulting with a lawyer is typically the next step in the process, but for many parents, legal aid assistance is their only option, and that has varying degrees of success, Carefoot points out.
“It can take a couple of weeks to be assigned a lawyer and some are experienced and provide great information to their clients, and others don’t,” she says.
Carefoot says clients and their lawyers often come to her weeks after an apprehension order has been issued, but it’s more effective to immediately engage a professional who understands the system.
“That delays the decisions about what will happen to the child, and it’s costing the parents more money in legal fees. Getting help earlier can go a long way to decreasing anxiety. We often see early professional support positively change the direction of the file and prevent the need for court applications, which results in better outcomes for families,” she says.
At Positive Choices Counselling, Carefoot and her colleagues are social workers with deep roots in child welfare, and work with parents to help them navigate the system.
It’s important to be pro-active in getting support for the family as it allows time to prepare a safety plan with the parents and meet with other family members who may be able to care for the child in the short- or long-term, Carefoot explains.
“Social workers who specialize in the area of child protection can work with clients to help them understand the policies and procedures the child protection social worker has to follow, along with the legislation,” she says.
In Alberta, if a social worker has been granted an apprehension order, but finds when they visit the home that circumstances have changed and the child is not in imminent danger, they can choose to not follow through with it, Carefoot explains, pointing to Alberta’s Enhancement Policy Manual, which contains policies and procedures that direct casework staff under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.
“Moving children away from everything they are familiar with can be extremely traumatic, and finding appropriate family members who can provide care will help to de-escalate the situation and lessen the child’s turmoil,” she says, noting the Alberta government espouses the philosophy of keeping children with family wherever possible.
In such cases, Carefoot recommends that parents be given an opportunity to explain the situation to their children to help prepare them prepare for what may lie ahead in the coming weeks or months.
“Parents are also encouraged to pack a bag for the child containing familiar items and to make a list of their likes and dislikes, health concerns, and any professionals the child interacts with, such as their school, doctor and dentist,” she says.
They should also provide the social worker with a list of names, addresses and dates of birth for anyone who may be able to offer care for the child, Carefoot adds.
“Providing an item of clothing that a parent has worn, or another item such as a blanket, often helps to soothe a child, and giving a schedule of their eating, napping and bedtime routines to assist the temporary caregiver will also help the transition,” she says.