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Editorial: Children first

Law Times reports that the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that a foster mother can be named a party in a child protection case, if it’s in the child’s best interests.

The story details how lawyers who represent parents in child welfare proceedings say the decision in A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell is of concern, because the ultimate implications of such proceedings can result in the permanent abolishment of the child-parent relationship.

However, others say the ruling will help lawyers who represent foster families and provide clarification as to how and when foster parents can be added as parties in these proceedings.

“In our view, both r. 7(4) and s. 39(3) of the [Child and Family Services Act] preserve the court’s discretion to add a foster parent as a party to a child protection proceeding. We agree that the power to add such a person as a party should not be exercised lightly,” says the ruling, which said the “Divisional Court circumscribed the exercise of that discretion too narrowly. The overarching consideration is the child’s best interests.”

For lawyers involved in child welfare proceedings, the ruling reaffirms the important principle of keeping the child’s interests as the central objective in navigating the child protection process.

Lawyer Charlotte Murray notes parents in such proceedings often have limited resources and are receiving assistance from legal aid. She adds that letting foster parents be parties will mean that parents will have to defend their case from a foster parent who would likely be in a much better economic position, in addition to being cross-examined by societies.

While these are potentially difficult consequences for parents mired in legal wrangling to get their children returned, the ruling stacks the deck in favour of children involved. Lawyers would do well to study the decision.

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