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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Providing services to parents - which services matter

While the court decision is Canadian, there are some principles in it that will apply to virtually any jurisdiction that gives family preservation or reunification a priority. The Honourable Madam Justice C.S. Phillips of the Court of Queen's Bench (Alberta) has indicated that services provided to a family must focus on what is needed to increase the probability of parenting successfully. Thus, it is not the provision of services that matter but the actual purpose of those services. She states in para. 86:

It is important to remember, therefore, that it is not the number of services that are provided but the quality of the services and their "fit" in relation to the needs of the family that are critical.
This decision is a reminder that "cookie cutter" case plans can be challenged. It is clear that this decision helps us to see how case plans need to be catered to the demands of the particular case. A core question becomes, "What will possibly make a difference to the needs of this family to better parent these children?"

In her decision, Justice Phillips also looked at expert evidence. One thing that struck me was her concern with assessments that had been prepared long before trial. The implication seems obvious that the more dated they are the more they should be viewed cautiously. Yet, in many jurisdictions, the legal process can move slowly with trails being booked some months away. Must then CPS be constantly seeking to update assessments, including Parenting Capacity Assessments, as trails loom closer? Must CPS then amend case plans to reflect changing circumstances as seen in revised assessments? Decisions need to made in the lives of children expeditiously but that often is not the case as the courts plod along with their process. The rights of parents to be heard can be at odds with the right of the child to permanency in their lives. Brown and Ward (2012) have made a cogent case for case planning to be done with the child's needs in mind which have more urgent developmental requirements. The longer that a child experiences instability, the harder it will be for the child to do well over time.

Courts need to make their decisions faster. To help the courts, case managers also need to get their case plans right reducing the room for appeals of permanent guardianship orders. Good case plans have, in most cases, tried to provide the interventions that will make a difference in the ability of the parent to parent to meet the specific needs of their children.


Brown, R. & Ward, H. (2012). Decision-making within a child's timeframe: An overview of current research evidence for family justice professionals concerning child development and the impact of maltreatment: Working paper 16. London: Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre.

RS v Alberta (Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, Director), 2012 ABQB 715

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