The Counsel for Children program may appoint a lawyer (counsel) for children and youth who are involved with the Ministry of Social Services or First Nations Child and Family Services agencies in proceedings under The Child and Family Services Act. Some examples include court proceedings following the apprehension of a child, variation of existing child protection orders, investigations leading to supervision orders, or negotiation of agreements to place the child with a person of sufficient interest.
The objectives of the Counsel for Children program are to:
- Ensure a child's or youth's voice is heard in child protection proceedings;
- Provide timely appointments of counsel;
- Establish best practices, supports, and standards for quality legal representation; and
- Create a roster of lawyers with expertise and experience in this area of law.
The program can be accessed by court order or by referral. Referrals can be made by a child or youth, a child protection worker, a family member or anyone else who knows the child or youth. These people can make a request for a lawyer by filling out the Request a Lawyer Referral Form or contacting Children's Counsel at the number noted above.
In deciding whether to appoint a lawyer, the court or the Counsel for Children is to consider all relevant factors, including:
- any difference between the interests or views of the child and the interests or views of the parties to the protection hearing;
- the nature of the protection hearing, including the seriousness and complexity of the issues;
- the ability of the child to express his or her interests or views; and
- the views of the child regarding representation.
The Counsel for Children and the appointed lawyer are entitled to:
- obtain disclosure from the parties;
- make arguments to the judge;
- file documents in a protection hearing;
- call witnesses and cross-examine witnesses in a protection hearing; and
- have reasonable access to the child or youth client.
Failure to provide information/disclosure or allow access to the child/youth client can result in the Counsel for Children seeking a court order.
The lawyer will generally take instructions from the child or youth, and ensure the child or youth's voice is heard. There is no age limitation in the legislation on when a child or youth may be eligible for counsel.
Any lawyer who wants to be considered for an appointment must be a member of the roster and may fill out the Roster Application Form. More information on the roster can be found in the Counsel for Children and Youth Program Manual for lawyers.