Child protection is one of the most difficult and important areas to practice in. Families who are involved with child protection agencies are usually the most vulnerable and impoverished in society. Their legal needs are often complex, and the consequence of failing to address them is severe.
Unfortunately, legal work in this field is often compromised by a lack of resources – not only a lack of social services, but also a lack of financial support for lawyers. While perennially cash-strapped, a Children’s Aid Society still has many more resources available to it than the parents it deals with. Losing one’s children without being properly represented is unfortunately a real risk for many parents.
Legal Aid Ontario’s most recent announcement attempts to address this imbalance. On October 20, 2014, Legal Aid Ontario announced that it would increase the number of hours on child protection certificates for Crown wardship to 45 hours. Previously, the Legal Aid tariff allowed a lawyer working on a Crown wardship case a mere 22 hours from start to finish.
Although the increase in number of hours is significant, spread out over the life of a file (which may include monthly court attendances and multiple motions), the new hour limits are really a bare minimum.
However, I am anticipating that the increase in hours will nevertheless lead to more effective advocacy in the form of more motions brought by parents counsel in court. In turn, cost savings will arise as statistics have consistently shown that when motions are brought and responded to early, trials are less likely. The cost of a trial far outweighs that of a motion.
So while still a far way off from supporting a full defence in child protection proceedings, this is certainly a welcome first step.