Can a Children’s Aid Society stop my access visits because of COVID-19?
If you are someone who normally has access to your child(ren) under the supervision of a Children’s Aid Society, you may have experienced frustration related to access: they have closed their centres, and supervised visits are canceled indefinitely. The question is: do you have to agree to this? What do the courts have to say about this decision?
The answer to these questions depends on whether your court order specifies that access is “at the discretion” of the involved Children’s Aid Society. If yes, it is within the Society’s power to suspend all in-person visits. Nevertheless, you can inquire whether they will facilitate video visits with your child, as part of their obligations.
Even with orders that are at the discretion of the CAS, the court may allow a variation for access to occur. The court may be sympathetic if you have a well-thought out plan that includes:
a) a person willing to transport the child(ren) who can be vetted by the CAS and who has been following the government’s COVID distancing protocols;
b) you can find a safe place to access to occur, like a park, where distancing can be maintained;
c) you have been following the social distancing measures prescribed by the government; and
d) if necessary, a supervisor other than a CAS worker can be proposed.
However, If your court order says you have supervised visits on a fixed basis (ie. you see your child(ren) a specified number of times per week) and there’s no clause that says “at the discretion” of the Children’s Aid Society, the Society likely has to bring a motion in court to change the wording of your agreement.
If the Society is withholding your in-person access visits, and it is not within their discretion to do so, you have two options: you can either choose to agree to temporarily suspend your in-person access during the pandemic, or you can make submissions in court why the access visits should continue. The court will decide what is in the best interests of the child, weighing the benefit of in-person access visits versus the health risks to the child and others while having a supervised visit.
In a case where Michael H. Tweyman represented the mother, the court had this to say regarding access visits in CAS cases:
I repeat the portion of the decision in Ribeiro v. Wright, Hamilton File No. 517/19, released March 24, 2020. Pazaratz J. set out principles to aid in the determination of urgency but I believe those same principles can be used to assist the parties here in reaching a resolution:
a. In most situations, there is a presumption that existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to modifications to ensure that COVID-19 precautions are adhered to, including social distancing.
b. In some cases, a parent may have to forego scheduled time with a child, for example if a parent is under personal restrictions such as self-isolation for 14 days, due to travel or exposure to the illness;
c. In some cases, personal risk factor through employment or associations may require controls on direct contact on a child.
d. Further, lifestyle or parental behavior in the face of COVID-19 may necessitate restrictions on parenting time. There would be zero tolerance for a parent who recklessly exposes a child to any COVID-19 risk.
e. I would add that there may be risk factors related to the health or other circumstances of a child or other members of a household that may necessitate adjustments.
(Kenneth Hildebrand and Michael H. Tweyman contributed to this article. This article is intended as general advice only. You should consult a lawyer regarding your specific situation).