REGINA – The voices of Saskatchewan children will now be heard in child protection proceedings. Counsel for Children (CFC) is intended to represent youth’s best interests via independent legal counsel.
The provincial government announced the official launch of the new legal program Tuesday, which will provide lawyers free of charge to youth and children who are in the care of Social Services, First Nations Child and Family Services agencies, or receiving services under The Child and Family Services Act.
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“Through this program, we recognize children have their own unique perspective that should be taken into account in child protection matters,” said Justice Minister Gordon Wyant.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee will appoint counsel from a roster of trained lawyers upon a court order or a referral. Referrals can be made by a child or youth, a child protection worker, a family or someone who knows the child.
Lawyers will generally take instructions from the client and will present their views or concerns during negotiations, mediations or court proceedings. There is no age limit in the legislation.
Youth will be asked by assigned lawyers whether they want counsel before proceeding. When a client cannot communicate their views or does not want to, counsel will ensure the proceedings maintain a focus on the best interests of the young child.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice says under new legislation, the CFC and the lawyers are entitled to obtain disclosure from the parties, address the court, file written submissions, call and cross-examine witnesses and have reasonable access to the child. Having a lawyer will also ensure a young person is receiving sufficient information about their case and possible outcomes, including permanent wardship.
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The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice says the program could result in early resolution for all parties and said attempts will be made to accommodate requests for lawyers of a certain gender, culture, or who speak a particular language.
The ministry of justice has dedicated $240,000 in 2014-15 to support the CFC and has developed an approach with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services to pay for children in its care.
Discussions are also being held with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada over the process of paying CFC costs for kids in the care of First Nations Child and Family Services agencies.
Over the next year, the ministry of justice will be monitoring the costs and demands for the new program.
CFC was created in response to a recommendation made by the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth in 2007-08. It was established by the Saskatchewan Legislature through amendments to The Public Guardian and Trustee Act and The Queen’s Bench Act.