The dreaded phone call from the CAS: “Good morning, Ms. Doe, my name is Jane, and I’m a worker with the Halton Children’s Aid Society. I’d like to schedule an interview with you…” Or more worryingly, a CAS worker might come knocking at your door asking to speak with you immediately.
If the CAS calls you for an interview, do you have to speak with them? The short answer is, in most cases, no – however, if you don’t agree to an interview, this raises a big red flag, and the CAS has a range of options open to them to compel you to participate in their investigation, or to continue their investigation without your involvement. They may obtain a warrant, or, in extreme circumstances, the CAS may remove your child to a place of safety if they believe your child is at immediate risk of harm.
In most situations, my advice to a parent who has received a call from the CAS is to voluntarily agree to an interview. Most likely, the interview will happen whether you agree to it or not! Making a good first impression with the CAS worker can go a long way to fostering a good relationship.
How can you make sure the interview goes as well as it possibly can? Interviews by CAS workers can be a frightening, stressful experience. To make sure the worker leaves with the best impression of you as a parent, consider these tips:
- Be courteous to the worker. Although many parents would be justified in feeling that the CAS is intruding into their private affairs, treating a CAS worker with contempt and hostility will not help. A CAS investigation will go much more smoothly if you have a good relationship with the worker.
- Answer questions honestly, but do not volunteer information. Don’t evade the worker’s questions. Be honest and direct when answering questions. Do not answer questions that the worker hasn’t asked! Keep in mind that the CAS can report anything you say during the interview to the police. If the CAS is investigating an allegation that you have committed a crime, such as physical or sexual assault, you should consult a criminal lawyer immediately.
- Ask the worker who contacted the CAS about you, and why. Try to find out as much information about the allegations against you. The worker may or may not tell you who made the report to the CAS (and sometimes, reports are made anonymously).
- Take detailed notes during and after the interview. The CAS worker will be keeping his or her own detailed notes, and anything you say during the interview could be used in court against you. You should keep your own notes as well!
- Even better, make an audio recording of the interview.
- Have a support person attend the interview with you. The CAS may wish to interview you and your partner separately. You may want to consider having a third party attend your interview with you, not just to support you, but to witness the interview.
- Before the CAS worker arrives, make sure your home is clean and safe. Again, making a good first impression is important. The CAS worker might inspect your home to make sure it is appropriate for children – they may look in the fridge, test your smoke alarms, and ensure childproofing is adequate. Don’t be surprised if they want to look around!
- If you can, speak to a child protection lawyer before the interview.
- DO NOT sign anything until you speak with a lawyer!
Finally, the CAS worker has the right to interview your child. If you refuse to allow the worker to speak to your child, the worker can simply interview your child at their school. In the interests of fostering a good relationship with the worker, it’s best to voluntarily allow them to interview your child.
Timing is often critical in child protection matters. If you receive a call or a visit from a CAS worker, call a child protection lawyer immediately.