The Ontario Court of Appeal has considered an interesting question relating to child protection proceedings: Whether a child’s foster parent is entitled to be granted status by the court, so that he or she can participate in the case.
In A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell the child was made a ward of children’s aid organization named Valoris pour enfants et adultes de Prescott-Russell (the “Society”) when he was two months old. At seven months of age, he was placed with a “foster-to-adopt” mother (the “F-A Mother”), who was assessed as a potential adoptee and with whom the child was placed with the ultimate goal of adoption.
Meanwhile, the Society filed an application asking that the child be made a Crown ward with the biological parents being stripped of their access rights. The Crown supported the F-A Mother becoming the child’s adoptive parent. (Although the biological parents were given the chance to participate in a trial concerning wardship, they did not do so).
However, in 2016 an aunt and her partner expressed an intention to adopt the child, and the Society decided to support that plan instead. The aunt asked the court to be allowed to be added as parties, and to be granted a temporary order to care for the child.
The question arose as to whether the F-A Mother could be added as a party to those proceedings. A motion judge held that she could; the Divisional Court later overturned that decision. The matter was sent to be heard by a third court – the Ontario Court of Appeal – where the outcome was reversed again.
First of all, the Court confirmed that procedurally, the provincial Child and Family Services Act allows for non-parties, including foster parents, to be added to a child protection proceeding in the right circumstances. The legislatively-prescribed considerations which would favour not granting her such status, such as any procedural delay that might be added, were not of concern here.
Next, in allowing the F-A Mother’s participation, the Court explained that she was in the best position to inform the court on a Crown wardship hearing as to what the child’s needs and best interests involved. It was those best interests of the child, not the rights of the family or the foster parents, that is determinative. The F-A Mother also had a legal interest in the proceeding, especially since the Society had changed its mind about supporting her adoption bid in favour of backing up the child’s aunt. If the F-A Mother was not involved in the proceedings, her chance to adopt the child might be foreclosed.
Ultimately, the Appeal Court found that the Divisional Court in our view erred in interfering in the motion judge’s reasonable exercise of discretion, and it allowed the appeal, and granted the F-A mother status as a party to the child protection proceedings about the child.
For the full text of the decision, see:
A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell, 2017 ONCA 601 (CanLII)