Social Issues

25 November, 2015 at 7:00 PM

The Evolution, Current Status and Future of the “Best Interests of the Child” Principle in the Protection of Children’s Rights

WATCH VIDEO: The Evolution, Current Status and Future of the “Best Interests of the Child” Principle in the Protection of Children’s Rights

Anne Cools, Senator for Toronto Centre-York

Dr. Edward Kruk, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia

This lecture and discussion will focus on current challenges in the implementation of the “best interests of the child” standard in Canadian jurisprudence, social policy and professional practice. Article 3 of the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child requires member states to observe the best interests of the child as a primary consideration “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions,
courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies.” As with most articles of the Convention, however, a clear understanding and precise definition of the “best interests” concept remains elusive, to the point that it is subject to competing interpretations. Legal and political decision-makers struggle when asked to define children’s “best interests,” and their definitions often clash with what children and parents would consider to be the core
elements of the concept. The “best interests” standard, however, remains central in Canadian child and family law, the development of child and family policy, and in guiding professional practice in the realms of child custody,
child protection, and child care. This lecture will trace the history of the “best interests” standard in Canada, and offer guidelines for refining the concept toward a more socially just approach to child and family law, policy and practice for the future.

Experts in each of the three realms of child custody, child protection and child care: Eugenea Couture, Cecelia Reekie and Beverly Smith.

Senator Anne Cools, a McGill University graduate and the senator for Toronto Centre-York, is Canada’s longest-serving senator. Called to the Senate by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1984, she has had a long and successful
history in social services. In the 1970’s she founded one of Canada’s first battered women’s shelters, Toronto’s Women in Transition. She was also Canada’s front runner in the field of domestic violence. In 1997 her Senate work on the Divorce Act crystallized the creation of the Senate-Commons Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access.  Its 1998 groundbreaking report, For the Sake of the Children, upheld that post-divorce, children need and should have meaningful and continuing involvement with both parents, recommending that the Divorce Act be amended to reflect the notion that “shared parenting” is in the best interests of the child. Senator Cools, well studied in the law and practice of parliament, is a formidable force on the Senate floor. She is one of Canada’s most distinguished parliamentarians, largely because of her central role in the legal and social questions, such as divorce, that touch families so deeply.

Dr. Edward Kruk is Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, specializing in child and family policy. As a child and family social worker in Canada and the U.K., he has practiced in the fields of welfare rights, child protection, school social work, hospital social work, and family services. He is currently teaching and practicing in the areas of family mediation and addiction. He the author of many books including The Equal Parent Presumption: Social Justice in the Legal Determination of Parenting After Divorce; Divorced Fathers: Children’s Needs and Parental Responsibilities; Mediation and Conflict Resolution in Social Work and the Human Services; and Divorce and Disengagement. He is President of the International Council on Shared Parenting.

This session has been co-ordinated by Dr. Edward Kruk, School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia.

Beverly Smith (representing the field of child care) is a long time women’s and children’s rights activist from Calgary. She is a graduate of the University of Calgary, has taught at the elementary and high school levels, and is the mother of four. She was president of the Kids First Parent Association of Canada, and is editor of a popular online blog, “Recent Research About Caregiving.” She has presented to government on caregiving issues and lodged complaints to the human rights commission and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in regard to unequal funding for child care. She was named Calgarian of the Year by Calgary Business magazine, has spoken to the UN on child care issues, and received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award and the International Women’s Day Award for her activism in the field of child care.

Cecelia Reekie (representing the field of child protection) is aboriginal and an adoptee, and member of the Haisla First Nation. She is Past President of Forget Me Not Family Society, and in that capacity was instrumental in changing BC’s adoption laws and the implementation of open records. She is also past president of the Lower Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society, and for many years was involved in the Langley Aboriginal Programme Committee. She is also a member of t ya:yestel (as the Aboriginal Advisory Board for the School District), and is well-known as an advocate for public education, having served as a school trustee for the Langley School District. In the field of child protection, her expertise lies in the area of aboriginal culture and truth and reconciliation.

Eugenea Couture (representing the field of child custody) is a mother of four, an author, mentor and advocate for child custody law reform. Her new book is a powerful memoir that takes the reader through a cycle of four generations, beginning with her great grandmother, a Metis woman, who endured the pain of witnessing her daughter losing custodial rights of her children. After losing her mother at the age of 4, Eugenea faced a fractured existence in foster care as she became a target to multiple strangers that she was supposed to trust. Today she is an inspiration to those who are struggling with the loss of their children and their parents. Eugenea is the recipient of the 2014 YMCA Power of Peace Medal and the 2014 Foster Children’s Day Award.