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Kids in a park

Child Welfare, Immigration, and Criminal Justice

Jul 10, 2023, 09:30 AM

As service providers, we have a good understanding of systems. Peel CAS’ CWICE focuses on the intersection between child welfare and immigration predominantly, however there are often other systems involved in the lives of families, such as education, healthcare, and so on. We believe strengthening responses across systems helps ensure families remain intact, have positive outcomes, and achieve more fulsome permanency in Canada. This means we always consider the trajectory of families’ lives, even beyond our work with them.


Recently, CWICE Child Protection Worker Gillian Tennyson shared a remarkable example of cross sector collaboration between child welfare, immigration, and criminal justice systems. To protect confidentiality, we will not share specific or identifying details.


Initially, CWICE was involved due to conflict in the home which resulted in criminal charges and separation between parents. In all initial assessments with families, we centre immigration status, settlement needs, and migration stories. Early in our engagement, we learned one spouse had sponsored the other spouse to obtain Permanent Residency prior to separation. We also learned that the sponsored parent had a child from a previous relationship living outside of Canada. The parent explained that their child had been placed in foster care in that country, and they had been working with the child welfare system abroad to reunify with their child. Once it was safe to do so, they brought their child to Canada and intended to sponsor their child so they could remain in Canada with Permanent Residency.


As a result of the conflict and criminal charges, family members began living apart. During this time period, Gillian Tennyson began meeting regularly with all family members. The school age children were most concerned about their parent out of the home, they were concerned about the current situation, and their future. Gillian recalled her early days working with the family, “I reassured the children that we would figure all of this out and that their job is to do their best in school while the adults work together”.


Gillian met with the parent who was living out of the family home, and they shared their concern for the future and how their criminal charge would affect their child’s future in Canada and their own future in Canada. We know immigration status in Canada is dynamic and can change over time. In CWICE, we frequently say citizenship is the most permanent immigration status available, and we actively encourage people to seek citizenship wherever possible. In this family’s situation, the criminal charges pending had the real possibility of impacting and placing in jeopardy immigration status of both this one parent and one child.


In this family’s situation, Gillian advised the parent facing criminal charges to request that their criminal defense lawyer be in touch with the immigration lawyer who previously completed their Permanent Residency application. “To ensure the client approached court proceedings with a dual lens, I suggested this and I recommended anger management and parenting support programs in preparation for court,” said Gillian. She also confirmed the client immediately completed the recommended programs.


This client fully engaged with our services and actively addressed the child protection concerns. Over 8 months, the parent demonstrated ongoing concern for their children who remained in the marital home and they continued to contribute financially to maintain the family. As well, the parent demonstrated ongoing love and affection to the children, and the children were consistently observed to look forward to spending time with that parent.


By the time the client’s case went before the Judge, much had already been accomplished. The parent was granted a discharge and the judge said he was impressed with the parent completing programs before ordered to do so. The courts indicated the parent’s actions demonstrated remorse and accountability. The judge also took into consideration that the parent needed to be able to sponsor their child, for their child to remain permanently in Canada.


Collectively, every person in CWICE knows the impact of the criminal justice system when clients also navigate immigration processes. We regularly work towards ensuring clients have strong legal representation, while providing information to build awareness on the ways that systems intersect. We need partners in this work and will never be successful working in silos. From our clients to lawyers and service providers, your engagement and participation with us as partners makes planning for children and their families possible.


Gillian shared, “I’m happy to share that the family is thriving. It was a proud moment to be part of this process where a parent learned a lot and their child will continue to grow and prosper here. I could not be prouder of this child. They learned fluent English in 6 months and joined a team at school.”  Gillian shared that the parent was overcome with emotion and cried when hearing their child say the reasons they want to remain living in Canada, something we know had been the child’s hope for some time. While the road ahead for the family may still be long in terms of regularizing every family member's immigration status in Canada, the pathway to permanency and Canadian citizenship is visible now and reminds us all what is possible.


About the authors:


Gillian Tennyson, BA, BSW, is a frontline worker in Peel Region with an extensive knowledge of local services, resources, and systems. Gillian is a relentless advocate for Newcomers and vulnerable populations who can benefit from support with settling into Canada while navigating a new culture.

Danielle Ungara

Danielle Ungara, RSW (she/her, grateful to be on Treaty 13 land) co-manages the Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence (CWICE) at Peel CAS.  CWICE offers services across Ontario, provides training and research nationally, and operates an international consultation centre. Danielle is an inclusive leader of integrity, and thought leader on many system issues, who believes in furthering social justice outcomes and equity through service excellence and research.