Making a complaint against the ministry

If you feel the Ministry of Children and Family Development (the ministry) or a delegated Aboriginal agency has been unfair to you, you have the right to make a complaint. 

First, you should understand your rights as a parent, the social worker's responsibilities, and the reasons you might have for a complaint. You can make a complaint in different ways.

Your rights as a parent

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the rights of all Canadians, including parents. Under the Charter, if the ministry investigates you for a child protection matter, you have the right to a fair process (legal proceedings that follow certain rules and principles). This means you have the right to:

  • get legal advice
  • understand the legal process
  • know about all your options and what might happen with any decisions or actions
  • make a complaint about unfair treatment

The ministry and the courts must also follow the guiding principles and service delivery principles of the Child, Family and Community Service Act to make sure all parents and children get proper treatment from social workers.

The ministry says you have the right to:

  • be treated with respect
  • be involved in all decisions about services for you and your child
  • have your information kept confidential (private)
  • expect services in a professional and timely manner
  • clearly understand the conditions about provided services
  • freely give them feedback or express concerns
  • get clear and accessible communication from them

At the same time, you're expected to:

  • communicate regularly with ministry staff
  • treat ministry staff and others with respect
  • make suggestions about how the ministry can improve their services

A social worker's responsibilities

When a social worker looks into a report about a child's safety, their main responsibility is to keep the child safe. They always try to keep a family together if that's possible and in the child's best interests.

During the ministry's involvement with a family, a social worker should:

  • gather all the facts
  • treat the child with respect by listening to what they say and want
  • avoid disrupting the child's and family's life
  • find the best ways to meet the child's needs
  • help preserve the child's cultural, religious, and family identity
  • tell parents and children about the ministry's concerns, recommendations, plans, and reports

The social worker must follow the law and ministry policies:

  • keep the identity of anyone who makes a report confidential (private)
  • check with ministry supervisors before making important decisions
  • must tell the police if they believe a child has been physically or sexually abused

Why you might make a complaint

Here are some reasons why you might want to make a complaint about the ministry:

  • They promised you or your child a service but aren't providing it.
  • They won't provide you or your child with a service you need and qualify for.
  • They gave you wrong information or not enough information.
  • Your child isn't safe in a foster home.
  • They aren't respecting or following your wishes for your child's education, religion, health care, diet, or cultural practices.
  • They make decisions about your child without asking you or your child.
  • They don't treat you with dignity, respect, or honesty.
  • They discriminate against you because of your age, gender, sexual orientation, race, beliefs, religion, language, or lifestyle.
  • They don't keep your personal information confidential (private).
  • Social workers are making decisions based on wrong information or beliefs.
  • Their services have been poor.
If you think someone in the ministry or a delegated Aboriginal agency acted in a criminal way toward you or your child, contact a lawyer or the police right away.

Before you make a complaint

First, try to work things out with your social worker or ministry staff. This is usually the fastest and easiest way to deal with a complaint.

  • Put your concerns in writing so you can remember everything you want to say. Keep it brief and factual. You might want to send a copy to the social worker before you meet with them.
  • Say what you want to have happen.
  • Be respectful. Listen to what the social worker has to say.
  • Ask for copies of any documents that support the social worker's point of view.
  • Take notes. Write a brief summary of your conversation and give it to the social worker.
  • If you and the social worker solve the problem, tell them in person and in writing.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to join you for your meetings with the social worker.

If you aren't happy with the outcome of your meeting with the social worker:

  • Make sure your complaint is valid (true). Social workers have the legal right and responsibility to protect children, and they might act in ways you think are wrong or unfair. An advocate can help you with this.
  • Gather all the information you can to support your complaint. Be ready to explain clearly the facts of your complaint, with dates, and what you've already done to try to fix the problem.
  • If other people agree you have a complaint, get their permission to tell the ministry their names and contact information.
  • Get legal advice about making a complaint.

How to make a complaint

You can make a complaint about the ministry through the ministry, or to an organization outside of the ministry.

Making a complaint through the ministry

If you talked to the social worker and other ministry staff about your concerns but aren't satisfied with the results, you can use the ministry's complaint process.

Call 1-877-387-7027. Ask to speak to a complaints specialist. Explain the situation.

You have two options:

  • Resolution — you work with ministry staff to solve the problem
  • Administrative review — a person not involved in your issue looks into your complaint and comes up with a solution

Making a complaint outside the ministry

  • If you think the results of the ministry's complaints process are unfair, you can contact the Office of the Ombudsperson. They don't take sides and can look into your complaint to see if the ministry acted fairly.
    250-387-5855 (Victoria)
    1-800-567-3247 (elsewhere in BC)
  • If your child is in foster care and you have concerns about the way your child is being treated, you can contact the Representative for Children and Youth.
  • If your complaint is about a social worker who is a member of the BC College of Social Workers, you can make a complaint to the college.
    604-737-4916 (Greater Vancouver)
    1-877-576-6740 (elsewhere in BC)

Dealing with child protection issues is stressful. Make sure you look after your health.

Updated on 17 May 2019