New legal aid services aim to keep families together

The Legal Services Society (LSS) has opened new Parents Legal Centres (PLCs) in Prince George, Smithers, Duncan and Campbell River to help improve the chances that Indigenous children can stay at home with their families instead of going into government care.

The new services are a response to the staggering number of children in foster care in BC, 60 percent of whom are Indigenous. Of LSS’s legal aid clients whose children have been removed or are at risk of being removed, 40 percent self-identify as Indigenous. That’s despite Indigenous people representing only about 6 percent of BC’s population.

The PLC’s unique approach is designed to increase the chances that families can stay together, whenever appropriate, by providing services early on, preferably when a government social worker first contacts a parent about concerns for a child’s safety rather than after a child has already been removed from their home.

“The PLC model is different from LSS’s regular lawyer services because they’re delivered by a team made up of a legal assistant, advocate, and a lawyer. They will not only support people with their legal matters, but help them tackle some of the issues that often result in the child safety concerns in the first place,” said LSS lawyer Katrina Harry, who opened the first PLC in Vancouver in 2015.

Services include a lawyer’s advice and representation at court, and at mediations and other collaborative meetings; and an advocate’s support throughout the process, including information, connecting parents to other services such as counselling, addictions treatment or housing, and advocating on their behalf.

“The root of many such cases is poverty — not neglect,” Harry, who is Indigenous, explained. “For example, sometimes a family just needs a decent roof over their head, but because good low-cost housing is hard to find, parents may lose their children. So if we can solve the housing issue for a client, then children can be at home.”

With funding from the BC Ministry of Attorney General, LSS is opening seven new centres altogether, adding to existing centres in Vancouver and Surrey. In addition to Prince George, Smithers, Duncan, and Campbell River; in 2019, LSS will open PLCs in Williams Lake, Kamloops, and Victoria. LSS has a regional office in Terrace, which will also offer PLC services. The focus of the seven new PLCs is to assist Indigenous families, although anyone eligible can also apply for services.

A parent in a location with a Parents Legal Centre can find out if they are eligible by contacting the office legal assistant. PLC locations

Here's a story about a client who was helped at the Vancouver PLC. Our Stories