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Ministry of the Attorney General

Office of the Children’s Lawyer
2014-2015 Annual Update

Office of the Children’s Lawyer,
Victims and Vulnerable Persons Division

Ministry of the Attorney General

July 2015


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Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1 - Message from the Children’s Lawyer for Ontario - Lucy McSweeney
  2. Chapter 2 – Who We Are
    1. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer
    2. Our Vision, Mission and Values
      1. Our Vision
      2. Our Mission
      3. Our Values
    3. Our History
    4. Areas of Law
    5. How Big is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer?
      1. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer's People
      2. How Many Children do We Serve?
      3. Our Case Budget and Numbers
  3. Chapter 3 – What We Do
    1. Personal Rights - Child Protection
    2. Personal Rights - Private Disputes
      1. Custody & Access: Legal Representation
      2. Custody & Access: Clinical Services
      3. Custody/Access: Intake
      4. What OCL Does in Custody &Access Cases
    3. Property Rights - Estates
    4. Property Rights - Civil Litigation
    5. Property Rights - Minor’s Funds Department
  4. Chapter 4 – Feedback
  5. Look Us Up

Chapter 1 - Message from the Children’s Lawyer for Ontario - Lucy McSweeney

It is my pleasure to present to you the Office of the Children’s Lawyer Annual Update for the fiscal year of April 1st, 2014 to March 31st, 2015.

Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in the complexity and volume of files we receive in our Property Rights and Personal Rights areas. In order to continue to provide excellent and timely service in an environment of limited budgetary resources, we have streamlined some of our business processes and consulted with stakeholders to assist us in making best use of the financial and human resources we do have.

We are now in the final phases of a multi-year build of a new case management program which is helping us to track, transmit and supervise files across the province from our Toronto office. In this way, technology is helping us ensure that our staff’s time is spent on our most value-added work.

Our legal and clinical staff continue to support legal system improvements through participation in Bench and Bar committees, presenting at legal and clinical conferences, teaching at schools of social work and law schools, and through their design and delivery of professional development programs for our fee-for-service panel members.

The Office continues to tackle change head–on, with the goal of improving services and their delivery to benefit the young people who depend on us.

I want to express my gratitude to the hundreds of individuals connected to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer who support our youngest and most vulnerable members of society, our children. With their experience, knowledge and commitment, we are improving lives.

Overall, our services make a positive difference in the lives of over 20,000 young people each year.

We have added more information, including “Frequently Asked Questions”, to our website, and I invite you to visit our website for more information. Thank you for your interest in the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

Lucy McSweeney
Children’s Lawyer for Ontario

Chapter 2 – Who We Are

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”) is an independent law office operating within Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General. The Children’s Lawyer is appointed by Order-in-Council.

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer investigates, advocates, protects and represents the personal and property rights and obligations of children in proceedings before the courts and tribunals of Ontario.

Our Vision, Mission and Values

Our Vision

Children and youth will obtain the best possible outcomes from legal disputes involving their personal and property rights.

Our Mission

We work with and on behalf of children and youth to assert and protect their rights in custody and access, child protection, estates and civil litigation matters. We accomplish this by providing excellent, timely, helpful services.

Our Values

Title: Image listing the OCL's six values - Description: Image of bubbles containing the OCL’s six values including Child-Focused, Respect, Teamwork, Diversity, Commitment and Integrity.
Figure 1: Image listing the Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s values.

Our History

The origins of our office can be traced back as early as 1826 when the Lord Chancellor of Upper Canada appointed a leading member of the legal Bar to be “guardian ad litem” of children to represent their interests in court.

The Office of the Official Guardian was formally recognized in 1881.

The Official Guardian changed its name in 1995 to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

Areas of Law

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer represents and assists children and youth primarily in the following areas:

  1. child protection proceedings
  2. custody and access disputes
  3. estates and civil litigation

How Big is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer?

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s People

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer currently has 80 In-house staff members:

We also have across Ontario:


How Many Children do We Serve?

We serve over 20,000 children at a time.

Our Case Budget and Numbers

In 2014-2015 our budget was $40.9 million and we had a total of 9,907 open files:

Title: Pie chart showing the percentage and number of cases open in 2014-2015 - Description: Pie chart showing the percentage and number of cases open with the OCL in 2014-2015. 47 % (4,655) were Child Protection cases, 25 % (2,472) were Access/Custody cases, 20% (1,955) were Property Rights cases, and 8% (825) were Minor’s Funds cases.
Figure 2: The percentage and number of cases open in 2014-2015

Chapter 3 – What We Do

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer represents children primarily in the following areas:

Personal Rights - Child Protection

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer only becomes involved and assigns a lawyer in Child Protection cases when the Court has made an order under section 38 of the Child and Family Services Act (“CFSA”).

The Office has no discretion to refuse these cases, however we may ask to have the section 38 order terminated at a later stage.

Personal Rights - Private Disputes

Title: Image listing the Personal Rights Private Dispute (Custody and Access) services - Description: Image of bubbles containing the various OCL custody and access ( private dispute) services including legal representation, clinical report and legal representation with a clinical assist.
Figure 3: The various (private dispute) services

Custody & Access: Legal Representation

Pursuant to section 89 of the Courts of Justice Act (“CJA”) we may, when the court asks us, provide legal representation for children involved in a custody and access dispute.

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer has the discretion to determine whether to accept the case, and to decide what type of service to provide.

Custody & Access: Clinical Services

Under section 112 of the CJA, the OCL may ask a Clinician to conduct an investigation and prepare a report for the court.

Clinicians may also assist our lawyers in custody and access proceedings.

Custody/Access: Intake

Currently, the OCL accepts approximately 65% of the referrals that are received from the court. Most of the cases we accept are high conflict cases and involve multiple family issues, such as:

  1. mental health challenges
  2. allegations of domestic violence/sexual abuse
  3. significant substance abuse
  4. young parents with few resources who are experiencing parenting challenges
  5. mobility
  6. alienation
  7. children with special needs
  8. many children under the age of six

What Office of the Children’s Lawyer Does in Custody and Access Cases

We shift the focus from the conflict between the parents (and other caregivers) to the children’s needs and interests.

Property Rights - Estates

The law requires that the Children’s Lawyer be served with a Notice of Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee if there is a minor (a person under 18 years of age) who as an interest in an estate. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer monitors the administration of these estates.

The Children’s Lawyer also represents minors in estate litigation proceedings as authorized by law.

The types of claims may include:

  1. applications by trustees for directions
  2. applications for dependent’s relief
  3. removal of trustees
  4. will challenges/interpretations
  5. sale of minor’s property
  6. guardianship of minor’s property

Property Rights - Civil Litigation

The Children’s Lawyer acts for minors in civil litigation (court cases) in the following ways:

  1. acting as litigation guardian for a minor plaintiff or defendant where there is no other person willing and able to act
  2. protecting a minor’s interest in a proceeding where there is a litigation guardian other than the Children’s Lawyer
  3. reviewing minors’ settlements and making recommendations to the court when directed by the court
  4. representing a minor’s interest in ensuring that settlement funds are appropriately managed on behalf of a minor

Property Rights - Minor’s Funds Department

If the Accountant for the Superior Court of Justice (Ontario) holds funds belonging to a minor and the minor’s parent or caregiver requires funds for the direct benefit of the minor, the parent or caregiver may apply in writing to the Children’s Lawyer’s Minors’ Funds Department for payment out of Court in accordance with court rules.

Counsel for the Children’s Lawyer attends at the Superior Court approximately every 4 to 6 weeks. A judge decides each request.

Title: Images of courts, gavels and legal documents and books - Description: Seven Images of the inside of a court room, gavels and legal documents and books
Figure 4: Images of courts, gavels and legal documents and books

Chapter 4 – Feedback

“My difference maker is my OCL lawyer. She is my difference maker because she makes me feel safe about visits with my mom. She is also my difference maker because if I feel uncomfortable about something I can tell her.”
Office of the Children’s Lawyer Child Client
“Demand for the Office’s legal and clinical investigation services is significant. As well, the Office is unique in that no other jurisdiction in Canada provides children with the same range of centralized legal services. Overall, the legal and investigative work done by the Office is valued by the courts, children, and other stakeholders.”
2011 Annual Report, Office of the Auditor General
“The OCL has fulfilled, in a very helpful and independent way, a public responsibility in protecting the rights of minors and contingent interests.”
2012 Decision of an Ontario Superior Court of Justice Estate Law Case
“I would be remiss if I did not express my appreciation to [OCL’s lawyer and clinician] for the assistance they have given the Court in this difficult matter. Their conduct in this case exemplifies the value the OCL brings to this process, and highlights the need for the OCL's involvement in high conflict cases.”
2014 Decision of an Ontario Superior Court of Justice Family Law Case
Title: Various images of children smilling - Description: Six image of children smilling
Figure 5: Images of children smilling

Look Us Up

For more information, visit our website.

Contact us at:

Office of the Children’s Lawyer
c/o MGCS Mail Delivery Services
2B-88 Macdonald Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1N3

Phone: 416-314-8000

Title: Various images of children using phones and computers - Description: Seven images of children using phones and computers
Figure 6: Images of children using phones and computers