As a citizen, and particularly in the context of child protection, when, where, why and how would you record?
Here is a good article listing several people in the U.S. who have recorded public officials during the course of their job with the objective of holding them accountable in the future. The focus is on what happens to people as those officials retaliate.
It is legal to record your own conversations in Canada
Here in Canada, it is legal to record your own conversations. Anyone who happens to be part of those conversations is also recorded, but you do not have to notify them. If you leave the room with your recording running and you are not present, this is like wiretapping, for which warrants must be obtained.
In a lot of cases, people who know they are being recorded behave differently than if they were not told in advance they were being recorded. Imagine, if you were in a job interview and you placed your recorder on the table, and started spouting the law that you were allowed to record your own conversation. You would be labelled paranoid and you would not get that job.
In the case of social workers, they think to themselves, "darn, this parent is recording us, now we can't make up stuff." Instead, what they do is cite their own internal policies that say they are not allowed to be part of meetings that are recorded, and they leave if you don't turn off the recorder. After that, they plot how to get even. By getting even, I mean that social workers will remove your kids from your care.
Laying your cards on the table too soon
Officials who were recorded secretly, then the citizen notifies them that they have been recorded, will often be treated differently afterwards. There will be an assumption by that official that citizens will record them all the time. For police, this might result in more comprehensively written reports. For social workers, what they do is build up evidence against you so your recordings won't help because they won't participate in meetings.
Gathering information without letting the other side know
There was a TV show on the Sci Fi channel that aired within the last week that showed investigators that decided they needed to gather information. They decided to pose as busy-body tourists who encountered the target and his wife and baby in a stroller.
These investigators wanted finger prints and a retinal scan. So what they did was to pretend to be excessively interested in the baby of the target, and they used their iPhone to show the man pictures of their own children. Since the iPhone has a front-facing camera, they set up the phone to take pictures while he was unwittingly looking at the photos on the device. (The reality is that camera is far too low resolution to get that level of detail required, but the concept is very good.)
To get the fingerprints, the investigators handed the man a clean metal bottle for a moment. After the ruse was completed, they departed with the information they came for, finger prints and photographs.
The moral of the story is to learn from the experts such as social workers and police (and TV shows). Gather information and don't let the other side know you are doing this. If you get caught, you can bet there will be consequences and a counter strategy by a foe far more equipped than you.
How to record
When recording social workers who investigating before they have removed your children, you can first ask PERMISSION to record, and display the recorder on the table. Usually you will not get this permission, so in this case, you are displaying good faith and showing that the recorder is off. Have a second recorder running in the meantime, it can be in a shirt pocket, or hanging from a string around your neck under your shirt, a pen recorder, or an iPhone can be set to record but the screen left blank, a computer that you are taking notes on can also have the recorder turned on.
Social workers often arrive in pairs. One person writes, while the other person does the talking. A typical parent can't write and talk at the same time, so without a recorder, they are at a disadvantage. Witnesses sound like a good idea, but you need to realize these people are not allowed to testify at a presentation hearing. A written transcript, however, IS highly useful, and can be read by a judge before any hearing begins.
Social workers only write down parts of the conversation that benefits their case. A transcript from a recording will obviously take precedence in a court setting. What you have to be careful is to not give social workers hints that you are recording, or that when you said you were not recording, you were in fact doing so. This is because, social workers can later re-write their notes to match any recording they receive so they don't get caught with fraud. That is, falsifying government records that you can prove with your recording of their own voice, and have them criminally charged.
Record silence too, what is NOT being said
Another aspect of recording is that such records document what is NOT being said. So, if a social workers write in their records that "services" were offered, but you refused those services, they use this falsified 'fact' that you refused services. and they remove your children based on 'no lesser alternatives were available.'
When to release recordings and transcripts as evidence
When do you release your recordings and transcripts? Immediately, before your children are removed? Immediately after the 5-minute Report to Court hearing but before the Presentation Hearing? Do you release the transcripts in an affidavit before the Presentation Hearing?
This is a tough call, because if you release your recordings and transcripts at the 'wrong' time, child protection authorities will craft a counter response. If the recordings are absolutely compelling, so much so that a judge reading transcripts cannot ignore the information and it can be the basis on returning the children, then do include audio transcripts as an attachment to a sworn affidavit and have this ready at a Presentation Hearing.
The more time you give lawyers for child protection authorities to figure out how to respond, the more effective they will be at disabling your evidence. What you want to do is to use exactly the same tactic as child protection lawyers used against parents, only supply evidence at the last minute to reduce the time to respond in a comprehensive manner.
If you sue later, what you want to do is have an accumulation of hundreds of hours of audio. If you are forced to release these recordings as part of your own disclosure, what this will do is obligate them to go through all this material so they can try and figure out exactly what part you intend to use against them. It is not your job to label and provide printed transcripts, or even to supply recognizable filenames, or even to have datestamps on said files. You can even put the audio onto old fashioned tape, rather than CD or other digital format, so there is no chance of speeding up copying and transcriptions.
What do you record? Everything, if at all possible.
Record supervised visits. Compare the written reports with your recordings.
Encourage telephone calls and record those. Ask surprise questions and you might get lucky.
If you are in meetings, teleconference in someone else, that person can record the call as well as serve as a witness.
Record court hearings, and especially any conversations with lawyers, social workers, judicial case managers and such. Remember that you can listen to tapes of your hearings if you cannot afford to have transcriptions made. Set appointment with tape management in the courthouse to make your own transcriptions (or record the audio).
Encourage meetings with social workers. If you are lucky enough to get them into your home, setup a webcam by your TV and hold the meeting in the living room. If you sit in a kitchen, point any laptops equipped with a webcam at the social workers. This is good if you need to publish youtube videos later.
Converting audio to printed transcripts
Transcribe your audio files by using an audio playback program such as VLC (Mac or PC) which will let you slow down the audio so you can type without having to constantly stop, rewind, and replay segments. Every minute of audio may take you five minutes to type.
Another way to transcribe audio is to listen through headphones, and speak the phrases using a voice recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
There is no if's and's or buts about the usefulness of recording. In our view, never leave the house without a camera, audio recorder, smartphone with video recording capability.
People who know they are doing wrong will not like being recorded, so this must be done secretly. Pointing a cell phone doesn't work, everyone knows this. A hidden audio recorder works. A discrete button-hole camera works.