Sunday, January 9, 2011

RISK RATIONALITIES IN CHILD PROTECTION / Part 413 / For Love and For Justice / Zabeth and Paul Bayne

The risk paradigm significantly influences contemporary social work. Social work and risk are increasingly linked as we have seen in a case like Paul and Zabeth Bayne and the removal of their three children in October of 2007. On the one hand, risk is a factor in contemporary social policy and practice because it must be when a report is received that a child is injured and there is suspicion of abuse. On the other hand, the 'risk' concept in social work is not uniform or uncontested. There are different rationalities for risk within social work which result in differing policy responses and practices. What then is at issue is that different rationalities of risk, regard or assess a 'subject/client' differently and therefore respond in differing ways to the subject. We have heard commenters say that one team of SWs treated the client combatively and newer SW assigned to the task was understanding.

In the case of the Baynes, we have had a Director who believes that at the time of the infant daughter's injuries and diagnosis in September 2007, Paul and Zabeth were a risk to their daughter. Moreover, throughout these past three years and still today as evidenced in the most recent affidavit, the Director believes the parents are a risk to this child. They do not deserve ever to have custody of their children again. That's the essence of the Continuing Care application upon which the Judge is deliberating at this moment. So convinced is the Director about the risk that Paul and Zabeth pose to children that he directed the apprehension of the baby girl's two brothers. Those boys aged two and three in autumn 2007 are now five and six years old and have also been in care rather than at home.

Upon what was this risk based? Well no substantiated evidence exists. No evidence pointed to a criminal act by one or both of the parents. The Director moved initially to the apprehension of the couple's children because of their youngest child's injuries. Even the medical diagnosis by a hospital pediatrician was not evidence. The doctor who was part of the child protection unit of the hospital concluded that the injuries were consistent with something called shaken baby syndrome. The diagnosis is not evidence. It is a theory. It assumes that the only explanation for that set of medical findings is willful harm to the child. Because of its name, 'shaken baby,' this theory assumes more than it should. Its description correctly reveals the serious and sometimes life threatening medical condition of the child, but titling the condition this way, passes judgement on caregivers because the name itself imputes liability without verifiable proof. This has got to stop. The diagnosis is even more contestable today because so many medical and bio-mechanical professionals have been doing research and writing opinion papers that offer grounds for other explanations for the injuries that were sustained by the Bayne child. Many of these were presented to the Director first but when the CCO application was made, these facts were presented in court by the Baynes' lawyer. The Director has retained his risk persuasion because he has never accepted the Bayne explanation for their youngest child's injuries. He has never believed that they are innocent as they have insisted without cowering and with so much at stake. In his mind, they were and are and always will be a risk. Redemption is not in this MCFD team's vocabulary. For that reason as Zabeth has come almost to term with her fourth pregnancy, MCFD has made numerous overtures to discuss with the Baynes the care of the yet to be born child. It is to this that Ray Ferris' letter to Mr. McNeill spoke. A personal letter that illustrated the uncaring stress that this conduct placed upon Zabeth whom the entire local MCFD team knows is vulnerable to seriously premature deliveries. It is time that risk assessments are conducted upon MCFD managers and SWs.

What disturbs me is that another Director with different risk rationalities might have already demonstrated willingness to accept the parents' strengths as well as exercised leniency and compassion to them for the sake of the family.

This Blog has been advocating the return of three children to their biological parents, Paul and Zabeth Bayne, for which a ruling is expected from Judge Crabtree within the next two weeks. Stay posted.


  1. On Saturday I mentioned the case of a four year old boy in Saanich, Greater Victoria. He was admitted to hospital with head trauma and the medical staff reported to police that it looked as if he had been beaten. He had been taken early from an addicted mother and was still without a permanent life plan at the age of four. He had experienced several placements, including with relatives. He had been in his current foster home for about three months and it was hoped they would adopt him. The maternal grandmother is quoted as saying that she had complained to the social workers that the home was unsafe, but had gone unheeded. All the natural children in the home had been taken into care. The situation looked like a bad MCF goof and I mentioned that once more it looked as though the timelines in the act had been violated and that there was no coherent planning.
    On Sunday the Times Colonist printed further information,which put a different perspective on things. The picture painted was quite different, but still added up to poor social work. This time a new informant came forward, who of course could not be named etc.
    She was described as the former foster mother of the woman who had been caring for the boy. We learned the following. The mother in the placement had herself been a child in care. The home was described as low income. They had four of their own children, the youngest of whom was a nursing infant and was now six months of age. The informant said that she was in regular touch with her former charge and she thought that they were a normal family and very good parents who would never hurt a child. She also said that the boy in question had a history of disturbed and self-destructive behaviour and when frustrated would bang his head violently against walls.
    This raises many more questions. 1. Mother was an addict. Addictions are usually multiple, with cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse nearly always accompanying other drug usage. The strong probability is that the boy received multiple assaults in the womb and most likely suffers from foetal alcohol syndrome.
    2.He is stated to be on the waiting list for a psychological assessment. Foetal alcohol syndrome is a form of brain damage. It cannot be cured. Depending on the severity, one can sometimes successfully teach behaviour change, but for severe cases one can only use behaviour management. One would need to seek a psychologist who is skilled at teaching behaviour management for damaged children.
    3.If the boy is severely limited, it may be realistically impossible to find an adoption home for him and he may need a long term placement as a special needs child. His management might be demanding and his care would not be cheap. (continued)

  2. (continuation of Saanich head trauma case.)4.The placement was not congruent. The social workers must have known about the boy's uncontrolled and self-destructive behaviour. This is probably why other placements had failed. The placement showed incredibly bad judgement. A low income family with four of their own children and the youngest three months at time of placemen? In foster and adoption placement is generally considered very bad practice to place a child in between the ages of other children. We do not know the ages of the other children, but they were young enough to be considered at risk. I would worry about the potential for the placed boy to injure the youngest child. No doubt this "low income" family was hard put to it to care for four children, never mind adopting an extra one. Maybe family planning counselling would have been more appropritate.
    5.Given the history of self-injury, one cannot rule out the possibility that the boy inflicted the head damage on himself. They should not make the mistake that was made in the Bayne case and rule out any thought that the parents may never have done anything wrong. If one considers the possibility of self-inflicted injuries, then the removal of the other four children is not supportable. One would especially worry about the nursing infant. Okay, like in the Bayne case, the best information at the start looks serious. One needs to ensure that all the children are safe while the matter is fully assessed. The children should be promptly returned if it looks as if no criminal charges can be supported.
    6.Whichever way one looks at it, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this case arose out of poor child protection work. Lack of assessment skills. Lack of knowledge of how to assess and manage brain damage from abuse in the womb. Reactive and untrained planning. However, you look at it the boy and his foster family are all victims of circumstances created by the child protection staff.


I encourage your comments using this filter.
1. Write politely with a sincere statement, valid question, justifiable comment.
2. Engage with the blog post or a previous comment whether you agree or disagree.
3. Avoid hate, profanity, name calling, character attack, slander and threats, particularly when using specific names.
4. Do not advertise