Friday, August 5, 2011
THE FRASER REGION AND CHILD PROTECTION
The Fraser Region has much for which to answer. This is the region with which I am familiar and within which my primary illustration of bad practice occurred. In every region government social workers pride themselves for taking this work seriously and they assume responsibility for children when they deem that a home environment is unsafe or harmful but sometimes, some of them are making mistakes in judgement and it is costing children and families and parents, something precious – time.
The Fraser Region of the Ministry of Children and Family Development is comprised of BC’s lower mainland between Delta and Boston Bar.(It does not include the cities of Vancouver and Richmond.) The Fraser Region is a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities. The enormity of the area and diversity of people present great challenges for service delivery and even access into communities. The Fraser Region, the largest of the several regions in terms of population with almost 1.5 million people (Fraser Health, 2008), contains a range of people, cultures, traditions and languages. The region has 2 Aboriginal Circles of Community and is the ancestral home of the Coast Salish and Interior Salish peoples. Twenty-five First Nations and Bands have territory in the Region and there are in excess of 28,000 First Nations and Métis people who live off reserve in different communities. According to the 2001 Statistics Canada census, 46,025 people identified as Aboriginal, 3.5 per cent of the region’s total (Fraser Health, 2008).
MCFD Community offices provides services such as family supports, youth justice, child and youth mental health, early childhood development, child protection, adoption, services to children and youth with special needs. That's the way it works. Sometimes however services deal families some hardships that are not deserved.
The Bayne family resided in Hope, BC when their youngest of three children, a daughter seven weeks old, sustained injuries via trauma of a tumble by a toddler sibling – injuries whose symptoms were unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated by local medical resources and even as far away as Abbotsford. Not until the baby was taken to Vancouver Children’s Hospital days later was the hemorrhage identified and the full extent of the injuries determined. The diagnosis there initiated a four year family ordeal whereby all three children were taken into the care of the MCFD ultimately requiring a court hearing in 2010 which resulted in 2011 with the dismissal of the Ministry’s allegation of child abuse by the parents (Shaken Baby Syndrome).
Prior to the Judge’s decision, all contact with MCFD workers was out of the Hope Office and the case workers there (to understate it) were decidedly unsympathetic to Zabeth and Paul. Parents in their predicament will be understandably upset, disturbed, unfriendly to social workers involved in the removal of their children, but one would and should expect that social workers will behave reasonably objectively rather than with an assumption of guilt attributed to the parents. However, in this case the medical postulation of SBS though unproven, became the MCFD certainty that fueled all interaction with this couple. That is the way the Baynes experienced it. According to them, all early meetings between social workers and the Baynes were characterized by the MCFD agenda of obtaining a parental acknowledgment of liability. Their steadfast protestation of innocence deemed them uncooperative. This singular MCFD focus drove the process until finally the Director of the region applied for a Continuing Custody Order, which in March 2011 together with the dismissal of the SBS notion, was rejected. Judge Crabtree however, also did not find the Bayne’s explanation of a toddler’s fall to be convincing, or at least it left the injuries unexplained in his mind and therefore he created a three month window of opportunity for both the Baynes and the Ministry to find an agreeable way of returning the children to their parents which he regarded as in the best interests of the children.
I am sure that the Hope Office was pleased to unload the Bayne file when it was transferred to Surrey where the Bayne couple have lived for the past three years and where the children have been in foster care. That transfer has certainly made a difference. The social workers assigned to the Bayne case have been amicable and helpful and the Baynes also determined to cooperate in every way to satisfy the Ministry. So the three months were up on June 2nd and here we are one month later. The result of the Parental Capacity Assessment informed the Ministry that Paul and Zabeth do not comply with an abuser profile and are also well equipped parents to care for their children. So the restoration of a family begins with the return of the newly born Josiah, now five months old, the fourth child in the Family Bayne. he came home Aug 2. The other three children will be returned Aug 25. The road ahead is onerous as parents adjust to the workload of four small bodies with them all of the time. The children will face their own inner anxieties as their emotions tear between home and mommy and daddy and the other life with a foster family with whom they have surely identified. There will be unannounced drop-bys by MCFD workers to see how life is turning out for the family of six, and perhaps always Paul and Zabeth will live with a resident dread that MCFD will concoct another platform against them.