Saturday, December 3, 2011


Identifying neglect or negligence and assessing risk is a multifaceted procedure. Seldom can social workers establish negligence in the care of a child based upon a single incident or event. Incidents with respect to an autistic child should be deemed an even greater challenge to assessing whether a parent is providing adequate care.

Proper procedure assumes that social workers will assemble a picture of the family as the context for understanding a specific incident. That picture will require conversations and information from numerous sources such as relatives, friends and neighbours and professionals. Always such information will anticipate variable degrees of reliability and yet social workers are expected to make judgements and then to act concerning the welfare of children in these cases. Sometimes they must act quickly.

Certainly in some cases social workers must make rapid judgements about the character of people, parents and informants but all these should be checked and rechecked for an investigation to be considered thorough. Initial information, a report, a call-in must be checked scrupulously for accuracy and reliability since child abuse or neglect is so emotive and reports can be exaggerated or even false. When investigative procedure is suitably conducted, it will result in data that may revise the initial case assessment. There must be a willingness to change an opinion. Moreover, a social worker may find that given some reflective time away from the child and the parents, and in collaboration with others such as a supervisor, the facts produce a different picture of the case.

The social workers charged with the task of looking into Ayn Van Dyk’s three hour absence from her home did not take the time to ask enough of the important questions to enough people. They acted hastily and should not have done so. Not for one moment do I believe that a methodical and comprehensive evaluation of Derek Hoare as a man and a father has been done. Had it been done between June 12th and June 16th, social workers would not have removed Ayn from Derek’s capable care, had it been done anytime in these past months, a responsible team of social workers would not allow five and one half months to pass without a serious attempt to return Derek’s daughter Ayn to him. The June 12th incident that precipitated her removal on June 16th was not so mysterious that its details could not be ferreted out within hours. The reason why Ayn had a few minutes unseen by her father to clamber over a fence from a high standing playhouse, could have found easy explanation. Even if the answer was not satisfying or if it required some cautionary instruction or directives to Derek about Ayn’s care for the future, that could have been done by a conscientious social worker so that the child could remain where she rightly belongs. 'Conscientious' did not need to be equated with quick removal of the girl from her loving father and brothers.

Here on this blog for three years now, I have reflected the tension which we, the public create for social workers because on one hand we want to insure the protection of children against parental abuse and or neglect and on the other hand we want to champion the family as the citadel of democratic freedom with which no one including governments should interfere. So social workers desperately need to get it right this time. In the mediation that has transpired during recent months, Derek has been charged with the responsibility of develop a plan of care for Ayn. He has expended significant care and time in researching, writing and proofing the content of his proposal and that has now been presented to MCFD. He is assured by expert reviewers that his is a strong proposal, so social workers need now to endorse this quickly and as hastily as they took Ayn, now return her to Derek, so she can celebrate her 10th birthday with her family on the 14th of December.

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