Friday, February 10, 2012



 by Ray Ferris
author of the book “The Art of Child Protection.”
You can purchase it from him by writing to
The old protection of children’s act had many sections defining when a child needed protection, but usually only one clause was used. Section 7 (k) “whose home by reason of neglect, cruelty or depravity is an unfit place for the child, or whose parents are unfit, unable or unwilling to care properly for him.” In practice we only used to use the last bit, whose parents are unfit, unable or unwilling.

unfit as in unfit for dwelling
This is a good catchall section and demanded different types of evidence. Parents who abused children or subjected them to extreme neglect, were processed under the unfit section.

The easiest ones to prove were the ones under “unwilling.” You may be surprised to know how many parents simply do not want their kids. They may kick them out because of their behaviour problems when they approach adolescence, or they may desert or abandon them. There are many different ways to abandon children and babies left on doorsteps are rare. No, people may leave children with a caregiver for a short period and just fail to turn up to collect them. Or they may leave them with a relative and the maintenance payments dwindle, and the parent fades out of the child’s life altogether. Immature and selfish parents may split up and try to force the other parent to take responsibility. The kids are passed back and forth and possibly left with unsuitable caregivers. There are many ways in which people can be unwilling.

'Unable to Fly' by Dean Grey
How about unable? There are many ways in which people can be unable for short or long periods. There can be a severe physical illness or injury. People can have mental breakdowns. A parent might be homeless and unable to provide suitable care, or a marriage breakup may render a woman destitute, or she may be driven out by fear of a violent spouse. In many of these situations, a voluntary care agreement is sufficient, without recourse to the courts and this leaves control and guardianship with the parent. If it is vital that guardianship powers are needed by the ministry, then a court order is necessary. These cases require good judgement.

Now we come to the topic of special needs children. The parents of such children may be unwilling or unable to care for them or both. Some parents are simply emotionally overwhelmed when they have a severely handicapped child. They may beg the authorities to care for their child, while another parent will insist on giving the care themselves. Some children are so severely handicapped that it seems that institutional care is the only answer. The parent may, or may not wish to retain guardianship functions. Our view on what can be achieved in the home with good support has changed over the years. We used to think that children with Down syndrome should be in institutions, but now we know that home care is the best. I also think that we have to thank some pretty wonderful foster homes who showed us what can be done with some very difficult children.

Many of the challenging children have different sorts of behaviour disorders. Attention deficit disorders, autism, hyperactivity, mental illness, severe retardation and so on. Some parents want to cope with them at home and some do not. Some parents can cope if given a little practical help and support. Respite care is always a help. One of the problems has always been that it is often almost impossible to provide a service in the home, but as soon as a child comes into care one can pour on the help in the foster home. No wonder some social workers think that the best interests of the child involve being a ward, because that way they can tap into the necessary funds. If a parent is willing to look after a challenging child, it is hard to justify apprehension and care.

Just look at Ayn and Derek Hoare. There is no doubt that his daughter is very challenging and she and the other children demand all the care and commitment that he can muster. So the social workers are going to try to provide evidence that he is either unfit, or unable to care properly for her, because they certainly cannot prove that he is unwilling. Well I would hate to guess how they are going to do that. I am sure that Derek would like to know too. He has an absolute right under the law to know, but the law is not being followed. There was the commencement of a protection hearing in October, but he received no written notice stating the order sought, as is required by law. He received no disclosure as required and he will not get any of this for the best part of another year. If they allege his is unable or unfit, let them prove it in a timely manner. It is not enough for them to argue what is in the best interests of the child. That is simply an opinion. Where are their facts---if any. Of one thing I am quite certain. There is no way that they can prove that they can do any better with Ayn than Derek did at home.

Ray Ferris is an occasional GPS post writer. Retired now, Ray speaks from 31 years in child welfare and protection as a social worker, district supervisor and family court coordinator. He cannot tolerate injustice imposed upon families by ineffectual case work. 

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1 comment:

  1. According to Child Welfare parents are "unfit" if they don't believe in vaccinations, are vegetarian, don't provide dental care for their kids(generally because they haven't got the insurance coverage and can't afford it) of if they homeschool,spank their kids,etc. or do anything that isn't considered to be "mainstream" As for handicapped kids, they focus on them and blame the parents as "not doing enough."despite them doing their best in extremely challenging situations. No one can meet their unrealistic expectations.


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