Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Today's post is once again contributed by Ray Ferris who still provides informed and supportive gratis encouragement and counsel to parents who seek him out for advice to deal with the personal crises they encounter when dealing with the social service agency known as the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Of concern today is the dispute that parents have with the representation of them contained in a social worker's documents.

Written records.
You should ask for a copy of his notes
Today I want to clarify what is a written record. The main body of the written record on the social worker’s file often consists of written material generated by the social workers and their colleagues. When a social worker records client contacts on the file, it may contain a number of things. It may be partly factual, but it can also be partly perception, opinion or conjecture. For example --- “I phoned Mrs. Jones at two this afternoon and she only answered the phone after ten rings, so I nearly hung up. I thought she sounded a bit depressed and reluctant to talk to me. I wondered if she had had a relapse into heroin use, but I decided not to ask about that, but just to ask her how she was doing and if she needed any help.” Sounds okay doesn’t it? But is it really?

The fact was that she phoned at two P.M. and it took ten rings to answer the phone. The rest was all conjecture and perception and opinion.

Let us suppose that Mrs. Jones worked a late shift at the pancake house the night before and got up early to get the kids to school. She took a nap in the afternoon to catch up before the kids came home from school. When the phone rang she was fast asleep and feeling drowsy when she answered. The social worker can conjecture all she likes, but she has no business putting it on the public record, where it might become evidence in court.

Other parts of the social worker generated record may be presentation reports, risk assessments, or other reports solicited from various professionals. However, it is important to know that any document that finds its way onto the file is part of the official record, regardless of its origin. This means that the social worker does not have sole control of the record, but you too can use that right.

Suppose that the worker phones you and you do not agree that she has represented your position fairly and she is going to put it on the record. You can immediately write to her and so state. For instance you can say --- “when you phoned me on Tuesday May 22nd at 2 P.M. you stated blah blah blah. I do not agree with you at all on this and I want this to be clear on the record. I did not say I did not want respite care. I said I wanted it desperately two weeks ago, but you refused. I am now well and I do not need it -----.”

Can Stock Photo (Word cloud) 'Social Work'
Another tactic that you can use is to insist on written communication only. You should certainly do this, if you feel that phone calls are manipulative or inaccurate and that the worker’s recollection of the conversation is totally different from yours. This can be done for the purposes of accountability and to ensure mutual understanding. This makes for the reduction of unfair manipulation. This leaves a more accurate record and can become evidence at a later date, if necessary. All emails become official parts of the public record, so be careful what you write. Social workers will often resist communicating by email except for routine matters, because of the very reason that they do not like to be pinned down. It lessens their control.

One more point. Should you ever request your file under freedom of information, you should make sure your letters are on the record. There will be many deleted pages, because, once more directors hate to share control and information gives you power.

 Ray Ferris retired from a a career with the Ministry of Children and Family Development has been openly critical of Ministry practices and case management for some time. Occasionally I print some of his informed pieces. Ray is the author of 'The Art of Child Protection'. You can purchase it from him by writing to

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  4. yup. FOI'd my file nearly 10 years ago. Tons of deletions because it "could be harmful to a third party." The only "third party" I knew of was someone trying to scam their way into full custody of my child.
    Reading through the file a week ago, some social worker somewhere decided that reconciliation with that other party was the only way for me to get my child back. The other party was manipulative, emotionally abusive and worse, and some stooge at MCFD took their side and wanted me to reconcile? No wonder I lost my kid - there was no way to reconcile. I was not doing what the other person wanted, which MCFD was demanding of me, because there was no possible way to reconcile unless the other person at least attempted to meet me halfway. They never did.
    I also found tons of opinionated reports from their other agencies I was sent to for "counseling" (more like fishing for reasons to keep my child). Including where my mental health diagnosis came from. Nice to know it never came from someone with a doctorate, and was just an opinion stated during a case meeting at a counseling center. Yup. Legitimate diagnosis that was.

  5. Good subject to be discussed.

    MCFD is highly secretive and will only release information at the last minute, and as little as possible. Consider: the first appearance, all you get is a report to court of hearsay allegations. Next, at a Presentation Hearing, you get a binder of intake reports, risk assessments, perhaps audio recording transcripts and other tidbits. No black book notes, or emails. This, after all is a summary stage where information presented is assumed to be accurate, and if believed, would produce the 'conviction' desired by MCFD (which is, the parent is guilty of harming or neglecting their child.)

    After that, the long, long wait for a protection hearing, perhaps a month or two before the actual date you may get hundreds of pages of materials. You will find important medical information is missing. No foster care incident reports. Fewer "black book" notes than should be there. Perhaps the time immediately before, or in the year leading up to the trial date may be omitted. Not that it is relevant to trial proceedings, but MCFD does not want to be sued by parents and their children later, using the information collected, against them.

    Social workers make black book notes, foster parents make notes and reports, so those need to be acquired too.

    One other aspect of getting reports is to prevent workers from adding backdated information, such as was suspected in the Baynes case where a social worker was suspected of removing pages from a book and re-writing the pages so as to be less embarassed in court.

    Telephone conversations are preferred by social workers because they do not expect parents to have the wherewithall to record and transcribe those calls. So, they can write a summary characterization and omit vital information. No one can argue with an audio recording.

    Another common tactic of workers is to produce copious amounts of garbage that no one could ever hope to wade their way through to get to some important hidden bit of information. Ray is right, the blacked-out, redacted sections often far exceed just omitting names of reporters, they obscure vital facts that would paint an entirely different picture if known.

    I have found that B.C. Supreme Court applications are very successful in acquiring information from MCFD. They are quick, and deadlines are are imposed upon delivery.

    If you do file an FOI, do this directly with FOI in Victoria, not your local MCFD office. You have more recourse this way in terms of appeal if you believe too much as been redacted, or you suspect files have been omitted, or you wish to make corrections.


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