The following letter was written by Ray Ferris to a party who read about him on this blog site. Here he offers some counsel specific to their situation and their query to him. Ray is a retired Ministry of Children child protection worker and supervisor and is also the author of an important book entitled, ‘The Art of Child Protection.’ He is an irrepressible critic of bad child protection work and a frequent contributor on this blog site.
“Thank you for all the information given to me, which has enabled me to get a good grasp on what has taken place. I will shortly explain why I am copying your M.L.A.
The bare facts of the case are quite enough to convince me that the director has shown very bad judgement in your case. It is the old story. The director is so scared that something unexpected might come up and bite him or her that there is an overreaction to every situation. There is no allowance for the normal ups and downs of family life. There is also the factor that some children cannot function well in a normal family setting due to an inability to socialize normally and it is very difficult to formulate a childcare plan with any hope of success. I suspect that this too may be a factor in regards to your very disturbed foster daughter.
So what are the bare facts in your case that lead me to believe that the director has goofed? You had a foster son in your home for ten years and it was the only home he could remember and what he regarded as home. The other boy had been with you for 8 years. Because of an unproven allegation by a disturbed girl both boys were abruptly removed from your home, did not want to go, but I do not know about the other boy. The other boy, N, has been moved to two or three other placements since being taken from you. The director would need compelling evidence to totally disrupt the lives of two youths. If you were the natural parents, there is no way he could make a case in court and you are very much like his natural parents. M has since come home to what he really thinks of as home and continues to live with you. However, the director refuses to recognize that he has any duty of care for M as long as he chooses to live with you. The director has no power to force M to live where he does not want to and he remains free to choose as long as he remains law-abiding.
Your understanding is that the local social work staff was supportive and considered you to be a good home. They supported M going on vacation with you to the U.S.A. However it appears that they were overruled at a higher level and the permission was cancelled. You also have the impression that the advocate from the YCR office was very understanding and supportive. M and N have rights that are clearly spelled out in sections 2 and 4 of the C.F.&CSA - the right to continuity of care and the right to have a choice in where they can live. The best interests of the child are paramount. The snag in this is whose opinion about what are ‘the best interests’ shall prevail. My opinion and remember it is only an opinion, albeit based on facts, is that the best interests of the boys would be best served by continuity of care and freedom to choose placement, supported by adequate financial support and any other needed resourcing. That is my opinion and your M.LA. may or may not agree. N can get an advocate if he requests it, but someone has to tell him his rights.
I want you to be clear. This case is about the rights of children and not about the rights of foster parents, which are virtually non-existent. Foster parent contracts in reality offer little protection. Foster parents are very important in that children’s rights cannot be satisfied without the many wonderful foster parents in this province. In that sense children’s rights can only be met by treating our foster parents as valued colleagues and by cherishing them and supporting them. Many experiences with the children’s ministry have convinced me that the various directors place little value on the rights of children and the social work staff seem lamentably ignorant of the letter and spirit of the CF&CSA. When the director comes into conflict with a parent or a foster parent, the only issue becomes control. Winning at all costs and in some cases millions of dollars fly away in the relentless pursuit of coming out on top. This type of expenditure provides convincing proof that this sort of activity is supported at the highest levels of the ministry. Compassion, integrity and the best interests of children all become matters of little importance.
So why am I telling you all this? When you got hit with all these allegations and lost your sons, you were no doubt shattered. Nonetheless, you believed that as you were innocent and had always been well regarded by the ministry staff, that the truth would prevail and all would come right in the end. So you cooperated fully and willingly in the trust that truth and decency would prevail. When you find that this is not going to happen, you go through various stages of emotional turmoil, shock, disbelief, outrage, depression and self-doubt. You need strong reassurance from supportive people that there is nothing wrong with you. The director will treat anyone like dirt if it suits the agenda. Many people have gone through the same experiences. You need to reassure yourselves that you are okay and that you cannot expect fair treatment. You have to sit down and consider dispassionately what you can do and not do and then get on with doing what you can.
M has an advocate and although the YCR does have not have the power to force the director to do anything, like paying maintenance and providing school supplies, she can comment publicly and has some influence. I am suggesting that if the advocate and your M.L.A work together they have a better chance. If you meet with your M.L.A., he can look at you and weigh you up. He can go to the minister. I am not sure whether or not he is still on the interministry child welfare committee, but I know he has a keen interest in child welfare.
I am not sure at this stage if I can be of any further help to you, but do feel free to let me know how your are doing from time to time.”