Wednesday, September 24, 2014


By Ray Ferris (This piece is one of a series Ray will write here.)

The ministry seems to have no clear concept about what access is appropriate and what is not. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies does have guidelines and these are vastly different from what is practised in British Columbia. There seems to be no differentiation from case to case as to when close supervision of access is needed and when unsupervised access would seem more appropriate. The rationale appears to be that any protection action means that there is risk to a child and therefore there would be dire risk if unsupervised access were allowed. This is not rational. If the director is seeking a continuing care order, then this is a reasonable assumption and it might well be argued that access should not be allowed at all to parents who are so hopelessly unfit as to merit permanent loss of their children.

However, shall we say that due notice has been served on the parents that a temporary order only is sought and the plan on the presentation report was to return the children, then access should be supportive of such a plan. Every person who has had children in care, even for fairly short periods reports the same sort of thing. Any visits are tightly supervised and every word and gesture is tightly monitored, as if the parent would suddenly attack the child. This is so irrational that it strikes people as paranoid. When parents have no history of child abuse, but perhaps it is a case of borderline neglect, there is no reason to waste public money on such over-caution.

The Ontario guidelines also advise social workers to arrange all access visits to be in the family home whether supervised or not. This is to keep the children in touch with familiar things and to lessen their anxiety. I have had hundreds of foster children under the care of my staff and me. We seldom found it necessary to supervise visiting. When parents were able to pick up their children at the foster home and take them out for the day, it gave us good opportunities to evaluate the progress of the parent. If parents were consistent and reliable, it became positive evidence. I would introduce the parent to the foster parent first and our foster parents were often good mentors for the natural parent. If a supervised visit became necessary, I preferred to do it myself, so that I could evaluate the situation first hand.

The systemic change would be to draw up clear guidelines on visiting and to make it part of core training for protection workers. Old staff should be retrained on this matter. Such a device would save a great deal of money.

Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD. He has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' This is the first in a series of pieces Ray will write here. You can order Mr. Ferris' book entitled 'the Art of Child Protection' by contacting the author directly at

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