Part Four of Nine
Resolving Systemic Problems in Child Protection Services
|Red Wall art by Redfish Designs|
By Ray Ferris
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Define the Problems
This case was at first in two courts. It was in provincial court as a protection case and in Supreme Courts as a divorce case. Eventually the superior court judge Mr. Justice Paul Walker took over both actions. His reasons were made clear in his verdict. The case started as a custody dispute between the parents. The mother had actual custody, but the children were removed from her care because of allegations made by her husband. He was allowed unsupervised access, but the mother had only very restricted supervised access. When the Judge Walker took over the case, he realised that the director would make it into a lengthy hearing, so he gave the care of the children to the mother under an order of supervision. By this time the children had already been in care for nearly two years. The following are a number of facts from the case.
The only evidence against the mother was that the father had told the social workers that she was mentally unstable. On this piece of opinion evidence from an antagonistic husband, she was deemed to be such a high risk that visiting was very restricted. The family court judge appears to have endorsed this. In his judgement Judge Walker formed the opinion that the mother was not at all unstable. He concluded that the father was in fact a serial sexual abuser of his children. Because of this he made an order that allowed only supervised access to the father. It was when he learned that this order had been ignored that he took charge of the protection action. The mother found out about it and tried to get help to protect her children from him, but her photos and recordings were ignored. The police did investigate the allegations against the father, but they failed to follow any proper processes in doing so. They accepted the word of the social worker that the allegations were a figment of the mother’ sick mind and treated the matter lightly.
When the case went to Supreme Court, the director started to call numerous witnesses and spun the case out over 65 days of hearings. On the 66th day the director withdrew from the case. It can be noted that under the CF&CSA the director can withdraw at any time on giving written reasons. In the provincial court this leaves the judge no choice but to endorse the withdrawal, without making any adjudication. The action in Supreme Court was also a divorce action so the judge was free to make a written judgement.
When he returned the children to the mother and awarded her sole custody, the written judgement was a scathing criticism of the behaviour of several employees of the ministry for children and families and also of the detective sergeant who was charged with the investigation. The criticism was so strong that it clearly left the door open to a malfeasance suit.
When the case first started, the mother was able to raise about a quarter of a million dollars. In order to do this she had to re-mortgage her house and borrow from a friend who did likewise in order to help her. In view of the protracted case, this proved to be a totally inadequate sum. It appeared that the director would once more win a case, simply by running the defendant out of money. This would indeed have been the case, were it not for the fact that her lawyer continued to act while bearing the costs himself. The case and the costs ran into enormous sums of money. His only hope of recovering any of it was to advise the mother to start a malfeasance suit. Such an action was taken before Mr. Justice Walker. At the outset, the Ministry offered what appeared to be a huge out-of-court settlement, but on examination it would cover less than half the costs incurred. The case has been heard for several months and the judgement is now awaited. The case has now cost the public several million dollars, but is hard to understand why this course was taken. It was certainly not in the best interests of the children.