Part Five of Nine
Resolving Systemic Problems in Child Protection Services
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
The G family was a blended one. Mr. G. had a daughter aged 17 and a son aged 14. Mrs. G, his second wife, had a daughter aged 15, who had recently come to live with her because her father could not handle her. The boy was grounded for a week for misbehaviour. He got angry and phoned the child abuse line claiming to be abused. A social worker suddenly arrived with a policeman. The parents were arrested and imprisoned. The next day the social workers removed all the children and placed them in care. The parents were charged and pleaded not guilty. The case was set down for hearing almost a year later. The parents hired a criminal lawyer, who demanded a large retainer. This left them no money for the protection case, so they had to get a legal aid lawyer.
The court processes.
I had advised Mr.G. before the hearing what to expect and how to instruct his lawyer. At the hearing the lawyer refused to follow his instructions, got annoyed and told the judge that he would have to represent himself. Mr. G. requested three things and the judge allowed them all, much to the chagrin of his lawyer. One of them was to set aside an hour the following week to hear arguments on interim custody and especially access. During the week, his lawyer returned no phone calls and came to court unprepared. A different judge sat on the case and asked what the action was. The crown counsel said that it was just a date to set a date and defence counsel agreed. Mr. G. protested that it was to argue access. The clerk of the court confirmed that was indeed the case. The judge refused to hear any evidence on the grounds that he did want to be seized with the case. That was the last time the parents got any sort of hearing.
At the criminal trial of Mrs. G. almost a year later, the judge found that the crown had failed to make a case that needed any defence and dismissed the charges. The lawyer wanted another substantial sum to defend Mr. G. and I advised him to dismiss the lawyer because the case against him was even weaker. We went to see the administrative prosecutor to ask why court time was being wasted on such flimsy cases. On learning that Mr. G. had dismissed his lawyer the administrative prosecutor told us that his lawyer had only requested disclosure a week before the trial. Had crown counsel known ahead how weak the case was, they would not have proceeded. As a result of our interview, the case against Mr. G. was stayed. At the protection hearing the director withdrew and no order was made.
Time in care.
During the time in care the following happened. The parents were only allowed to see their children occasionally and this was in the social worker’s office. They were forbidden to discuss reconciliation and nobody was allowed to discuss the evidence. The social worker said that this was to protect the evidence and the order came from a very senior level and she had no power of discretion. Mrs. G. and her daughter were forbidden to speak in French, which was their native tongue. Any perceived deviation resulted in immediate termination of the interview. Telephone contact was forbidden. The two younger children were placed in a group home, where they both became exposed to drugs and developed a dependency. The parents were distraught when they saw their son sitting on the sidewalk downtown and panhandling for drugs. They were threatened with legal action if they attempted to talk with him. The older girl was in a different facility and she became persuaded that she was a victim of abuse and she was the one who was called to testify against her stepmother.
After a few weeks the boy ran away and went home. The parents were worried that they would be arrested and called in a family friend. The boy told the friend that he had told the social workers shortly after admission to care that he had got mad and exaggerated and that he had not been abused in any way. He also said that the social worker threatened him with dire consequences if he changed his story. He could be charged with wasting police time. The friend helped him to write a letter to the court and advised him to return to the group home.
After that things changed somewhat. The social workers could no longer bar contact and phone contact was allowed. Counselling sessions were started. Meetings were held with the parents and two social workers present and a contracted registered psychologist. After one or two sessions the parents requested a friend to attend. This friend was a retired addictions counsellor. The role of the psychologist appeared to be to chair the meetings. In between he was counselling the two younger children. The addictions counsellor pointed out that both the children appeared to be stoned and it turned out that they both had serious addictions. Nobody seemed aware that it is impossible to counsel addicts and the only course could be to detoxify the client and to continue with abstention counselling. After that the father did all the work to get his son in a programme and other counselling ceased.
The only evidence presented in this case was the statement on the presentation report that serious criminal charges had been made and a trial was pending about a year later. The only evidence the police had was what the social worker had alleged. In view of this, one might think it odd that the social worker did not state this evidence at presentation. It seems that most of the next year was spent with the police hoping that the social workers would come up with something more substantial and the social workers were hoping that the police would find something out. They also seemed to hope the kids might reveal more during the time in care. Of course this did not happen and the cases collapsed for lack of evidence. It is hard to find anything positive to say about the social workers, the police or the lawyers in this case.
After the collapse of the case, the parents demanded a practice audit, which was their right at the time. The auditor was able to whitewash the director’s actions and vilify the parents by a simple device. She adamantly refused to consider anything that happened after a certain date and so she did not have to deal with the fact that there had never been any evidence. Through freedom of information it was later discovered that the auditor’s boss was the same senior official who had directed the tight access conditions.