Part Six of Nine
Resolving Systemic Problems in Child Protection Services
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 email@example.com.
A woman with good job skills and a good work history left an abusive marriage with her two children and fled to her hometown. She requested help with accommodation and finances until she could get work and a place to stay. The social services refused to help her and threatened to report her for child neglect because she did not have a fixed abode. She then asked the child welfare services for help. She asked for a short period of voluntary care to enable her to establish herself. The child protection staff originally agreed, but did an abrupt reversal and apprehended her children. She had to fight two years in court to get back her children. A lawyer took on her case under legal aid, but the funds were totally inadequate to cover the case, because the children’s ministry seemed to be able to spend unlimited money for lawyers. Her lawyer was an experienced criminal lawyer, but the protection court was new to her. She eventually carried the case pro bono at enormous personal expense.
During the time in care access was scant and supervised. The children suffered multiple moves and one abusive foster home. A return home under supervision was eventually agreed. The agreement required some acknowledgement of risk on the part of the mother. She only did it so as not to prolong the case. The terms of the supervision were based on the recommendations in a parental capacity assessment report completed by a registered psychologist. At the expiry of the first supervisory period of three months, the director asked for an extension of three months. Moreover an extension with more stringent conditions. The mother objected, because the social worker had made no contact during the first period and had not maintained the conditions of the agreement. In spite of the fact that the psychologist now recommended unconditional return the ministry pursued the case. They even spent five full court days, just quibbling about the terms of extension. By the time the order expired, the director had made no more contact with the mother.
The evidence was transitory and flimsy. There was no argument that the mother was temporarily unable to care for the children due to exceptional circumstances. This was the sort of case where relatives often suffice to provide temporary care if they are able. They were not available in this case. The mother rapidly found work and a three months voluntary care agreement would have sufficed. The case was pursued because the mother, several years earlier, had once had a temporary breakdown under stress. There was a presumption by the social workers that this automatically meant she was at high risk of a recurrence. Other professional counsellors disagreed. Only the ministry contracted psychologist supported this position in part. Her lawyer lost a lot of money on the case and may well launch lawsuits.
There were two cases with very similar circumstances. In each case children were removed from the families and eventually continuing care orders were made by the provincial courts. The parents in each case successfully appealed the cases to Supreme Court and the orders were overturned. Th problem was that it cost them each $200,000 to do it. One family had to sell its home outright. The other family raised the money by taking out a mortgage on their home. Had they not been able to do this they would have had no hope of seeing their children again. They must have had obvious life skills to raise this sort of money, which would suggest some positive parenting skills.