Episode 5 of 7: SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS TO B.C.'S CHILD PROTECTION
Today, Suggestions 1,2,3,4 … that's right, after four episodes reviewing current problems in the B.C. Child Protection programme, Ray Ferris is providing solutions. Remember, that the ten-page document from which all of this information has been taken has been given to some members of the B.C. Legislative Assembly.
The segments for this blog are prepared with Ray's permission. Ray has written many articles on this blog for the past decade. Ray Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD. He has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' You can order Mr. Ferris' book entitled 'the Art of Child Protection' by contacting the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Ray Ferris.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTIONS TO CURRENT PROBLEMS WITH B.C. CHILD PROTECTION
Suggestion One: CONTRACT PUBLIC DEFENDERS - INSURE ACCESS TO EFFECTIVE LEGAL REPRESENTATION
It is not easy to equalize the power in the court situation. The directors have deep pockets funded by the taxpayer, but the parent has to rely on patchy legal aid, on selling property or on the charity of an individual law firm. My proposal is that we follow a model that has been used with success in the criminal law arena. Public prosecutors and public defenders are both funded by the state. We used to use this model in the Victoria juvenile court. A duty defence council was always there to ensure fair process.
At present counsels are contracted to act for directors. I suggest we also contract public defenders.
This model could greatly speed up cases and facilitate the settlement of cases by mutual consent. Defence counsels should know the Act inside out and be diligent in checking the wording. Prosecution and defence would in effect work together to review the evidence and this would help to avoid unnecessary extreme positions. Cases could be settled with fewer hearings and this should ease the court backlog and save parents from being beggared by legal costs. A pilot project could be initiated in a medium sized court to evaluate the concept.
Suggestion Two: REMOVE MEDIATION FROM THE ACT & ENSURE MANDATORY TRAINING IN MEDIATION.
Solution Explained: The imbalance of power between director and parent, coupled with the adversarial culture renders a mockery of attempts at mediation. It has been suggested that it is like the wolf mediating with the lamb. Mediation can be used to manufacture evidence and cause lengthy delays in the court process. I suggest that mediation be removed from the Act and made mandatory in core training.
Suggestion Three: ADEQUATELY TRAIN SOCIAL WORKERS & SUPERIORS WITH RESPECT TO THE CFSA.
Solution Explained: Training is a vital part of child protection work. Whether they like it or not, the directors' staff are executors of an important public statute and have many duties to fulfill. It is important that social workers and their superiors understand what those duties are. They should know not only what is in the key clauses of the Act, but also why they are there and the intention of the legislature. In order to practice ethically, they cannot fail in their duties through ignorance. The CF&CSA is where good social work practice and the law should join hands with mutual respect. Both the Gove and Hughes reports noted that social work schools do not train students for child protection. Training comes after graduation and is the responsibility of the of the employer. Training should start with the managers and supervisors, who cannot otherwise mentor social workers. Of course training can contain far more than knowing and following the Act, but if we start with that as the first goal it will be a big step forward. See appendix 4
One cannot consider training in the duties of the Act without dealing with training in the rules of evidence. Protection workers need to understand that factual evidence is the strongest evidence, followed by eyewitness evidence and some expert opinion. Hearsay has only very limited admissibility and the Act specifically refers to it in the evidence of young children. Rumour, speculation and assumption are without merit, but often used in presentation reports.
Suggestion 4: AMEND THE ACT TO PROHIBIT INTERIM CUSTODY FROM EXCEEDING THE LIMITS.
Solution to Problem 4. One of the adverse effects of lack of training is the unacceptable length of court cases, about which courts have become rather fatalistic. If directors and their staff can find a burning desire to follow the Act and to avoid the damages of long separations, they will not accept the quibbling delays of their legal advisers and should instruct them to keep reminding judges of the best interest clauses in the Act. This sort of thing simply did not happen thirty or forty years ago. When I was family court coordinator in 1979 judges were diligent in insisting on proof of notice and adequate legal representation. They were also vigilant about statutory time lines. During a year and a half, about 200 cases went through the court. No cases exceeded the legislated time lines and most were completed well under. The majority of cases were negotiated to agreement and only four went to a full hearing. In fairness I mention that many of the parents coming through the court did not really seem to want their children.
The Act prohibits temporary care on young children from being more than one year, with reviews every three months. This is because of the potential emotional injury of parental separation. Yet children are frequently held in interim custody for periods of two three and even four years. Long temporary care is no less damaging because it is relabeled. I suggest that the Act should be amended to prohibit interim custody from exceeding the limits allowed under temporary care.
Tomorrow, Recommendations regarding Assessments