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Family Rebuffed

August 8, 2005 permalink

Remember those boasts by ministers promising more money to help disabled children? Here is the story of one real family with a disabled child, driven to penury by the demands of Children's Aid, and rejected in attempts to apply for relief.



Family with disabled children ejected from hearing

by Cecilia Nasmith, - Friday, August 05, 2005 @ 09:00

John Copeman, his wife Ann and three of their five children piled into their van yesterday to make the hot, expensive drive from Campbellford to the Ontario Disability Support Program tribunal hearing to ask for help.

It was no picnic, but they had waited a year for this hearing date.

Unfortunately, they came out with nothing, after their social assistance review board's social benefits tribunal hearing at the Best Western Cobourg Inn and Convention Centre was abruptly cancelled -- after Mr. Copeman was asked to take his autistic son out of the room.

Mr. Copeman showed up with the boy, he explained outside the hotel, because the funding they received for Billy's day care had been cut.

"We should have been receiving $400 a month maximum, because he is totally dependent upon us for washing, dressing -- we can't leave him alone," he said. "They cut that in half."

But then, even with money, it's hard to find a care giver because Billy is a typical size for a 12-year-old. Along with his habit of vocalizing, he can be physically difficult to handle or restrain.

The hearing was to be an independent, impartial review with the Copeman family, but Billy's noises seemed to put the tribunal off. She didn't even seem happy when the boy was out in the hall with his mother, and asked that he be taken from the building.

"I can't do that," Mr. Copeman said. "He's part of the problem we are here to resolve."

Then he was told that, if he did not get the boy out, he would in effect be the one making the decision -- which he saw as a threat.

"We're leaving here with nothing," he said. "I don't even know if I'll get a chance for another meeting -- we waited over a year for this one."

That's a long time to wait, when dealing with a safety issue as the family is doing. They had hoped to get money for a safe, modern furnace to replace the wood stove that poses a hazard to Billy and his family.

Sometimes his son doesn't sleep, Mr. Copeman said. He has been known to open the wood stove and add wood to the fire. Sometimes he tosses in plastic toys and sets off the smoke detector.

Along with the danger, wood heating is not very comfortable, he added. If one of the children has a medical appointment in Peterborough or Toronto, for instance, they have to come home to a cold house.

Mr. Copeman had been refused money to fix up his home because it wasn't up to a certain standard. In fact, he admits, the Children's Aid Society at one point gave them 48 hours to move.

"I remortgaged the house and fixed it up. I spent $50,000 to bring it up to ODSP standards, and they didn't fund any of that. We put in new windows, new door, new roof," he listed.

"We just couldn't afford a new furnace for $12,000, so we were appealing that decision. We come here, and this lady doesn't want us in the room.

"(Billy) goes swimming, he goes to school, nobody ever asks him to leave," he said, fighting back tears. "This is the first time my disabled son has been asked to leave a place."

Mr. Copeman even approached the owner of the Best Western to see if he had any kind of policy about disabled people.

"He said, `I have no beefs. We host groups and conventions all the time'," Mr. Copeman said.

"Dalton McGuinty promises hundreds of thousands of dollars for autistic children, and we got nothing. Just cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks."

And that includes money for their 10-year-old daughter with developmental difficulties, he added. Her funding has been cut back by $125 a month.

"We got an increase on the National Child Tax Disability Benefit," Mr. Copeman said. "Our baby bonus went up, and ODSP clawed that back."

After the family was ejected yesterday from the board room in which hearings were conducted, the door was closed. Mr. Copeman knocked in vain, and then the hotel owner went in to talk to the tribunal member. He came out with a message: the hearing would have to be rescheduled.

Having spent $35 on gas and $40 at McDonald's (with the prospect of possibly receiving back 18 cents per kilometre if this expense is approved), the discouraged Copeman family climbed into the hot van to go home.

"We have no specific policies about children being present, because we haven't felt it necessary to make any," said legal-unit manager Joanne Leatch of the social assistance review board's social benefits tribunal.

Though unable to comment on specifics, Ms. Leatch explained that the members who conduct hearings are trained in an ongoing way in the importance of conducting a hearing with sensitivity.

"We know appellants appealing before them are very vulnerable people," Ms. Leatch said.

"To back that up, we also have on our Web site a complaints procedure so that, if someone feels they haven't been treated properly, our chair felt it was important they have a place to go. They just write in to our chair, and it's taken from there."