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Student Social Worker Compensated

January 29, 2006 permalink

In this case a student social worker had her classwork reported to child protectors, causing her name to be entered onto a child abuse registry and ending her hopes of a career as a social worker. The Supreme Court of Canada has awarded her compensation.

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this case. The student should have known that her actions could lead to the same kind of ruin routinely inflicted on ordinary families by the social services system.

So will this result in any better justice? Some relief from mandatory reporting laws? The law seems to be treating (aspiring) social workers here as a privileged class, exempt from being reported, as they are exempt from all other laws.

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Court awards woman $1M over abuse allegations

OTTAWA -- A former social-work student whose says her world collapsed after her university professors wrongly accused her of child sex abuse won more than $1-million in the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday.

Wanda Young
CREDIT: Canadian Press

Wanda Young (right) says her life was ruined by wrongful accusations of sexual abuse

Memorial University of Newfoundland was ordered to pay Wanda Young $839,400, plus interest and court costs. More than $400,000 is for pain and suffering, which is believed to be one of the largest awards of its kind in Canada.

In a unanimous decision, the court chastised professors for "nothing more than speculation and conjecture" when they reported Wanda Young to child welfare authorities, based solely on information in a term paper.

Although Young was never charged with anything, her name eventually ended up in a sex offender database and she was blacklisted by the Newfoundland social work community.

"Justice was served today," Young, 34, said Friday in an interview. "Now the highest court in the land has told them that they've done wrong and I expect an apology. That's all I ever wanted."

Young's lawyer, Gilian Butler, said the university will have to pay "well in excess of $1 million."

The ruling, which found two professors and the university to be negligent, concluded that professors have a special duty of care toward their students.

"Those whose professional responsibilities include the exercise of power over the careers and future lives of fee-paying students are required to take the necessary care to get their facts straight before taking a potentially career-ending action in relation to a student," said the ruling, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Ian Binnie.

The decision overturns the Newfoundland Court of Appeal and restores a 2003 jury award to Young, who is now a provincial bureaucrat in St. John's. Her damages include $430,000 for pain and suffering for anxiety, embarrassment, insomnia and depression, and another $409,000 for lost income and future care.

Young's path to the Supreme Court began in 1994, when she was a 23-yearold student taking correspondence courses in hope of being admitted to the university's social work school. She submitted a term paper on juvenile sex offenders to her professor, Leslie Bella, in which Young included a case study from a class textbook detailing an anonymous woman's account of sexually abusing a child.

Young added the source in her bibliography, but neglected to footnote it in the main body of her paper.

Bella, suspecting the first-person account was "a cry for help," did not raise her suspicions with Young, but instead took the matter to her department head, William Rowe, who reported Young to provincial child welfare authorities.

Over the next two years, the false allegation was passed on to the RCMP and to at least 10 different social workers, many of whom knew Young. Her name was also added to a sex offender registry, where it remained for years.

"Dr. Rowe acted on nothing more than speculation and conjecture in making his report which, as director of the school of social work, he must have known would have serious consequences within the small community of social workers in Newfoundland," said the Supreme Court.

Young had no idea that she was under suspicion.

Source: Saksatoon Star Phoenix

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