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CAS Secrecy

May 22, 2008 permalink

It is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to get information from children's aid. In today's instance a Windsor couple has been denied records of a failed adoption.



St. Joachim couple seek transparency from Children's Aid

Craig Pearson, The Windsor Star

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ST. JOACHIM -- Five years after a heartbroken St. Joachim couple returned a baby girl to the local Children's Aid Society -- when a potential adoption fell through -- the prospective parents are still fighting to find out what went wrong.

Edward Hickey and Kelly-Ann Spezowka say extra documents recently disclosed to them through a review by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services still do not provide what they want -- case notes from the Windsor-Essex Children's Aid Society worker involved.

"Despite numerous requests from the ministry to WECAS to divulge all the documentation on the case, they're refusing to do that," Hickey said Thursday. "So it's a frustrating experience -- which is what it's meant to be. They're intending to make it frustrating."

Local CAS director Bill Bevan said privacy laws prevent him from speaking about individual cases.

"I can't talk about a specific situation," Bevan said. "But I can assure you we co-operate fully with the ministry and any review they might do.

"We are required to not only co-operate fully but to disclose all information that is required under a review."

Children and Youth Services spokeswoman Anne Machowski said she could not address a specific case. But she noted that the Child and Family Services Act has appeal procedures built in, including through the ministry, the Auditor General of Ontario, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The story began in October 2002, when CAS workers introduced Hickey and Spezowka to a one-year-old girl as mommy and daddy.

Though the couple knew they still had to go through a formal adoption procedure before the process was complete, Hickey said CAS workers indicated they felt things should run smoothly.

The couple even wanted to rename the girl and considered her their daughter. But after some months, Hickey said they could tell something was wrong with the adoption process.

They eventually found out that the maternal grandmother, who had originally said she did not want the girl full-time, was having second thoughts.

But Hickey said he and his wife were not informed about the grandmother's flip-flop until after they had developed a close bond with the girl. Figuring they had little hope of adopting the girl against the maternal grandmother's wishes, they returned her to the CAS amid tears -- a day they still cannot shake.

"It was the hardest thing we've ever done," Hickey said.

Bevan sent Hickey and Spezowka a letter of apology in October 2003, saying: "I have concluded that the organization should have been forthcoming in working with you. Firstly, we could have and should have provided you with more information about the grandmother who was involved with the child placed in your home."

But Hickey, a 43-year-old pilot, and Spezowka, a 42-year-old social worker -- who live in a bright and airy lakeside home with their 10-year-old son and three-year-old daughter -- want more. They want to know when the CAS knew the grandmother was back in the picture and why they weren't told sooner.

They want all documents related to their case -- in particular, the CAS social worker's case notes from 29 meetings -- released to the ministry, and then hopefully to them.

"They are obligated to disclose every single document, file, and note regarding our case to the director, appointed by the ministry, who is reviewing the case," Hickey said. "They still have not done that.

"They're dragging out the process as long as possible so that the whole story of what happened to this child never finds its place in the public domain."

Hickey and Spezowka have hundreds of pages disclosed from the local CAS, but not the case workers' notes, which they believe will show everything and give them closure.

Hickey and Spezowka started their complaint procedure with the ministry in the summer of 2005, and say they were told the process would take six months.

Now they also want the system changed to make Children's Aid Societies more transparent.

"All the policies and procedures are already in place, they're just not following them," Hickey said. "But we want them to be more open and we want them to be more accountable."

Source: The Windsor Star