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The Seven Year Glitch

July 5, 2008 permalink

Marina Powless grew up in foster care in Canada's Northwest Territories. Now as an adult she has applied for copies of the records of her childhood. It has been seven years, but she is still waiting.

Child protectors hold these records until they are needed. When they pick up a child from a parent himself a former foster child, they retrieve the parent's childhood records and get the damaging parts before a judge within three days. So we are skeptical of the claim that the seven-year delay is for technical reasons.



Seven-year wait

Katie May, Northern News Services, Published Monday, June 30, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Marina Powless doesn't remember much from her childhood.

She spent a lot of it bouncing between more than six different foster homes from the time she was in elementary school until age 16, when she was no longer eligible to be a ward of the system.

Now 26, and with three children of her own, the Yellowknife resident wants access to records kept about her while she was in foster care. She first requested the records seven years ago and she still hasn't received anything in writing.

"I want to know where I've been," she said. "I don't remember how many foster homes I've lived in in this town.I was moved around like a puppy."

Powless filled out her first access-to-information request to the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority (YHSSA) when she was 19, asking for any information relating to her while she was in care. She received no response.

On April 26, 2005, she tried again, submitting another written request for a copy of the records. Another three years went by before she received a phone call last May from a YHSSA employee informing her they'd received the request.

According to section 8 of the NWT Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, "the head of a public body shall respond to an applicant not later than 30 days after a request is received," unless the request requires a time extension or is unanswerable. But even in those cases, the law says the applicant must be informed "without delay."

The executive director of the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT said Powless is not the only former foster child waiting for personal records.

"I know that access to records is a big issue," said Christine Bressette. "It's a national issue. It's important for closure - you need to understand what's happened to you."

When the records do come back to the applicant, Bressette said, they are often largely blacked out and contain inaccurate or traumatic details for which the applicant may later require counseling, such as a child being put into foster care for the wrong reasons.

"I think the government's really scared that there might be legal repercussions," she said. "I'm on board with all these kids and I agree they should have access to records."

The Foster Family Coalition of the NWT is trying to set up a territorial youth-in-care network that would focus on child welfare and voice foster children's concerns, similar to organizations already in place in several provinces and on the national level.

Bressette, who has been in the field of social work for 30 years, said she's never heard of a request taking seven years to complete.

The president of the Canadian Foster Family Association, Sheila Durnford, said waiting that long for personal foster care records is unacceptable.

"That wouldn't be considered acceptable in our association's eyes at all," Durnford said. "For anybody, it's not really acceptable, but especially for that foster child. They need to know their history."

Dean Soenen, the director of Child and Family Services for GNWT, said access-to-information requests within the department usually take from two to four weeks, depending on the request.

"We like to do it as quick as possible," he said. He added that the department only recently hired a records co-ordinator after the position had been vacant for about six months, and he said that might be a reason for the delay in Powless' case.

Powless said Soenen told her on June 25 that her request was the department's first priority as soon as they get their broken microfiche machine fixed.

At this point, Powless said she's not interested in excuses. She just wants some answers about her past.

"I don't have the money to get a lawyer to pursue this," she said.

"My whole life, I've never been in one place long enough to have a home," she explained, her voice breaking with emotion. "I just want closure."

Source: Canada Court Watch forum
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