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CAS to get Monopoly

November 23, 2008 permalink

In the future Ontario parents will be unable to choose the person to care for their children when they cannot do so themselves. The tragic death of Katelynn Sampson is the excuse for Ontario to introduce new rules requiring children's aid approval of non-parental custody. As a practical matter, all children not in direct parental care will become CAS wards.



Katelynn death stirs custody reform

Katelynn Sampson
Katelynn Sampson is shown in an undated photo.

November 22, 2008, Tanya Talaga, Queen's Park Bureau

Ontario's attorney general on Monday plans to unveil sweeping child custody reforms in the wake of 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson's death last summer.

The discovery of Katelynn's battered body on Aug. 3 in the Parkdale-area apartment she shared with her custodial parents horrified the province and moved Attorney General Chris Bentley to examine how custody is awarded.

A judge had granted Donna Irving and Warren Johnson custody as Katelynn's mother battled a drug addiction. Irving and Johnson are both charged with first-degree murder.

A complaint has been filed with the Ontario Judicial Council against the justice in the case, who apparently awarded custody of the girl without probing Irving, who has a history of drugs, prostitution and violence.

"Katelynn's death caused everybody to stand back and say what else can we do?" said Bentley, who worked as a criminal defence lawyer for 25 years in London, Ont.

  • Detailed, sworn child care plans from those seeking custody.
  • Police checks, similar to those done on daycare workers.
  • More judicial access to family or court files.
  • Requirement for non-parents to obtain letter from Children's Aid.

Bentley told the Star the proposed changes to child custody regulations are part of a reform package of Ontario's family law to be introduced Monday and include:

  • CHILD CARE PLANS: Both parents and non-parents seeking custody of a child will be required to submit a sworn affidavit outlining plans for the child's care, as opposed to the current application form, where "you simply fill in the blanks and sign," said Bentley.
  • POLICE CHECKS: Non-parents will be required to submit to a broad police records check, which will be provided to the court. This is the same type of screening done on people such as daycare workers applying for jobs involving caring for children. The check would flag convictions and other concerns.
  • ACCESS TO FILES: Judges will have access to any Ontario family or court files that may raise flags.
  • CHILDREN'S AID CHECK: Non-parents seeking custody will also be required to get a letter from children's aid that would outline any files that raise concern over a person's ability to parent a child, or attest that no concerns exist.

None of this is required at present when an adult seeks custody of a child. Basically, a filled-out application form is sufficient, Bentley said. "What we are going to be doing is making sure there is information before a judge that would reveal any violent history."

Bentley was so touched by Katelynn's case he investigated what information is required to be given to a judge when custody decisions are made. "Unfortunately when I checked into what is required to be before a judge it turned out to be relatively little," he said.

There are nearly 14,000 custody applications before the courts in Ontario every year.

Of those, 10 per cent are by non-relatives. That is about four a day somewhere in the province by non-parents alone, said Bentley. "What we are saying is when we are dealing with our most vulnerable, our children, let's make sure we have all the material available we want the judge to see," he said.

He consulted police, legal and child care agencies about the changes and acknowledged some had concern about the time required to fill out more documents. "Yes, it might require a few extra minutes in court but we are dealing with children," he said. "Let's take the time."

The Star's Joanna Smith revealed this summer that during three custody hearings held over five months on who would raise Katelynn, few questions were asked about Irving.

Court transcripts show Irving was a good friend of Katelynn's mother, Bernice Sampson. On June 6, Irving was given full custody of Katelynn. Two months later, the Grade 2 student died. Reports at the time show Irving called 911 and said Katelynn stopped breathing after she choked on food.

As well as new child custody rules, The Canadian Press reported yesterday that Bentley will also introduce legislation to toughen the enforcement rules on restraining orders and on the division of pensions when a family breaks down. The measures are aimed at better protecting women and children.

Source: Toronto Star

Monopoly card