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Help Your Relatives
Lose Your Kids
April 6, 2009 permalink
Province's child protection system operates in absolute secrecy
A mother who's had her children seized cannot speak to them and will not be informed if they die
By Darcy Henton, The Edmonton Journal April 6, 2009
It was her son's birthday, but Brenda was having a horrible day.
"My son will be six today, which is normally a very good thing, but I am worried sick about him," the 26-year-old single mom explained last week.
Brenda, whose real name can't be used because it would identify children in care, lost her children three years ago when they were seized by the province.
She says she is not allowed to contact them -- even a birthday card is forbidden -- and would not be informed if they died.
"If I saw them on the street, I would have to go the other way," she says.
The province seizes hundreds of children annually and if their birth homes can't be made safe, they are raised in foster homes or awarded for permanent adoption. It all happens quietly because the system is shrouded in secrecy.
Recently, a foster mother killed a foster child and neither the name of the killer nor the victim has been made public, which seems astonishing in a democratic society.
Some Albertans, like NDP MLA Rachel Notley, argue there should be more openness and transparency in the system to ensure it is taking all the necessary steps to protect children.
Brenda says she made "a mistake" that led to her son and daughter being seized, but they were never abused in the home. She says even court officials noted it was evident she loved her children and they loved her, but the court deemed she couldn't care for them. Brenda, who suffers from agoraphobia or a fear of crowds, says she has since done everything she can to change that, cleaning up her life and taking parenting courses.
Brenda's world came crashing down after she took in a homeless relative and his family.
"I was really naive," she says. "I had my cousin and his wife and their three kids and dog show up to my house one night. They said they needed to stay only one or two nights.
"It ended up being six weeks. I was stupid and let them stay. It was an absolute nightmare. I wound up looking after their three kids as well as my own and I got completely overwhelmed and my house went to hell. It was awful."
Brenda says she finally kicked them out and the next day, child welfare showed up. She believes her cousin reported her to child protection officials out of spite.
"They came and seized both kids," she says. "I had a bit of a breakdown and it took me a long time to get the house cleaned up. It was really bad. I just couldn't deal with it. My doctor had me on Valium because all I could do was cry all the time."
When she finally snapped out of it and cleaned her house, Brenda was given permission to have her son and daughter come for supervised visits. But Brenda and her mother became alarmed at the condition of the children.
They say the little boy and girl "didn't smell clean" and appeared to have developed skin conditions from not being bathed routinely.
Her two-year-old daughter had bite marks and scratches on her shoulder, back and neck.
"When questioned about it, they said it was from the dog," says the children's grandmother, Jenny.
Jenny says during one visit she noticed her grandson had blistering burns on his neck, ear and chest. When her daughter questioned child services about it, she was told the little boy, then three, had "pulled a cup of coffee off a tray in a food court."
Brenda says she filed formal complaints, but is not aware of anything being done about it.
After a four-day trial in 2007, the children were placed in permanent custody.
Brenda was given a "termination visit" to say goodbye to them. She says it was painful beyond words. "How do you tell your kids that you can't see them anymore?"
Brenda has a steady job and plans to get married this year. It is her mission in life to get her children back. "I am much more stable now. I am not on my own and I am not vulnerable." She is saving money to hire a lawyer.
"My daughter is a wreck," says Jenny. "She loved those children. Nobody has ever loved her children more than she loved those two. She is an awesome mother."
Under current provincial child protection legislation, reporters can't look at the files and can't get details from department officials, since they are not allowed to comment on specific cases. Court documents are sealed.
So who is scrutinizing the system? The NDP says the province's watchdog, the child advocate, has been leashed, if not muzzled. That's because he reports not to the legislature like in other provinces, but to the minister of Child and Youth Services, who is his boss.
Hopefully that, at least, will change soon.
Source: Edmonton Journal