Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
July 28, 2010 permalink
Canadian boy Noah Kirkman was apprehended by Oregon when they found him bicycling without a helmet. Oregon refused to recognize his stepfather as a lawful custodian and held the boy for two years until an international uproar got the boy returned to Canada. So is this finally a happy ending? No way. Oregon is suing Noah's mother Lisa Kirkman for the cost of keeping him in their care for two years. Link to list of Kirkman stories.
So I'm being SUED by Oregon for CHILD SUPPORT and MEDICAL CARE for Noah while he was in care in Oregon. I have to go to court on September 14 in Calgary and fill out what looks like 30 pages of forms. Calgary CYS is graciously checking into what I can do and if I need a lawyer and if so, looking into which lawyer they think would be most appropriate. Calgary is almost as flabbergasted and pissed off as I am! Absolutely every bit of bad info given to them by Oregon about my family & I has been debunked. OREGON made the mistake in taking him and keeping him and now they expect me to pay for it? They have all my financial records and can see that I'm broke and was broke while they had him, too.
Source: email from Lisa Kirkman
Addendum: The press is afraid to mention names in this case, but here is their report.
Oregon sues Canadian over foster care
CALGARY - The mother who fought Oregon authorities for two years to get her son back to Canada after he was seized into foster care says it's ridiculous they are now suing her for child care costs.
The boy, now 12 years old, was taken by U.S. officials in 2008 while visiting his stepfather in Oakridge, Ore.
His mom battled for two years to get her son back to Calgary and finally saw her wish come true when he was returned to her last month.
Now the state is coming after her for costs related to his stay in foster care including medical expenses, citing the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act.
On Monday, she received a notice of hearing from the Alberta provincial court asking her to appear in court Sept. 14.
"They want support money to pay for all the expenses and his medical care covered," she said.
"They tripled his medication, took him to doctors, he was seeing a therapist because of the trauma of being taken."
She said authorities could have just sent him back to Canada if they didn't want to pay his costs.
"My son wasn't supposed to be there - I won, I got him back," she said.
"After that they have the gall to charge me for his care?"
The mother said when she first read the letter her first reaction was to laugh.
"It's ridiculous," she said.
"I said 'no way' and I started laughing because it's so absurd.
"Now that I have my son back, which is the most important thing, I can take amusement of the ridiculousness of it."
She said the documents do not say how much authorities are seeking.
Lawyer Tony Merchant who fought for the mom to get her son back, called the turn of events "bizarre."
"Our firm has more family law litigation filed than any in Canada and I've never seen this happen before," he said.
"You wonder what misguided views could have caused this."
He also wonders if the costs the state of Oregon are trying to recoup also include those related to his schooling.
The boy was taken in September 2008 after he was stopped for riding his bike without a helmet.
He has a severe attention deficit disorder and struggled to explain he was on holiday and staying with his stepdad.
He was eventually shuffled through four foster care placements and three schools until he was returned home June 11.
The case, first reported by QMI Agency, attracted international attention as the Calgary mom pleaded with the Canadian government to step in.
She said her son is doing well, glad to be home, and ready to begin junior high in the fall.
"He's in seventh heaven," she said.
Addendum: The CBC program As It Happens broadcast an interview with Tony Merchant (mp3), lawyer for Lisa Kirkman, on July 30, 2010. Contrary to what Mr Merchant says, bullying parents for money after their child is taken by force is commonplace, both in divorce and child protection cases.
Addendum: More on the suit.
Calgary woman being sued by Oregon over son's foster care after he was seized
CALGARY - A Calgary woman who fought for two years to get her son back from the U.S. foster care system says she's now being sued by the State of Oregon.
At first, Lisa Kirkman laughed when she saw the letter saying Oregon officials want her to reimburse them for the cost of keeping her son Noah.
"It was just so absurd," she says.
"A foreign government kidnapped a Canadian child, we got him back, and now the kidnappers are suing me not only for the cost of taking care of him, but the ransom that they never got. It's that crazy."
Noah was 10 years old when he was seized in 2008 during a summer spent visiting his stepfather, who wasn't considered a legal guardian.
The little boy had been stopped several times by police for riding without a helmet and playing in areas he shouldn't have been, and officials said they became concerned when they discovered he had social services files in Canada.
Kirkman has said the files were open to enable Noah to access mental health programs for his special needs, which include a severe form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Throughout the two years, Kirkman was allowed only occasional contact with her son.
"I know people who are in prison in the U.S. who have more communication with their loved ones than we had with Noah," she says.
The ordeal had its share of nightmarish qualities. Kirkman says she believes social workers and officials with Oregon's Department of Human Services deliberately tried to instill a fear of her and her parents in Noah, then argued they couldn't send him home because he was afraid to go.
"They would tell him things like my parents were going to come down and kidnap him."
But finally in June, Kirkman and her lawyers were able to get Noah back, even though the judge in the case expressed reservations, saying he believed Kirkman had abandoned her son in Oregon by leaving him with his stepfather.
Kirkman says this lawsuit may be punitive.
"I get the feeling that part of it is they're mad that I fought back and I won," she says. "None of the things that they claimed would happen are true. My son is very happy and starting regular school and we're doing very, very well. It's not the huge trauma that they claimed it would be."
Her initial bemusement over the lawsuit is turning into outrage and anger. She's particularly offended that Oregon's action uses a reciprocal agreement with Canada intended to catch deadbeat parents who try to skip out on child support payments.
And Oregon isn't her only target; she's also upset at the lack of support she's received from the Canadian government, which did nothing to intervene on her behalf.
Kirkman says she will outline in the coming days exactly how she plans on fighting back, but is confident she will win.
"I think common sense will prevail," she says. "It is pretty galling to go after me like this."
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Addendum: Richard Wexler writes on the Kirkman case.
Oregon foster care agency to Canadian family: In lieu of a pound of flesh, we'll take your money
I've written several times on this Blog about the case of Lisa Kirkman, a Canadian mother whose son was thrown into foster care while he was staying with his stepfather in Oregon. After two years, and multiple foster homes, the boy finally was returned home; largely, I believe, thanks to international media pressure.
But clearly, the Oregon Department of Human Services doesn't like being made fools of in two countries. And they've found a great way to get even: Go to court in Canada, and try to make Lisa Kirkman pay Oregon for expenses the state incurred after it wrongfully took away her child. A hearing on Oregon's demand is scheduled to take place today.
Though crossing an international border in search of these payments is unusual if not unprecedented, sadly, the practice itself is not. In another case, one of the most poignant I've ever read about, Oregon DHS is adding insult to the enormous injury it inflicted on a family by seeking the same sort of payment.
In many cases, the payments can be the final obstacle standing between a foster child and return to his own parents.
There is a word for taking away someone's child and making that person pay money to get the child back: Ransom. And it hurts everyone in the system, even the agencies themselves.
- The overwhelming majority of parents who lose children to the system have no money to spare. Often that's why their children are in foster care in the first place.
- Because the standard of proof in child welfare proceedings is so low, this provision inevitably punishes many innocent families.
- The purpose of foster care is to keep the child safe. Everyone concedes it is harmful to take a child from his or her parents and the longer the foster care the greater the harm. If you make ransom a condition of returning the child and the birth parents manage to do everything else but still owe the ransom, the foster care is prolonged even though the home is now safe. That is punishing the child for the alleged financial failings of the parents.
Prof. Daniel Hatcher of the University of Baltimore School of Law has an excellent article about the entire issue in the Brooklyn Law Review.
One can certainly imagine a child welfare system like Oregon's not giving a damn about the harm to the children. One can see how they'd be desperate for the money - after all, when you take away children at a rate that now is more than 80 percent above the national average, those costs really mount up.
But what really makes ransom an insane practice, even by the standards of child welfare agencies, is the fact that not only does it do enormous harm to the children and their parents, it actually costs the government money.
Collecting ransom actually increases the cost of foster care. No impoverished family ever will come up with the full cost of foster care – instead they are charged for their "share" of the costs. But for every extra day a child is held in foster care because the birth parents haven't paid their "share" of the costs, the state has to foot the entire bill. The birth parents wind up in a deeper and deeper hole and the state winds up paying more and more.
Even if the birth parents scrape together the money to get their child back; or, in cases like the Kirkman case, where the child already is home, the payments only make it harder on the family financially, a particularly steep burden for families that already are poor.
Poverty often creates stress can lead to actual child abuse, or poverty itself is confused with neglect – so the ransom increases the chances of actual child abuse and/or having the child taken away again because of poverty. Once again, you harm the child – and cost the state more money
So why do these policies exist? Because grandstanding state legislators love them. They get to issue press releases about how they're "cracking down on child abuse" and since in their fantasy world, only parents who are evil, sadistic brutes lose their children to foster care, it's only fair to make 'em pay, right?
Not in the real world.
The Canadian Press, CBC News, CTV News, and the Calgary Herald all have stories about the latest turn in the Kirkman case. And so does the Eugene Register Guard, which has done a far better job than the Oregonian on the whole case.
In the Register Guard story, I posed a question, which I'll repeat here: If DHS is supposed to do everything it does "in the best interests of the child," how is it in this child's best interests to make his family poorer and inflict even more stress?
Source: Richard Wexler blog, September 14, 2010
Addendum: Proceedings have been postponed for three months.
Incomplete documents force three-month adjournment in case of Calgary mother sued by Oregon state
The state of Oregon's lawsuit to collect two-years worth of foster care and medical bills against a Calgary mother, whose then 10-year-old son was apprehended in 2008, has been adjourned for three months.
Provincial court family Judge Gordon Burrrell said on Tuesday the delay was necessary because of deficiencies in the application, which will require Oregon to have its own counsel here to address. The state was represented in the first court appearance by an Alberta government lawyer, acting as an agent.Burrell said, under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, the state now has up to 18 months to reply to his inquiries.
A contrasting application by mother Lisa Kirkman, filed by her lawyer Daniel Mol, to toss the state's bid to collect the money against her, was also adjourned to the same date, Dec. 14.
"Under present law, Oregon has the right to file under under the Interjurisdictional Act and must do it in accordance with the provisions of our act and, on the balance of probabilities, they are entitled to such a claim," Burrell told court.
"I see things in the document that the court will require more information. The court must report to the claimant and must adjourn the hearing. Looking at the claim, it could be outright dismissed, but I need more information."
In particular, Burrell said Oregon has not sent a copy of their legislation stating it has the authority to support such a claim. For example, he said, the surname of the child is missing, notwithstanding the fact the state has a copy of the boy's Alberta birth certificate.
He also said there is no breakdown of the claims, other than that they are seeking $7,400 in medical expenses.
"There is no backup material to substantiate that claim. That has to be accepted," said the judge, who agreed to hear the case through to its conclusion.
"I need more information to see why the state only claimed that amount. I also require more information on why they only claimed against the mother and not the step-father. Also, why not claim against the biological father."
Kirkman told the judge she is still legally married to the stepfather, who helped raise the boy and was with him in Oregon on a holiday when he was apprehended. He was discovered riding a bicycle without a helmet and placed in foster care.
She said the now 12-year-old boy's biological father disappeared a month after the child was born and has never been located, despite extensive efforts, and has never had any legal guardian rights.
Gene Evans, spokesman for the children, adults and families division of Oregon's Department of Human Services, said because the issue is in the courts, he was unable to provide any specific information on the case.
However, he forwarded a copy of the state's policies on why it claims for foster and medical care in such situations where children have been seized. Mol said outside court he filed his client's counterclaim, but was unable to serve Oregon with the document because the state did not provide an address or other contact information.
However, he was granted a court order by Burrell to assure that will be done.
As for the dollar amount sought by Oregon, Mol said that would be governed by the Alberta Child Support guidelines. Mol said both he and the state must file arguments on their positions by the next hearing in December.
Kirkman, who got her son back in June and was caught off guard when told of the claim in July, said she was at times frustrated by the court process. But she feels confident she will eventually get through the legal wranglings, no matter how long it takes.
"It took two years to get my son back, so now that he's back I have the energy and the will and the desire to take this as long as it needs to happen," she said outside court.
"Now that my son is home and doing well and there is no Social Services involvement and we're trying to move on with our normal lives, anything after that I'm not as distraught about as I was before. I can take anything coming at me sort of with a little bit of a grain of salt.
"It's not that I don't take this (court battle) more seriously, there's just not as much energy attached to it. I can't speak to (the amount of money Oregon is seeking), but I can't think they would be doing this type of talking about a couple of hundred dollars."
Source: Calgary Herald
Addendum: It is over.
Mother's U.S. legal ordeal over foster care a real-life farce
In the theatre world, a farce refers to a light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot twists, exaggerated characters and often slapstick humour are generously dispensed for the audience's enjoyment.
On Tuesday afternoon, Lisa Kirkman sits as part of an audience, her soft smile and occasional giggle evidence that the play she's been watching unfold is hitting all the right notes. However, this real-life farce is anything but funny.
In the span of a quick few minutes, the curtain comes down on those torturous two years she spent fighting to get her young son back.
And while onstage mockery usually comes to a climax with a hilarious finale, in this case, it ends with but a whimper in a Calgary courtroom, with the announcement that the State of Oregon is dropping its lawsuit against the Calgary mother.
How decent of them. It's a far cry from the indecency the U.S. state put in motion when local police there stopped the lad, then 10, for riding a bicycle without a helmet. The boy was visiting his stepfather, an American citizen who'd raised him from the age of two, after his biological father left.
John, an American citizen, lived separately from his family due to a chronic health condition made worse by Canadian winters, and frequently hosted the boy and his mom when they came to visit.
In a move that would be outright slapstick comedy if not for the devastation it brought upon the family, Noah, a Canadian citizen whose mother is also a Canadian citizen, was made a ward of the State of Oregon and put into foster care.
"I saw him about a total of eight hours over those two years," says Kirkman, moments before getting the news that the State is no longer planning to sue her for the cost of care.
"That last year before he came home, they stopped letting me into the U.S., out of the blue, so I didn't see him at all until he came home in May."
Kirkman was described aptly to me by a mutual friend as "gregarious, funny and warm-hearted."
And she does indeed have a black mark against her, and one that would certainly raise the hackles of American border authorities. She has a conviction for marijuana possession on the record, and today is a medical marijuana activist.
But a parent's criminal misdemeanour conviction gives a foreign country no right to hold a Canadian citizen of any age; not only that, if the Canadian government stepped in and removed all children from the homes of parents with a marijuana possession conviction, the entire social welfare system would collapse under the weight of all those new wards of the state.
No, the state of Oregon didn't prove -- it didn't even claim -- that Noah was neglected or abused by either his mother or stepfather, who unfortunately doesn't have the status of legal guardian to Noah.
But that didn't convince them to cave in to common sense for several months. In the end, it was most likely embarrassment that prompted their about-face, dropping the lawsuit citing an estimated $7,500 in costs for caring for Noah -- the story made headlines around the world, eventually catching the attention of TV news network CNN.
On Tuesday, both Kirkman and her lawyer, Daniel Mol, express thanks for others who have helped them in their cause, most notably lawyer Tony Merchant and The National Council for the Protection of Canadians Abroad -- who earlier stepped in to fill the void of a silent Harper government and filed an application under The Hague Convention in U.S. federal court, asking for the boy's return under international law.
But after the momentary joy over their victory, the most salient emotion they show is righteous anger.
"I never expected to be sued for the cost of them essentially kidnapping my son," says Kirkman outside court.
"We're glad the state of Oregon has a sense of shame," says Mol, who has on other occasions wondered aloud how such a case of judicial child abduction would play if Canada had done this to an American child. "And the Canadian government should have been more active on this."
With that, Mol announces that on behalf of his client, he is filing a lawsuit against the state of Oregon, to compensate Kirkman and her family for their ordeal. But mostly, its intent is to send a message to other countries: "Don't mess with Canadians."
Call it a matter of fighting farce with fire, but in more than two years, it's one of the few things about this entire mess that makes the slightest bit of sense.
Source: Calgary Herald