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October 8, 2010 permalink
The Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare has released its October newsletter (pdf). At the recent rally for accountability in Toronto some of the speakers advocated forwarding experiences and suggestions to the commission. Notwithstanding skepticism on account of the composition of the committee, it sounds like a good idea. Their contact information is:
For general inquiries and comments you may contact us by email, by telephone or by regular mail.
Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare
401 Bay Street, 21st Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 0A4
They also have a web form.
Some suggestions from fixcas are below.
October 8, 2010
Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare
401 Bay Street, 21st Floor
Toronto Ontario M7A 0A4
Subject: reform of child protection
Since the province of Ontario has entrusted you with the responsibility of reforming child protection in the province, I have decided to forward my own suggestions for reform.
I hope you will examine and seriously consider not only comments from persons within the system, such as professional social workers and child care professionals, but those from persons outside the system, such as former foster children and families separated by the current child protection system. They can provide a wealth of experiences, and some positive suggestions for reform.
As for experiences, the internet is the best repository, and I could not begin to even summarize the enormous number of problems reported. Instead, I suggest that you examine the three leading websites dealing with such matters in Ontario, which are:
- operated by Canada Court Watch led by rev Dorian Baxter
- operated by John Dunn, executive director of the Foster Care Council of Canada
- operated by me, Robert T McQuaid
As for suggestions for reform, I have collected dozens of them over years of studying critics of all kinds, both inside and outside the current system. Below is a list of all the ones that might make a positive contribution.
Before giving the individual suggestions, I should point out that the only real remedy for the abuses of the child protection system is its abolition. No one should have the power to take children from their parents by force of arms, and the upkeep of children should not be paid with appropriated funds. Once the child protection behemoth is dead, private charity can easily handle the small load of orphaned children, as it responded to the much larger number of homeless children a century ago before the creation of the welfare state.
Since the political will to eliminate the child protection system is nowhere near to realization, I enclose a list of lesser reforms that may alleviate the hardships in the current system, and lead toward more comprehensive reforms. This list includes all known suggestions for reform, including many from persons adversely affected by the current system. The first set of reforms apply to the child protection system itself:
Families should have the right to discuss their own case, in private and in public. Parents (and even children) in child protection cases are now muzzled, and may not plead their case in public. The exact measures used to silence parents vary from place to place. In Ontario, it is unlawful to publish the name of a parent or child involved in a child protection case. In some places, there is no blanket prohibition in the law, but judges routinely issue gag orders in protection cases.
Child protectors plead that confidentiality is required to protect the fragile child from emotional harm, a plea that continues even after a child's death. Yet by their own actions, they inflict the same emotional damage on their wards. Children are hawked for adoption on the internet with a picture, the child's age and a biography disclosing his most significant problems.
never suggest divorce
One activity that needs to be treated as felonious is forcing divorce against the will of both partners, a shotgun divorce. In tiny Dufferin County, a dozen instances of this have been reported. If it happens at this rate throughout Ontario, there have been thousands of such cases.
uniforms for social workers
The law grants child protectors (and animal protectors) the powers of police, and immunities often superior to the police. Yet they appear in civilian clothes, misleading clients. The law could require these workers to appear in uniform, alerting parents to the hazards.
do not pay child care from appropriated funds
The primary fault of child protection is the seizure of children to gain funding. Any funding from appropriations is subject to this problem, and rules to eliminate the practice will be effective only until agencies find a way to thwart them. If funding for orphan children was, as in the past, the domain of private charity, such as churches, no children would be seized to gain funding. Also, the amount of available funding would be greatly reduced, restricting care to cases where it was genuinely needed.
When a child is taken into custody not for his benefit, but to gain appropriated funds, the appropriation has been the victim of a fraud. If there was an effective means of remediating this kind of fraud, families might be safe from funding-driven child seizures.
refusing psychotropics is not neglect
Failure to follow a doctor's orders is now treated as neglect. This rule turns psychiatrists into drug pushers, since parents cannot refuse to follow a prescription. In a few American states, parents now are granted authority to refuse such drugs, without that being treated as a reason for child protection intervention. Ontario should give parents the same authority.
The child abuse hotline must be eliminated. In the year 2002 alone, reports were filed affecting 4.5 million children. After screening and investigating, less than 1 million children were found to be in need of services. Clearly, the hotline is not an effective tool to prevent child abuse, but serves only to clutter up an already overburdened system with reports fueled by overzealousness, hysteria and malice. — from congressional testimony by Julian Holderbaum, July 13, 2004
ignore anonymous reports
Anonymous reports of child abuse should be disregarded. Right now, an anonymous report is an easy way to sic CAS on a personal enemy. But anonymous reports have a more serious problem. Parents who do not know the name of their accuser may suspect the wrong person. In June 2003 Marguerite Dias had her children taken by Children's Aid in Toronto. She did not know the identity of her accuser, but suspected a neighbor, Madelene Monast. The mother attacked her with a machete, cutting off both hands. Had the identity of the accuser been disclosed to the mother, the neighbor could have kept her hands.
eliminate mandated reporting
Mandated reports by child care professionals, doctors, teachers, day-care operators, sound nice, but are a big problem. Parents now have to think carefully before taking an injured child to a professional, because they might lose their child as a result. Also, every child care professional knows of cases in which persons have been prosecuted for non-reporting, so they over-report, causing extra work for CAS, and more fears for parents. Prosecution for non-reporting should be eliminated. Doctors will still be able to report suspected child-abuse, but will not have to do so in frivolous cases.
investigate foster deaths
Deaths sometimes occur of children under the protection of children's aid societies. The public has no way now of learning even how many there are. Serious estimates range from 28 to 90 deaths per year in Ontario. The argument of secrecy to protect the emotional development of the child does not apply to dead children, and these cases should be fully opened to public scrutiny.
Persons who are adopted should by right be able to see the record in their own case. What purpose is served by preventing an adult from finding the names of his birth parents? Ontario enacted legislation to do this in 2007, but it is full of restrictions.
let people see their own records
Adults ought to get copies of their own records from when they were in foster care. Now the disclosure of records is discretionary with CAS, allowing them to conceal wrongdoing by social workers and foster parents.
eliminate foster care entirely
In this suggestion, adoptive parents would be pre-qualified, then when a child came into care, it would go to a pre-qualified adoptive parent immediately. This parent would have full parental authority, just like any other natural or adoptive parent. This would eliminate the current abuse in which a social worker has the rights of a parent, but the foster parent providing day-to-day care has no legal authority. This idea works best in conjunction with the proposal to delay child seizure until after an evidentiary hearing. It is of course impossible in the current political environment.
governing boards should include parents who have children placed in care
Currently the governing boards of child protection agencies at all levels are staffed by functionaries of the child protection industry. There are no representatives of children who lived in foster care, or parents whose children have been taken into care. Including them on governing boards would alleviate many of the current abuses.
citizen oversight board
Some reformers advocate an independent board to review CAS cases. But in practice, such boards would likely come under control of the same political machine running the child protection system, making them rubber stamps. A better reform might be to make the existing board of directors serve that purpose. Right now, boards of directors are puppets of management. They could become effective if their members were elected in the same manner that municipal officers are elected.
provide meaningful accounts
Currently, the published accounts do not answer the most basic questions about CAS operation: How much is spent on foster care? How much on group homes? How many child-days of care are provided? How many child-protection cases were opened? There are lots of numbers printed in the financial statements, but they do not answer the real questions.
do not separate parents from kids when placing with family members
A seventeen-year-old mother reported that her baby was taken from her and given to her own mother, the baby's grandmother. So far, this sounds reasonable; grandmothers have been helping in this way for centuries. But then CAS issued an order preventing the mother from seeing her own baby while in the grandmother's care. This latter part of the order served no purpose, and should not occur.
Eliminate payments from parents to agencies.
Parents in many places are required to pay the agency removing their children for the cost of necessities. Richard Wexler candidly calls these payments "ransom". In the most common cases, children taken because of poverty, this only serves to place the parents hopelessly in debt. In the case of middle class families, it reduces them to poverty, preventing them from making the efforts required to reunite their family. It also serves as an incentive for agencies to prey on families.
Recognize right of children to parents
Policy should recognize that children have a right to their parents. For young children, this means that the decisions of parents take precedence to the decisions of service providers such as teachers, doctors or social workers. For grown children, this means the right to know the identity of their parents, and the rest of the family tree.
The remaining suggestions apply to the legal system that oversees the relationship between parents, child protectors and children:
open the process
In the spirit of free speech, this suggestion is to open as many stages as possible of the child protection process to public scrutiny. There is no prospect that subjecting child protection agencies themselves to open records will work — even if mandated by law, foot-dragging will soon render the reform meaningless. But applied to courts, the reform could work. Most courts dealing with criminal and civil matters are now open to public scrutiny, and family courts should be as well. This means that any person could walk in off the street and sit in the courtroom while a family court matter was being heard, and even more importantly, that anyone could examine the file full of documents that is where most of the legal action takes place. To be exact, any member of the public could read all of the documents presented to the judge. What about the objection that public scrutiny could be embarrassing to the child and the family? There is only one ordeal worse than a public trial, and that is a secret trial.
Such a reform could soon end many of the current abuses. An unjustly accused family could point to the court record as proof of their innocence. When a rogue child protection agency runs berserk, as in Wenatchee Washington, the full record would be available to reporters from the first day. And scholars could sample the files to measure the level of effectiveness of child protection agencies.
allow defense witnesses
This proposal comes from Camilla Cavendish in the UK, where family courts are even more closed than in Canada. Courts hear only one expert witness, and parents cannot call on testimony from an expert with a different opinion. In Canada unrepresented parents are silenced by court officers who make no statement on record, but menace parents with handcuffs when they try to speak.
lay adviser for unrepresented parents
Give automatic permission for parents who are refused legal aid to get a lay adviser to help them present their case. Another suggestion from Camilla Cavendish.
limitation or elimination of immunity for caseworkers
Currently, child-protection workers are immune from all legal actions as long as they act in "good faith". This means they are above the law. This is no theoretical statement. In private meetings between caseworkers and parents, they regularly bully parents with their power. One caseworker told a father: "Fathers have no rights". Another told a grandmother: "We have as much power as God". It was only a slight exaggeration.
When a case gets to court, immunity prevents the presentation of true evidence. Since caseworkers are immune, they cannot suffer even from intentional perjury.
do not seize kids until after adverse hearing
The law now in most jurisdictions requires judicial authorization before child removal, but it comes with an exception for children in immediate danger. For the caseworker, this means checking a box on a form. In practice, children are always picked up first on pretense of emergency, and court hearings are after-the-fact. The caseworkers enjoy immunity, so they cannot suffer from any misrepresentation.
The law could be changed to eliminate the exception, delaying child abduction until a judge has signed a warrant on probably cause. By itself, this is unlikely to do much good, since child protection agencies with millions of dollars in revenue will find a way to induce friendly judges to rubber-stamp their requests. A more meaningful reform is to require an adverse hearing in which the parents can present evidence in opposition, and only then can the court issue a pickup order. This would at least protect innocent families able to hire competent counsel.
trial by jury before crown-wardship
Juries, not judges, should have the final word on removing parents from a child's life and turning them into crown wards.
require child's presence in the courtroom
This procedure is followed now in criminal matters, though not in the more consequential custody cases. It would eliminate two current problems. First, the child may be out of the jurisdiction of the court, and impossible to bring into the courtroom, but as it is now, the court can continue to exercise jurisdiction based on some past condition. Two courts can even claim jurisdiction over the same child. Second, as long as the child is old enough to understand, he can witness the proceedings in his own case.
provide parents with adverse evidence
Provide an automatic right for parents to receive copies of case conference notes and all evidence used against them in court, just as they would in a criminal trial. This is most vital for unrepresented parents who must get this material without specific application.
eliminate risk assessments
Child protectors now use risk assessment tools to estimate the risk of future abuse or neglect. A high score can justify child removal, even when no abuse or neglect has already occurred. Scientific analysis and reports from caseworkers confirm that these are subjective tools that reflect only the will of the caseworker. Do we lock people up because they have the capacity to rob a bank, or commit any other crime?
eliminate vagueness in definition of child abuse and neglect
Both child abuse and neglect are vaguely defined in the law. This might be tolerable if, as in other areas, the courts were open. In that case, examination of past decisions would eventually build up a body of common law that would inform parents of what they had to do to avoid a charge of abuse or neglect. But where the courts operate in secret, no parent can possibly know, until it is too late, what actions to take to be within the law. The law should define child abuse and neglect with sufficient precision that parents can know their responsibilities.
eliminate junk science from therapists as evidence
Therapy for children is now rife with junk science theories. A few years ago, there was a procedure called rebirthing, in which adopted children were compelled to struggle for hours confined in a bag to escape into the arms of their adopted parents. This was supposed to promote bonding with the new family. The procedure became discredited when Candace Newmaker died in Denver during her struggle. Sadly, this is not the only therapeutic fad, and lots of others just as silly are still in vogue. Therapists should not be giving expert testimony in child protection cases.
notify parents when children are removed
Several parents have reported that they did not learn of the seizure of their children until the children failed to return from school. At a minimum, parents should be notified immediately when their children are taken into custody.
tell parents their rights
The United States Congress enacted a provision requiring social workers to notify a parent of certain rights at the onset of a case. That might be a good idea in Ontario as well, at least if parents had any rights. There are none enumerated in the Child and Family Services Act.
An even more comprehensive reform requires informing parents of their rights at later stages of the process.
video tape all contact between families and CAS
This would eliminate much of the private bullying by CAS workers. It would also eliminate another abuse, coaching children. In Orangeville, a three-year-old girl was coached, off camera, then induced to say on camera that her mother hit her with a frying pan. The mother later found that the girl did not know what a frying pan was.
require child's guardian or lawyer to actually meet the child
Ontario children are now appointed lawyers through the Office of the Children's Lawyer. The most common complaint about these lawyers is that they have never spoken to their own clients. Parents recognize this when the lawyer makes arguments at variance with the child's true condition. An actual meeting with the client should be a requirement for representation of a child. More substantive reform requires proof that the child's guardian faithfully represented his client's interest.
create a legal presumption of innocence for accused parents
Persons accused of a crime are presumed innocent, meaning that the prosecution has the burden of proving that the accused committed the crime. There is no such presumption in family court. Falsely accused parents have to find a witness to acts that never happened.
allow other family (grandparents) to get kids when parents are unfit
The law formally favors this now, but it is rarely done.
end collusion between child protectors and psychiatrists and similar expert witnesses.
When a family is examined by professionals, the family should select the professional. Allowing the child protectors to choose the professional allows for collusion between the professional and the agency.
allow families to enforce CFSA
There is nothing which forces Ontario's children's aid societies and foster homes to obey all parts of their governing legislation (the Child and Family Services Act). John Dunn proposes amending the act to allow citizens to press provincial offence charges against persons acting under authority of the act.
(end of suggestions)
Robert T McQuaid
558 McMartin Road
Mattawa Ontario P0H 1V0
email: rtmq at fixcas.com