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CAS is Always Right

August 2, 2011 permalink

Children's aid is continuing to place favorable articles in the press. The first article enclosed below is by Ottawa CAS executive director Barbara MacKinnon. We found it impossible to criticize, since it contains no facts, only feel-good phrases. A brief response by Anne Patterson follows the article.

In the second, the Toronto Star, using information that could only be supplied by children's aid, supports foster adoption. The article mentions several times the heartbreak when a foster family has to turn a child over to a potential adoptive family, or worst of all, the real parents. There is no concern for the feelings of real parents. The only description of a real family is:

The brothers, Peter, 9 and Jacob, 13, were from a family of nine siblings born to Mexican Mennonite immigrants. Family violence, malnutrition and squalid living conditions prompted Children’s Aid to remove all the children.

CAS, and the Star, violate the law several times by providing real names of families in the foster and adoptive chain. As noted before, these laws are never followed when CAS wants to reveal names.



CAS works to find safest solution for everyone

Barbara MacKinnon
Barbara MacKinnon, executive director of the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa, writes a letter to the editor about families' right to privacy in the press when dealing with difficult issues in their lives. She says CAS appreciates the public's continued confidence.
Photograph by: Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Citizen

In recent weeks, the public has heard through various media reports of cases where the Children's Aid Society was mentioned.

Although each case differs, all are similar in that they may have raised questions from the readers regarding when a child should come into care. Such decisions are not taken lightly.

The primary duty of a CAS is to assess the safety of children and to engage parents in finding solutions that will help them safely parent their children. In doing our work, we always need to consider the immediate family circumstances, the strengths of the parents, the barriers they are experiencing, their history as caregivers as well as the support systems that they have or that could reasonably be put in place to lessen an identified risk.

Removing a child from parental care is only considered when no other option is available at the time one is needed. When cases are presented to the public via the media, regrettably, most often the entire context of the situation is not available.

We believe that families have a right to privacy when dealing with the difficult issues in their lives and, for this, we will never comment on any case in the press. When we are obligated to become involved in the life of a family, we are accountable to that family and to the courts.

We appreciate the continued confidence of the public. It is crucial to the work that we do and we welcome opportunities to be transparent about how we do the work in a manner that is not identifying of individual families.

Barbara MacKinnon, Ottawa, Executive director of the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Reply by Anne Patterson:

In response to the letter from Barbara MacKinnon regarding the CAS. She stated that CAS is accountable to families and to the courts? In fact families do not believe this to be accurate which has prompted rallies across Ontario from parents, former wards of CAS, adopted adults and others concerned asking for accountability by enacting Ombudsman oversight of these agencies.

The Ontario Ombudsman is being gagged and roped from investigating despite different legislative bills asking for this measure. The NDP remain dedicated to having an outside, unbiased body to probe hundreds of complaints. CAS is not accountable to the courts as there is no mechanism to review them. It is not about privacy as stated but rather secrecy and it is long overdue for change. There are obvious problems that need to be addressed and keeping them in a secretive, unaccountable, internal realm of self-interest will do nothing to resolve them.

How one town is changing adoption

Jack VanNoord and Kris
Jack VanNoord, right, fought for the right to adopt foster child Kris, now 25 and engaged to be married.

ST. THOMAS, ONT.—When the social worker told Jack VanNoord that she was taking away his 5 1/2-month-old foster child to be adopted by another family, the father of five had just one question for Children’s Aid:

“Are you running an adoption agency or are you acting in the best interests of the child?”

It didn’t seem right to VanNoord and his wife Coby to be uprooting the baby boy, whose inquisitive blue eyes and gummy smile had stolen their hearts in three short months with the family.

But in the fall of 1986 in the rural community of St. Thomas, south of London, it was rare for foster families to adopt, especially if they already had five children. Childless couples or those with just one child were the priority. And you had to be on the adoption waiting list.

“That all seemed rather silly to me,” recalls VanNoord. “What about the child? This would be the second separation. How many times can a child go through that?”

He immediately set to work researching the then-emerging theory of attachment between babies and caregivers. He hired a lawyer, sought the opinion of a noted London child psychologist and began his fight for the right to adopt baby Kris.

Today the VanNoords’ “courageous stand” is credited for sparking Ontario’s first foster-to-adopt program, where the goal is to ensure every child who comes into care is moved only once. If the child can’t go back home, the foster parents automatically become the adoptive family.

In Ontario, where up to 10,000 Crown wards languish in foster care and up to 80 per cent are forced to make the critical transition into adulthood without a forever family, some say the St. Thomas and Elgin County model is worth adopting province-wide.

“Yes we’re small,” acknowledges Dawn Flegel, director of services since 2004 for Family and Children’s Services of St. Thomas and Elgin County, which serves as the Children’s Aid Society for the community of about 70,000.

“But we believe kids in Oshawa or Mississauga deserve the same continuity of care as our kids in Elgin.”

Jim Hummel, head of adoption and foster family recruitment from 1980 to 2001, says the VanNoords “presented a very cogent argument that made you sit back and reflect on what you were doing.”

Soon after the case, Hummel made the controversial decision to close the agency’s adoption waiting list — which had grown so long that many parents were waiting up to a decade for a child, anyway. From then on, all prospective parents were told the only way to adopt would be to foster the child first.

Many parents complained to the agency board and the local MPP, and some chose to adopt children from other areas. But Hummel stood his ground.

“There was a lot of criticism from colleagues in the field. We were seen as renegades,” he acknowledges. “It took several years to educate parents. But once you explained it, most embraced the idea.

“Under the old system, the adults had no risk while the children took all the risks,” he says. “Most people understand that’s just wrong.”

At first, the agency placed children most likely to become Crown wards with foster-to-adopt families. But it became hard to predict which children would not return home. So in 2005, under Flegel’s leadership, the agency began to phase in a policy of using only foster-to-adopt homes for all children under age 2. By 2007, the practice expanded to every child under age 6, and as of last year, every child under age 12 is placed immediately in a foster-to-adopt home. The agency hopes the policy will eventually cover all children under age 18.

The results have been powerful. Since 2005, half of the children who are adopted through the agency have been served in just one home, versus 22 per cent in a similar-size CAS. The agency, which has about 50 foster-to-adopt families, has had no trouble recruiting parents to the cause. In fact, Elgin County has a surplus of parents who are providing care for children from neighbouring agencies.

One reason is that the agency, which investigates between 750 and 800 families a year and provides ongoing service to about 250 families, tries to keep most children from coming into care. Instead, the focus is on supporting children in their families or extended families and providing subsidies for so-called “kinship agreements” when needed.

But when children can’t remain in their homes, the foster-to-adopt system aims to cause the least disruption, Flegel says

Marianne and Dave Miller are typical foster-to-adopt parents in St. Thomas.

They had already adopted a baby boy privately in 2006 and wanted more children.

“At first, the thought (of foster-to-adopt) scared us,” says Marianne, 31. “But then we realized it would be the quickest way to get some kids, which is what we really wanted.”

By coincidence, they were offered two boys who were members of the youth group the couple was leading at their local church.

The brothers, Peter, 9 and Jacob, 13, were from a family of nine siblings born to Mexican Mennonite immigrants. Family violence, malnutrition and squalid living conditions prompted Children’s Aid to remove all the children.

The brothers had been in at least four different foster homes in the seven years before they ended up with the Millers.

“It was so unsteady moving all the time,” says Peter. “Every time I’d be thinking: ‘Hey, I like it here.’ And then: ‘Oh no. Moving again.’ ”

When the boys moved in with the Millers, Marianne assured them they would be in their lives forever, no matter what happened. Within six months, the boys became available for adoption. They say it was the happiest day of their lives.

Since then, the Millers have had seven more children in their home. They would have adopted all of them, Marianne says. But all went home to their birth parents. She admits it hasn’t been easy.

In one case involving an 18-month-old girl, Children’s Aid went to court seeking permanent custody that would have paved the way for the family to adopt. The boys were ecstatic at the possibility of having a baby sister. But the judge ordered the child back to her birth mother. The Millers had three hours to pack up the baby and take her home.

“The hardest part is putting them in their car seat,” Marianne says, her voice catching as she recounts the story. “You don’t want them to feel something bad is going to happen to them. You don’t want them to see you cry.”

When a second foster-to-adopt baby went home last December after the family had cared for him for about six months, they had a day to prepare.

“I held him for a long part of the day,” says Peter. “It was really sad.”

But the family would not have it any other way.

“Little kids don’t know how to cope with grief and loss,” Marianne says. “We are a strong family and we can cope better than little kids.”

Marianne has forged strong bonds with all of the birth families and regularly helps out with babysitting.

The program that helped the Miller family has attracted notice outside of St. Thomas. Provincial Children’s Minister Laurel Broten says she is “encouraged” by it.

“This model is one of many innovative approaches that Children’s Aid Societies across the province have developed in order to find more permanent homes for waiting kids,” she said in an email.

“I encourage Children’s Aid Societies to share ideas that are working in the field, so that we continue to develop a strong adoption system in Ontario.”

Elgin County is “a pioneer,” in the foster-to-adopt model, says Virginia Rowden of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, which represents the province’s 53 children’s aid bodies.

However, Rowden thinks the model would be difficult to transplant to a big city such as Toronto with so many newcomers who don’t have extended family here to rely on for kinship care. Toronto’s ethnic and religious diversity also makes it trickier to place children in appropriate homes. And there are fewer families with a parent at home to care for a needy child, because most GTA families need two incomes to make ends meet, she says.

“But you can’t deny that it is a jewel of a model that works really well in that community,” Rowden says. “There are many elements that can and are being replicated on a provincial basis now. Certainly the leading thinking . . . is going in the direction of the ‘one child, one placement’ model Elgin does so well.”

Even in Elgin County, however, there are hiccups where the system still “gets in the way,” Flegel says.

Jolean and Mike Anderson began the foster-to-adopt process a second time with a baby girl in June. Jolean took a second parental leave from her job as a claims adjuster for London Life. But Employment Insurance recently denied her nine-month parental leave claim because her foster baby isn’t legally available for adoption.

The couple just sold their home and is in the process of moving into a new one nearby to accommodate the new baby. They are frantic.

Losing Jolean’s current income is bad enough, but EI is also threatening to recoup the money she was paid during her first parental leave for Carter, now 1 1/2 years old.

“With our closing and moving costs, we certainly didn’t plan for this,” says the sleep-deprived mother, who gets up several times in the night to feed the 2-month-old baby.

“It makes no sense to keep working and put her in daycare at this age,” she says.

Many foster-to-adopt families have two parents in the workplace and when infants are placed in their homes, parental benefits have never been denied, Flegel says.

If EI’s decision stands, it would have huge implications for the agency’s foster-to-adopt model, she says.

The agency, which is helping the Andersons appeal, will do everything it can to help the family in the meantime, she adds.

Back on Jack VanNoord’s lush 100-acre hobby farm on the outskirts of St. Thomas, the 67-year-old retired Ford Motor Co. plant supervisor is reluctant to take credit for what he and his wife Coby started a generation ago with baby Kris.

In fact, VanNoord and Coby, who died of cancer last year, didn’t realize the role their family played until several years ago when the agency contacted them as part of research it was conducting on the foster-to-adopt program.

“They did all the work,” he says.

Kris, now 25, is in the trucking business, like his three older brothers.

Engaged to be married in September, he relishes his large extended family where as many as 50 people regularly turn up for Christmas parties and annual reunions.

Although Kris confesses he is somewhat surprised to hear how his adoption changed an agency, he is happy to be part of history.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he says. “A very good thing for kids.”

Source: Toronto Star

Barbara MacKinnon
Ottawa CAS Executive Director Barbara MacKinnon
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