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Social Workers Defy Court
November 11, 2011 permalink
A Saskatchewan mother known only as A.H., who was a former foster child herself, lost her children because she was a drug-addicted prostitute. But after she turned her life around a judge ordered social services to let the mother visit her children. Social services refused to comply with the order of the judge.
Social workers failed Sask. mom, judge says
A Saskatchewan judge is raising concerns about provincial social service workers who repeatedly ignored court orders relating to a woman hoping to reunite with her children.
Court of Queen's Bench judge Geoffrey Dufour, in a decision released this week to an online legal database, said he wants more answers from the ministry and — if none are provided — may refer the matter for criminal prosecution.
"I am compelled to address ... the apparent failure of the Ministry of Social Services to comply with orders of this court," Dufour said in the case, which was initiated by a woman suing ministry officials to regain custody of her children.
The names of the children, aged five and three, and the mother, 26, who is from Prince Albert, Sask., cannot be reported.
According to Dufour's decision, the mother had undergone a transformation from a drug-addicted sex worker to a responsible adult.
"This is a truly remarkable story," Dufour said. "The story of A.H., a mother who has escaped a life of prostitution and squalor and bested addictions so that she might have the ability to parent her two children."
In the court ruling, Dufour outlined how A.H. spent her childhood in the foster home system, eventually ending up on the streets.
"A.H. was pretty much on her own by the time she was 14," Dufour said. "[She was] exchanging her body for alcohol and bouncing between extended family members, temporary foster parents and state-run facilities. She started injecting Ritalin when she was 16 and soon became addicted to the morphine derivative dilaudid."
Her children, who A.H. believed were fathered by johns, were apprehended at birth.
No longer a 'waif'
The judge wrote that A.H. was eventually able to beat her addictions and improve her life.
"A.H. had morphed from the waif I saw in April, 2009 into someone who was healthy, well-groomed and much more focussed and confident," Dufour said. "She has been living in the same nice two-bedroom suite for more than two years and has not injected Ritalin for more than a year."
According to Dufour, despite several positive professional assessments of A.H., ministry officials did not want the children returned to the woman.
Dufour had ordered that A.H. be allowed supervised visits, but those were largely ignored.
"It is clear that the visits that were ordered did not take place," Dufour said. "It is essential in my view to find out why not."
He ordered the ministry to provide an explanation by Feb. 12, 2012 and warned that if none were forthcoming, he might take further action.
"Other courts have referred the matter to the Attorney General for a determination as to whether prosecutions for contempt of court should be initiated," Dufour noted.
Finally, he found that A.H. had progressed enough to gain more access to her children and ordered that nine weeks of supervised visits take place, followed by the full return of the children, effective Thursday.
Dufour said that social workers could still supervise the woman's home for 12 months.
CBC News contacted officials at the Ministry of Social Services, but they declined to speak about the specific case.
"We are continually reviewing our processes to improve the services that we do provide for children and families," Andrea Brittin, the Executive Director of service delivery for child and family services, told CBC News Wednesday.
Addendum: Though the story omits names, this looks like the same case. The ministry admits to its mistake and issues a rare apology to the family.
Social Services apologizes to mom
Social Services staff who disregarded a Prince Albert judge’s explicit orders to allow visits between a mother and her two young children were clearly wrong to do so, Ministry officials conceded in a report filed earlier this month at Court of Queen’s Bench.
Justice Geoff Dufour requested the report last October in a scathing written decision granting 26-year-old “Alice” full custody of her kids, five-year-old “Eric” and three-year-old “Kay,” who had been apprehended at birth and placed in foster homes because of her drug addiction and involvement in prostitution.
Their identities are protected from publication.
Faced with a Social Services application to have her children declared permanent wards of the province, Alice sobered up, took parenting classes and completely changed her entire lifestyle in just two years, despite incredible odds, according to extensive evidence outlined in Dufour’s judgment on the case.
Convinced that she could not be a fit mother because of “groundless” suspicions she was still abusing drugs, Ministry staff repeatedly failed to comply with his specific orders for regular visits between Alice and her children in 2010 and 2011, Dufour found. Rather than convene a hearing or refer the matter to the attorney general for a decision on whether to prosecute for contempt of court, Dufour gave Social Services until Feb. 1 to provide him with a “full and frank report” about what happened.
Social Services Deputy Minister Ken Acton filed that report on Feb. 1, according to a written supplementary decision by Dufour, which was recently released on a public legal database.
“The ministry’s Quality Assurance Unit completed an administrative review of the handling of this matter within three weeks of my decision. The report submitted to the Court states that ‘ … it is clear that the Ministry of Social Services fell short of the standard required with respect to following the explicit orders of the Court in his case …,’” Dufour noted.
“I will not go into great detail, but I do accept that there were real and not insignificant logistical problems associated with bringing (Kay) for visits with her mother. (Kay) was in foster care in Buffalo Narrows which is a 10-hour return trip from Prince Albert.”
According to Acton’s report, Social Services staff considered having caseworkers transport the girl to and from Prince Albert for visits, “but the unit managing the case did not have sufficient staff to allow this. There were staff recruitment and retention difficulties in the Prince Albert office at that time (the unit has been on average at half-staff for the past two years).”
When Dufour ordered unsupervised overnight visits for Alice and her children, a caseworker and supervisor thought she’d be “overwhelmed,” which would put the kids at risk. They even consulted a ministry lawyer, who told them to comply with the judge’s instructions. They ignored the lawyer as well.
“The Ministry erred when it did not take the advice of legal counsel which clarified that the court-ordered access was very clear …” Acton’s report stated.
Following the internal review, an email was sent to all Child and Family Services workers in the province, reminding them of the risk of “serious ramifications” for not strictly following court orders, Dufour noted. A letter was also sent to all of the ministry’s legal agents in the province, outlining the expectation that Social Services staff will be advised of court decisions as quickly as possible.
Acton’s report said the Ministry is also developing a checklist for Child and Family Services supervisors that includes the need to comply with court orders. Training for workers and supervisors will also reinforce that message, and yearly reviews of files will include an evaluation of compliance.
“The Ministry sincerely apologizes to the Court, to (Alice), and to (Eric) and (Kay) for not complying with the court-ordered visits, as well as for making changes to access plans without the Court’s prior approval,” Acton wrote.