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November 26, 2011 permalink
An editorial in the Sault Star criticizes children's aid.
Children's Aid Society not quick enough to put families back together - MILLROY COLUMN
Over the years Children's Aid Societies across this country have faced criticism when things have gone very wrong in cases where they have returned children to parents who turned out to be unfit.
In some, the consequences have been so severe that they have led to the loss of life of a child.
But from the periphery I got to follow a local investigation last weekend and I found the CAS initially moved quickly and efficiently.
However, as the investigation progressed through the weekend, I began to think that after ripping a family apart, the CAS wasn't all that quick to put the pieces back together when it had more than enough information in hand to know it was dealing with a false alarm.
A three-year-old child had complained of a sore ear when getting her hair brushed near the end of a day at daycare and the worker, noticing slight bruises on the tips of both ears, asked the child what had happened.
She first said daddy had pulled her ears and later that she had fallen.
Daycare, as it is mandated to do, informed CAS and a CAS worker and an OPP officer arrived on the scene.
All this, of course, was devastating to the young parents who, blind-sided by the event, couldn't even lean on each other for support as CAS ordered that the father could not return to the home.
Instead, he was ordered to take the child to Sault Area Hospital where he remained with her for several hours. Then CAS asked that he leave the hospital and a grandmother took over, spending the night.
The mother, now home with a two-year-old child, was interviewed after midnight by the CAS worker accompanied by two OPP officers. The two-yearold was awakened and checked over, obviously for marks that might indicate abuse. The home also was checked out to see if there was food for the children and that other amenities were in place.
Apparently all was to the satisfaction of the CAS worker.
The following day the child the CAS had taken into its care was examined, first by a medical student and then by a doctor.
They pronounced that everything was fine and the child was released, her story about her ears being hurt now having changed to her being knocked down by the larger of the family dogs.
But the OK from the doctor, as welcome as the news was to the young couple, was not enough to allow the father to return home as it was only one part of the investigation.
He and his wife still faced separate interrogations by OPP. As well, other members of his family were interviewed, as were a babysitter and a public health nurse who regularly visits as part of a program in which the young couple had requested involvement.
From my vantage point as a casual observer, as the investigation went on it all began to seem like an extreme waste of manpower and left me with the thought of overkill.
However, I certainly can't criticize the CAS for moving quickly to investigate. When suspected abuse is reported, it must act.
After all, the safety of a child is paramount.
But it would be nice if a child could be checked more quickly so, if nothing untoward is found, he or she can be returned to the family setting rather than having to spend a night away from home in hospital.
It would also alleviate the distress on the parents, who in the case at hand were beyond devastated.
It would, or should, also get the father back into the family unit more quickly, which in this case didn't happen for four days.
Although this event may have turned out to the satisfaction of the investigators, its slowness in bringing about a resolution will leave a residue of fear and anxiety within the young couple that will take years to erase.
They undoubtedly will be afraid to allow any of their children out of the house if they have any bruises on them at all, at least until they are at an age when they will be able to accurately describe how they came about.
As the doctor who examined the child in hospital said, a three-year-old is hardly credible.
With no resolution in sight, I decided to put the question as to why the investigation seemed to be taking so long to Jim Baraniuk, executive director of CAS, Tuesday morning.
I suggested to him that there didn't seem to be any urgency to bring the family unit back together and told him I would be saying that in a column.
"That's not accurate," he said, "certainly from our end," explaining several times during our conversation that he couldn't discuss a particular case.
I told him I understood that he couldn't discuss a particular case, but I could only go with what I saw in this one.
"We try to resolve things as quickly as possible, but we also have to do due diligence to ensure we get all the information and make a determination that ultimately the child is going to be safe," he said.
"Sometimes it might take time to do that. We might have to wait for information or validation from physicians or other professionals before we can return the child home. That's part of our evidence gathering.
"It's not that we don't want to react and reintegrate families. We just have to ensure everything is in place to make a determination the child will be safe."
I have no problem with that, as far as it goes.
It is just that in this case the child was checked over to hospital staff's satisfaction on Saturday morning, but interviews of all other parties by OPP, who were looking into the possibility of a criminal complaint, were not completed until Sunday evening, the last being the father's parents.
If OPP had moved with more urgency, one would think things could have been wrapped up Sunday, but even as it stood, surely it would have taken only a few phone calls by the CAS worker to pull this information together so the family unit could have been put back together Monday morning, rather than Tuesday afternoon.
Because lost in all this seems to be the distress caused to the parents, a father who is banned from the home close to becoming a basket case and a mother who is left on her own to care for two active children while studying for a test in one of her courses at Sault College.
I realize the safety of a child is paramount. I am only suggesting, considering we are dealing with a culture in which parents seem to be judged guilty until they are proven innocent, that there should be some avenue of support for those who find themselves in such situations.
Source: Sault Star