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CAS is a Problem
February 27, 2013 permalink
Barbara Kay gives her opinion of children's aid.
Barbara Kay: The problem with Children’s Aid Societies
A young friend of mine took her bruised toddler to the hospital as a precaution after a fall down some stairs. All was well, but she nervously joked, “I was afraid the doctor might call the CAS (Children’s Aid Society).” This shocked me. Decades ago, I took my kids to the hospital on more than one similar occasion, but I never entertained such a misgiving.
My friend’s fears are not unfounded. Had the doctor felt suspicious, she might have called the CAS, which would then make inquiries and checked the parents’ records. In extreme situations, the CAS could theoretically seize the child, forcing the parents into costly litigation to get back access to their child.
In fact, the CAS has more powers than virtually any other government agency. A CAS worker (who may or may not be a registered social worker; many allegedly are not) can enter a home without a warrant in some circumstances; apprehend a child or children without what most Canadians would consider due process; interview a child with no advocate present under some circumstances; ask police to enforce apprehensions against their own judgment; order a child to be medicated over the wishes of parents; and punish parents who resist by denying access or, in some cases, permanent custody.
Canadian CAS workers intervene in about 200,000 kids’ lives a year. And it isn’t just the poor and marginalized who become CAS “clients.” A few years ago, for example, an Ontario maid service worker felt an upscale client’s house didn’t meet her standard of house pride; shortly after, a CAS worker showed up.
Children have been seized from Christian parents who don’t spare “the rod” in disciplining (one family had seven children removed), or whom the parents persisted in homeschooling in a manner that CAS officials declared unacceptable.
In other cases, demonstrably maltreated children are inexplicably left with parents or foster parents known to be dangerous, and sometimes end up injured or even dead. In these latter cases, we read their horror stories with incredulity in Christie Blatchford’s columns.
In a National Post feature article in June 2009, Kevin Libin portrayed an industry in which abuses are all too common. One source, a professor of social work, claims that a shocking 15%-20% of children under CAS oversight suffer injury or neglect. Several CAS insiders whom Libin interviewed regard the situation as systemically hopeless. A clinical psychologist with decades of experience advocating for children said, “I would love to just demolish the system and start from scratch again.”
There are four general reasons that the system arguably does deserve to be “demolished” — unaccountability, secrecy, money and a lack of political will:
- With virtually no checks and balances, case workers have “as much power as God,” in the words of one former social worker. And they use it according to their diverse subjective impulses;
- Children in care have little voice. CAS actions often are shrouded in secrecy, and media investigations are chilled by CAS lawyers, who claim to be protecting the privacy rights of all involved. Children in foster and group care typically do not have adequate access to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. Too often, “confidentiality” protects the powerful, not the vulnerable.
- CASs are funded per capita. This creates a financial incentive for taking children into care. CASs receive extra funding for children diagnosed with conditions requiring medication — a fact that creates other unhealthy incentives.
- CAS workers typically cannot be sued if they have acted in “good faith.” But bad faith is notoriously difficult to prove. Ombudsmen have the power to look at secret files, but in Ontario the ombudsman can only recommend changes, not actively intervene. Two recent attempts by NDP provincial legislators to pass a bill giving the ombudsman oversight teeth have failed: one voted down by Ontario’s then-majority Liberals, one dying in a prorogued parliament.
What is to be done?
Next week, I will review a 2011 documentary film on this subject, made by a former foster parent. Powerful as God is a movie that Ontario family-service agencies would prefer you don’t see, but robust attempts to shut it down have failed.
Powerful as God can be found at blakout.ca. Featured in the film is a proposal for an alternative system of child protection that I find both sensible and viable. It is proposed by Canadians whose tragic history has rendered them all too familiar with the iniquities associated with what they regard as state-sanctioned child “kidnapping.”
Source: National Post
Fixcas can provide footnotes.
Addendum: Barbara Kay's second article a week later.
Barbara Kay: Seeking an alternative to Children’s Aid Societies
There is no more ignominious epitaph on a public policy’s tombstone than “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” When residential schools were first mooted, they probably made eminent political sense as a means for “civilizing” native children. Unfortunately, “at the time,” nobody took human nature into account.
The schools’ travesty taught us hard lessons: that children typically prefer their own parents, whatever challenges they face, to competent fostering; that tearing families apart for anything less than serious abuse is traumatizing to both parents and children; and that absolute power over children separated from their natural protectors invites predatory behaviours.
These are lessons that must be understood not only in the context of residential schools — which do not exist anymore — but also in the very much ongoing institution of Children’s Aid Societies (CAS), which can and do remove children from parents deemed unfit to provide proper care.
I wrote about flaws in the child-service system in my column last week: lack of accountability and oversight; unusual powers without checks and balances; impenetrable secrecy; and a business model of per capita funding that subtly encourages apprehension as a first rather than last resort. I concluded that in spite of high CAS ideals, governments should conduct a wholesale review of the current outmoded program model.
At the end of my column, l suggested readers watch the 2011 Canadian documentary film Powerful as God at blakout.ca. The film illuminates the pain the system often causes through the narratives of alleged victims and former CAS-affiliated lawyers, psychologists and social workers.
I won’t review the witness statements of the parents, child survivors and foster parents. Moving and persuasive as they are, we don’t have the other side of the story (CAS was asked to participate, but declined).
More important from a policy perspective are the words of professional insiders: of, for example, Alfred “Alf” Mamo, a family lawyer in London, Ont., who has represented both CAS and the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. Mamo says that CAS injustice “can happen to anyone,” and that the millions used on CAS litigation could be better spent actually helping people.
There is also Michael Clarke, a family lawyer in Hamilton, Ont., who has done extensive research on child welfare issues; Clarke says there is an “imbalance of power” between CAS and clients, whose social workers are “holding all the cards.”
Then there is former respite worker Lyndsey Cara King, who “felt morally obligated to quit my job” at a Toronto agency over well-documented abuses of would-be adoptive parents’ rights.
Filmmaker Esther Buckareff is a former foster parent. Her inspiration to make Powerful as God as part of her Ryerson University master’s thesis sprang from two sources: her personal, disillusioning experiences with the CAS and her study of film-making in Cuba, where, she wrote me, “people are bullied and silenced in a dictatorship. Fear of the state bureaucracy was palpable, just like ‘clients’ of the CAS.”
There are more children in state care now than there ever were in residential schools. Not surprisingly, aboriginal families constitute an enormously disproportionate clientele of child-service agencies today. Ultimately, Buckareff’s exposure to the “Talking Together Circle,” an alternate aboriginal model of dispute resolution offered through a Thunder Bay legal clinic, gave her hope.
It seems appropriate that the film lingers over First Nations’ unique approach to healing broken families.
In the film, Celina Reitberger, executive director and legal counsel for the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in Thunder Bay, explains how the talking circle can work at any stage of family crisis: preventatively or at any point up to the courthouse steps.
In the talking circle, she says, nobody holds absolute power. Family unification, with the child maintaining his family connection safely throughout the process is always the paramount ideal. Transparency is key to success. Everyone participates: parents, foster parents, community elders, clergy and social workers. Watchwords are “respect,” “openness” and “fairness.” The goal is not to pass judgment but to “restore harmony.”
Although I don’t approve of two-tiered justice in criminal cases — prison for white criminals, sweat lodges for natives — I do find the “circle” model for healing dysfunctional families a more compelling and civilized alternative to the apprehension-and-sequester model that creates so much distress in many CAS cases.
One First Nations man Buckareff interviewed was astonished to find the “devil work” of the CAS was not only his own culture’s problem. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed after watching the finished film, “it’s happening to the white people, too!” Then added: “Finally, they know what it feels like.”
Source: National Post