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CAS Assessed $1.4 Million
April 11, 2014 permalink
When a manipulative and erratic mother of three separated from her husband London-Middlesex CAS took her side. It led to a 154 day trial. CAS ignored warnings from her teenaged son that she was an abusive alcoholic. At the end, the judge said the CAS "did not live up to (its) statutory duty to investigate thoroughly and objectively" and imposed two million dollars in costs, $1.4 million against CAS. While this ought to teach them a lesson, they will just pass the bill on to the taxpayers.
London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society slapped with record court costs of $1.4 million
The London area’s child-welfare agency has been hit with record court costs of $1.4 million, for failing to protect three boys caught in a marathon trial the judge says was marked by a manipulative mother and a father falsely cast as an abusive monster.
In a just-released written decision, the judge also ordered the mother — whom he said “manipulated the court by misrepresenting the facts in order to gain an advantage” — to pay $604,478.36, or 30% of the more than $2 million court costs.
The 154-day trial, over three years, was known in court halls as “the trial that never ends.” It helped build a huge backlog in London family court cases last fall, forcing officials to prioritize child-protection cases over divorce trials.
In a scathing indictment of the London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society, Superior Court Justice John Harper wrote the CAS “did not live up to (its) statutory duty to investigate thoroughly and objectively” in the case, and instead accepted the mother’s warped version as the truth. The $1.4 million is believed to be the largest financial penalty ever dished out to a child-protection agency in Ontario.
The cash-strapped CAS made headlines last fall when it couldn’t balance its books.
Spokesperson Michelle Bacon said the agency hadn’t reviewed the decision yet.
“Once we have, we will be considering our response,” she said.
The judge ruled in the case last fall, dismissing the CAS child-protection application and granting a divorce and awarding custody of the kids to the father.
But not until this week were the costs dished out.
“This started as a snowball of an allegation of unspecified emotional abuse that was flagged and assessed as high risk and it came crashing down on this family like an unstoppable avalanche,” Harper wrote.
The CAS applied for a court order in September 2010 to protect the three boys, aged 15, 12 and 5, months after the parents separated. But the judge found the CAS became “a lead advocate” for the mother, the driving force behind the trial. Her “multiple problems” included substance abuse and “manipulations and false claims.”
“(The CAS) had the statutory duty to investigate these claims through a thorough, objective and professional manner and they did not do so,” the judge said.
The family’s identity is protected by court order.
The erratic mother went from claiming her husband emotionally abused her, to claiming he was a sexual abuser and murderer who used his eldest child “as a gun in his hands to try to kill the mother of these three children.” Harper wrote.
Recordings, text messages and e-mails showed the woman to be erratic, verbally abusive to her sons, often drunk and having at least two extra-marital affairs.
In the middle were the three boys, who boomeranged between the parents. They repeatedly tried to alert the CAS to their mother’s violence, alcoholism and manipulation, only to see the agency side with her.
The case spilled into the criminal courts, with the mother alleging her oldest son had tried to kill her. But a charge of attempted murder against the son never got past a preliminary hearing after the mother testified. Instead, the Crown accepted a plea to assault by the son for “excessive self-defence” from his mother.
The judge dismissed the mother’s ever-shifting evidence. The agency, Harper said, tried to squelch any evidence that went against its theory the mother was a victim. A supervisor, responsible for providing lawyers in the case with CAS information, removed 475 pages of notes, records, e-mails and summaries from the file.
At trial, it was revealed the mandatory document-sharing was running a year behind.
Notes in the file referred to the mother as the “Society’s client.”
Meetings were held to discuss how to protect her and case workers from the father.
The mother also made a “most wanted poster” put up in her workplace and in her youngest son’s school file that had photos of her husband and oldest son with the words, “if you see these men, call the police they have a history of violence.”
Neither father nor son was convicted of any crime until the son’s self-defence plea. Harper found the sons were in more need of protection from their mother than father.
Trial by numbers
154: Days it lasted
$2,014,927.86: Total court costs
$1.4M: Amount CAS ordered to pay
$604,478: Amount mother ordered to pay
WHAT ELSE THE JUDGE WROTE:
About the mother:
Serious credibility problems “drove the case to the extreme it became.”
About the father:
Fortunate had help “to dig out from under the avalanche thrust upon him.”
About the children:
“What did survive were the scars to the children . . .”
About the CAS:
“Acted in bad faith.”
“This was exacerbated by the actions of the Society, some police officers, some women’s groups, a school board and her employers . . . many of whom accepted without any level of scrutiny the (woman’s) self-reports.”
Source: London Free Press
Political leaders react.
Lying mom case prompts calls for children’s aid oversight
LONDON, Ontario - Ontario's opposition critics have pounced on a judge's scathing indictment of the London area's Children's Aid Society as proof the province's child-welfare system needs drastic change.
The London-Middlesex CAS was slapped with a $1.4-million court bill and harsh words from a judge this week for failing to properly investigate a mother's warped version of events in a divorce and custody battle, even when three children tried to alert authorities of the woman's violence, alcoholism and manipulation.
"It is definitely evidence why we need independent oversight over the Children's Aid Society," Monique Taylor, the NDP's child and youth services critic, said Friday.
"We definitely know that these things go on. To my knowledge, it's the first time a judge has come out with this type of language with his thoughts on what went on in this case."
The Conservatives repeated calls for a review of the system, stopping short of agreeing with the NDP that the ombudsman should be given the power to oversee the child-welfare system.
"The whole children's area needs to be reviewed and (it should be decided) what is working and isn't working and make the changes that ensure children are always the first priority," PC child and youth services critic Bill Walker said.
"It certainly didn't seem there was a lot of thorough investigation done on all sides of the issue (in the London case). They took one side and pushed that. There needs to be a check and balance in that process," Walker said.
The London-Middlesex CAS was also put under review in the fall because it couldn't balance its books.
"The $1.4 million - where's that coming from? This is a major problem," Taylor said.
Taylor has tried twice to get legislation passed giving the ombudsman power to investigate Children's Aid Societies, with the latest bill blocked by the Liberals.
"Every ombudsman since this office was established in 1975 has called for oversight of Children's Aid Societies," Linda Williamson, spokeswoman for the ombudsman's office, said Friday.
"Ontario is the only province whose ombudsman does not have some oversight of the child-protection system, and we get hundreds of complaints every year about CASs that we have to turn away."
In response to questions about the case, a spokesman for Children and Youth Services Minister Teresa Piruzza said the Liberals have introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of CASs.
"This legislation would, if passed, provide the provincial advocate for children and youth with new investigative powers, like those of the Ontario ombudsman, to investigate matters relating to children and youth involved in the child-protection system," Neil Zacharjewicz said in an e-mail.
The NDP isn't sure how oversight from the provincial advocate would work, Taylor said.
"Nobody in this province has been calling on the provincial advocate to have oversight on the Children's Aid Society. People have been calling on the ombudsman for many, many years to have this oversight."
Source: Sun News
CAS will appeal.
When plain folks like us appeal a $1.4 million judgment, we have to post the money before a court will hear the case. We also have to comply with non-monetary trial court orders during the appellate case. Appeals like this don't cause hardship for CAS, beyond the cost of typing the legal documents and sending them to the courthouse. In the case now under appeal the trial court ordered three children placed with their father. The article does not indicate where the children will go during the CAS appeal, but it would not be surprising if CAS kept them from their dad.
CAS vows to appeal ruling of ‘bad faith’
The London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society (CAS) will appeal court decisions in which it was slammed for acting “in bad faith” during a marathon custody battle and was billed $1.4 million for court costs.
The agency also stands by its decision to seek child protection from the father of three children — a decision that was dismissed by a judge after an unprecedented 154-day divorce and custody battle trial that was spread over three years — executive director Jane Fitzgerald said Monday.
“We don’t make these decisions lightly and we take into consideration the opinions of other professionals and in this case we did so,” said Fitzgerald, referring to consultations with police, women’s groups and school officials.
“We stand by our decision to seek a child protection application in this matter.”
Last week, Superior Court Justice John Harper slapped the CAS with a $1.4-million court bill and had harsh words for the agency, saying it failed to properly investigate a mother’s version of events in a divorce and custody battle, even when three children tried to alert authorities of the woman’s violence, alcoholism and manipulation.
Fitzgerald said the society was compelled to respond to the accusations.
“Quite frankly, we are concerned the public would think we are making serious decisions about a child and family without doing our diligence,” she said.
She said length of the custody trial was “unprecedented in our experience” and CAS evidence only took 15 of the 154 days.
The original decision dismissing the CAS protection order was handed down in September. At that point, the agency filed a notice of appeal, but was waiting to see the cost of the court bill — in case it was small.
“One of our considerations is that we are not adding in additional costs,” Fitzgerald said.
But the notice was filed in the “wrong court,” she said, so lawyers are preparing a new notice of appeal.
Monday afternoon, the CAS issued a news release saying it was “deeply concerned” with Harper’s decision.
“The most recent judgment regarding court costs is equally stunning and unprecedented,” the statement said.
Source: London Free Press
Barbara Kay comments.
Barbara Kay: Children’s aid societies gone rogue
In a rare victory for common sense, a judge has pointedly rebuked a CAS for its appalling conduct.
It was called “the trial that never ends.” A custody battle, in which the London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society (CAS) became the cynosure of a London court’s ire, took place over 154 days, causing a huge backlog in other cases. It’s a tawdry tale, but it speaks to an untreated cancer in the child-services domain that cries out for chemotherapy.
The story began in 2010 when the London-Middlesex CAS applied for a court order to protect three boys, aged 15, 12 and 5, after a parental separation (the family name cannot be divulged). The mother had made multiple accusations demonizing the father: that he emotionally abused her; that he was a sexual abuser; and that he was a murderer who used the oldest boy “as a gun in his hands to try to kill the mother of these three children,” in words from Judge John Harper’s decision.
The mother was, to put it mildly — confirmed by recordings, e-mails and text messages — unreliable and manipulative. The three boys repeatedly alerted the CAS to their mother’s violence, alcoholism and sexual indiscretions. Yet the CAS blithely ignored all evidence to the contrary of their own settled conviction that the mother deserved their support.
Finally the mother accused her oldest son of trying to kill her, which brought the family into criminal court. Yet after a preliminary hearing, and ever-shifting testimony from the mother, the Crown reduced the charge to “excessive self-defence.”
Judge Harper assigned two-thirds of the court costs to the CAS — a record $1.4 million — and $604,500 to the mother. He had scathing words for the CAS, whom he charged with becoming “a lead advocate” for the mother and the driving force for the trial. He said that the agency went to great lengths to smother any evidence that countered their theory that the mother was the victim, overlooking her ever-shifting narratives, with their notes referring to her as the “Society’s client.”
It was revealed at trial that mandatory document-sharing was running a year late, and that one CAS supervisor, tasked with providing information to lawyers, had removed 475 pages of notes, records, summaries and emails from the file. (This, by the way, is a criminal offence, although to my knowledge the supervisor has not been charged.) Judge Harper also noted that meetings were held to discuss how to protect the mother and case workers from the father.
Judge Harper wrote that that the father was lucky to “dig out from under the avalanche thrust upon him,” and that “the scars to the children” were permanent. In summary, “This was exacerbated by the actions of the Society, some police officers, some women’s groups, a school board and her employers … many of whom accepted without any level of scrutiny the (woman’s) self-reports.”
This case may be shocking to readers who have not been exposed to the systemic abuses that run rampant throughout child-protection services, but it is not shocking at all to long-time critics, only one more heartbreaking story revealing the gender bias, amateurism and power-tripping that flourishes for lack of a checks-and-balance system that protects child and parent victims from arbitrary actions like those recorded in this trial.
What is shocking to me about this case is that the CAS’s depthless pockets for protective litigation services weren’t enough to stave off justice. I receive on average a CAS horror story a week — mostly well-documented narratives from fathers similarly victimized by mother-supportive CAS case workers — and these dads just don’t have the money or the strategic cunning (sadly needed) to go up against the CAS behemoth. I have followed the stories of several men — smart, disciplined, determined to remain fully engaged with their children, and convinced that their airtight cases of professional misconduct would right the wrongs they had suffered — and one by one seen them stymied at every turn by a circling of the CAS wagons in defence of the mothers.
CAS workers cannot be sued if they have acted “in good faith.” In the Middlesex-London case, Judge Harper noted that the CAS had “acted in bad faith.” Sadly, they act in bad faith all the time. Getting nailed for it is the exception.
Everyone knows the child-services stable needs a good mucking-out, but no political party in power will seize the shovel. Suppose this case were gender-reversed. If an alcoholic, abusive father had custody of the children; if the children begged their case workers for help; and if the case workers rebuffed them in order to protect the father: would it not act as a wake-up call?
Source: National Post
Addendum: Carole Lynn comments, with links to the court decisions.
- Carole Lynn <carole.lynn92 at yahoo.ca>
- "firstname.lastname@example.org" <rtmq at fixcas.com>
- Sun, 23 Nov 2014 19:44:45 +0000 (UTC)
- Continuing Efforts: CAS London/Middlesex Come Clean!
We got official transcripts of Justice Harper's indictments against CAS, To read you need a strong drink and a strong stomach. Reads like a gothic novel. Names are there as well as agencies and services. Only clients names are vetted. Read all the gory details.
The following email was forwarded to executive members of the local Western Branch of OAPSW as well as relevant faculty members at King's College. Although Justice Harper's scathing indictment is primarily focused on the London based Children's Aid Society his criticisms are launched against social work practice in general. Copies also sent to OACAS and Ministry. Local CAS Board
We identify the major "players" identified and seek to have issues of concern identified and corrected if necessary. We believe that any apparent institutional silence is professionally unacceptable. Our modest efforts to have both OAPSW as well as King's College become more vocal in advocating for professional social work standards and addressing issues identified by Justice Harper could ensure such a silence does not continue.
I am writing as representative of a small group of Ontario based activists seeking increased transparency and accountability in child welfare practises throughout the province. I am specifically addressing my concerns to you because you represent OAPSW in this region where a precedent setting family case recently unfolded which brought about a Superior Court Judge's scathing criticism and indictment against social work in general but as practised in child welfare in particular. This tragic and horrific family case unfolded in your region.
As reported by LFP Jane Sims in April, 2014 the Children's Aid Society London/Middlesex was accused of serious bad faith and unprofessional social work practises related to an extremely high conflict custody dispute and a subsequent equally contentious child protection application made by the Society regarding three children in the family. As Sims reports "the London area’s child-welfare agency has been hit with record court costs of $1.4 million, for failing to protect three boys caught in a marathon trial the judge says was marked by a manipulative mother and a father falsely cast as an abusive monster. In a just-released written decision, the judge also ordered the mother — whom he said “manipulated the court by misrepresenting the facts in order to gain an advantage” — to pay $604,478.36, or 30% of the more than $2 million court costs. The 154-day trial, over three years, was known in court halls as “the trial that never ends.” It helped build a huge backlog in London family court cases last fall, forcing officials to prioritize child-protection cases over divorce trials. In a scathing indictment of the London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society, Superior Court Justice John Harper wrote the CAS “did not live up to (its) statutory duty to investigate thoroughly and objectively” in the case, and instead accepted the mother’s warped version as the truth. The $1.4 million is believed to be the largest financial penalty ever dished out to a child-protection agency in Ontario." Justice Harper's indictment are stinging words against the profession. The detailed trial transcript and summary of events can be accessed here. Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex v. C.D.B., 2013 ONSC 5556 (CanLII)
The gist of the indictment involves child welfare social work staff and managers assuming an inherited and biased narrative regarding the family with which they were dealing. The agency abandoned proper independent and objective evidence gathering. It abandoned the professional standards of the social work profession to which it supposedly adheres. The agency attended the identified family needs with an extraordinary measure of bad faith and abandoned any allegiance to due process. They had prejudged the family in an extremely biased manner. They had adopted, without sufficient scrutiny or evidence, a community narrative which generally assumed the mother and children potential victims of a highly manipulative and potentially homicidal father. Justice Harper's viewpoint was entirely contradictory of the narrative presented by child welfare staff. He viewed the mother as extremely manipulative and that the local child welfare staff contributed not only to mother's increasing allegations of the father's alleged potential for violence and increasingly controlling manner but also was responsible for marginalizing the father to an outrageous degree. Harper was eventually to deny and condemn the Children's Aid Society's protection application and awarded full custody to the father. The local Children's Aid Society was not the only agency rebuked by Justice Harper. A Strathroy based women's resource centre and Strathroy town police were also subject to harsh and condemning criticism. The London based Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System was also singled out for particular criticism. The Centre and the psychologist director had been designated as the court approved providers of the custody and access assessment requested in reference to the highly contentious family matter. The final report was eventually found unacceptable to the court as being an editorialized work with no professional credibility or reliability. The full report regarding expert witnesses and reliable testimony in custody and access assessments is written in the context of findings from the Goudge Commission and in light of previous expert opinions in reference to forensic paediatric findings,is found here. Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex v. C.D.B., 2013 ONSC 2858 (CanLII)
Some of the professional social workers identified in court transcripts were members of OAPSW and several identified were members of the College. The fact that even some professionals mentioned are actually part time faculty at Kings brings the importance of the indictment very close to home. One could not be blamed for believing that the court findings would be of particular interest to both King's College as well as OAPSW members. For many years Kings College School of Social Work and local child welfare authorities have enjoyed a comfortable if not a somewhat symbiotic relationship. Since the establishment of the school, King's College has placed a substantial number of social work students in various internship positions at the Children's Aid Society London/Middlesex. Many employees at the local CAS have gone on to assume positions at the college. It remains curious as to how many students and faculty at King's College are aware of Justice Harper's castigation against what he considers the abandonment of professional standards of practice. More deeply concerning is his insistence that such poor standards only exacerbated a deeply rooted and ideologically based "bad faith." Many of these same professional social workers so severely criticized received their academic training at Kings College.
The community silence to this precedent setting case has been overwhelming. Although the Society's Board of Directors, the Ministry of Children and Youth, OACAS and King's College School of Social Work have all been informed of these serious and scandalous references to dubious social work practice, not a word has been advanced in the cause of social work advocacy. No individual professional or a collateral based service organization has advanced any rebuttal to Justice Harper's unhampered criticism.
Not one professional practitioner (that I am aware) has made a single effort to make a rebuttal of Justice Harper's condemnation. One would have thought that given the professional social work resources in this community, that some retort, academic or lay, would have been undertaken. In fairness, the Society made a legal application to challenge not only the courts findings but also the awards of costs. Recently, however, this attempt at an appeal was rejected and further financial costs of several thousand dollars was made against the Society. The full financial costs made against the Society are reported here. Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex v. C.D.B., 2014 ONSC 1414 (CanLII)
Perhaps OAPSW especially the Western Division may wish to advocate and possibly challenge and rebut some of Justice Harper's extreme claims against the profession. Although our bias has been somewhat directed toward child welfare practises in Ontario, we recognize that Justice Harper's indictment against the profession needs a credible and researched response. He is not omnipotent and requires an intellectual challenge from those in or representing the social work profession. I believe OAPSW put together a programme earlier in the year regarding "high risk" families. I am not certain that all the presenters were as unbiased as Justice Harper would have preferred. Did this particular case slip by the radar? Perhaps the publicity in reference to this case was made public after your workshop was completed. A modest suggestion would be to put on another OAPSW sponsored workshop where all aspects of this exceptional case are discussed and dissected in the context of previous exploration regarding high risk cases. It is apparent that Justice Harper had strong views as to what and who exacerbated the poisonous and destructive narrative which prevailed in this case. Efforts to educate regarding values and standards could assist social workers in raising the bar in respect to their understanding and adherence of the same by maintaining their professionalism social work. It also may assist in viewing professional nuances of the same. Any serious response from OAPSW or King's College School of Social Work will also assist us in addressing the degree of culpability that the managers and administrators of the Children's Aid Society, London/Middlesex need to assume regarding this controversial and tragic family matter.
Thank you for the interest and hopeful concern.
Carole Lynn has joined with several others in Toronto and London seeking increased accountability and transparency in provincial child welfare. They are also committed to exposing the hypocrisy and contradictions of ideological organizations such as the London-based Centre For Research and Education Violence Against Women and Children.
Source: email from Carole Lynn