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Persisting Dilemma

December 2, 2014 permalink

Ontario's parents are still faced with the dilemma of surrendering their children for treatment, or getting no treatment. Dr Nicole Desmarais of Sudbury is the latest example. André Marin reported on this eight years ago in Between a Rock and a Hard Place.



Give him up to get him help: Sudbury mom's terrible choice

Nicole Desmarais
Dr. Nicole Desmarais, a family physician in Sudbury, is being forced to make an impossible choice: make her adopted son a Crown Ward, or the province won't pay for the intensive mental-health therapy he needs to recover. She is suing the province for $10 million, but she has to decide by Friday, when he returns from a residential assessment centre.
Photo by Darren MacDonald.

Surrending her son to the state only option for treatment

A Sudbury woman is being forced to surrender her parental rights to her severely mentally ill son so he can get the care and therapy he needs to give him a chance at a normal life.

Dr. Nicole Desmarais, a family physician in Greater Sudbury, says the boy – whom she adopted from Serbia five years ago when he was four – is scheduled to come home Dec. 5 from a residential placement in southern Ontario. She has been told if she doesn't make him a Crown Ward, she will have to rely on care in the community.

But because of his severe needs and violent behaviour, there's nowhere in Sudbury that can – or will – offer her respite or give him the intensive treatment he needs.

“I should not have to give up the rights to my child for him to receive the care that he needs,” she said, in an interview Sunday at her home. “It's crazy … Who else is going to stand up for him?”

In June, she launched a $10-million lawsuit against the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services in an attempt to get her son treatment without having to give him up to the state. But the court system moves slowly, and now she faces a Friday deadline.

“We're up against Goliath,” she said.

Violent and self-destructive

Desmarais's son suffers from a severe case of reactive detachment disorder, a condition where the brain fails to develop in key areas because they are not cared for properly as babies and don't form the normal emotional bonds. He also has complex developmental trauma disorder, which results from prolonged abuse or neglect at a young age.

In her son's case, he is extremely violent and self-destructive. He has attacked her other children, the children of family and friends, caregivers, pets and has harmed himself. In one of the more extreme cases – and there are many – he was found strangling a two-year-old with a cord.

“(The baby) was already turning blue when we found him,” Desmarais said. “When we asked him about it, he told us how great it was.”

He has threatened to kill his siblings – and has attacked them at different times – as well as her new partner, who still has three dislocated ribs as the result of one of the boy's outbursts. Her son has hidden broken glass in his sibling's beds, molested other children, stolen knives and other weapons, hurt family pets, killed the pet of a caregiver – the list goes on.

He has been assessed a total of 23 times, something Desmarais says has been repeatedly required by different social services agencies she has dealt with in trying to get help. There is a place – Bayfield Treatment Centres – that can offer the sort of intervention that would give him a fighting chance to recover.

Costly treatment

With proper treatment, she said, there's a reasonable chance he will learn to stop his behaviour and learn to channel the aggression in positive ways. The earlier he is in treatment, the better chance he has to get better.

But it would be costly. He requires the care of two workers at all times, and his treatment would last at least two years, and cost about $1,000 a day. In a report on her son, Dr. Umesh Jain, from Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, said Bayfield is the only centre he's aware of that can help. Desmarais's son, he wrote, is on the high-end of the risk scale.

“In fact, of all the children I see, it probably represents one per cent of the highly dysfunctional children that are out there,” Jain said in his report. “If he does not receive (appropriate intervention and treatment), particularly as he enters adolescence, he will definitely be a high-risk candidate to society.

“Even now, he is a legitimate threat to others … For all intents and purposes, (he) is an out of control wildcat.”

Jain recommended the boy receive one to two years of treatment at Bayfield, but likely needs longer than that. He also criticized government policies that require Desmarais to surrender her child in order for him to get treatment.

“Frankly, this is a systems issue,” he wrote. “It is (her son) who is suffering, because he's not getting the interventions that are necessary.”

Deplorable conditions

When Desmarais and her ex-husband took in the boy, it was the fourth child they had adopted internationally. Before they travelled to Serbia to pick him up, they were told he had some medical challenges, but was otherwise thriving.

“But we were misled,” she said.

Her son lived on the street with his mother until she abandoned him at six months. He underwent several surgeries for a kidney problem, and lived in an institution for 3 ½ years where he spent days locked in a room, left alone in a crib or tied to a mattress on the floor. Later, he shared a room with two other disturbed children, isolated and living in deplorable conditions.

Despite his obvious issues, Desmarais and her husband agreed to take him home – although she admits she had second thoughts. But her other adopted children – two from China, one from Georgia – overcame their challenges and are now thriving. If we love him enough, she thought, he will recover.

“And we couldn't leave him there,” she said. “When you see the conditions for yourself – I mean, you wouldn't treat an animal that way.

“It was a very difficult decision. But he was only four and we thought we could make a difference.”

He was non-verbal at first, but a few months after he started school in Canada, he was already speaking French, so he was clearly intelligent. But his violent and antisocial behaviour escalated, and included urinating everywhere and smearing feces on walls, in addition to violent attacks on everyone but Desmarais herself.

“He's good with me,” she said. “I help regulate him ... But he was becoming more and more aggressive.”

'He deserves better'

The strains of raising him contributed to the end of her marriage, and the problem behaviour escalated. He has said he plans to kill his siblings and his mother's new partner, and has even said the order in which he was going to do it. At one point, he held a knife to her partner's throat and said, “This time is practise. Next time, it's for real.”

He has been in residential institutions numerous times for assessments, and each time he was returned with promises of respite help. But his problems are so severe, they can no longer get help in Sudbury because her son is too dangerous.

During one of his live-in assessments, he was allowed to come home for Halloween. They found him covered in bruises and rug burns, a result from having to be restrained during his violent outbursts.

“He is unmanageable,” she was told by staff at the facility. “You need to give him up and make him a Crown ward. It's the only way he's going to get the treatment he deserves.”

She was told Nov. 25 that he was coming home Dec. 5, which means she'll have to make a decision by then. That's when she decided to go public with her story, because she's faced with an impossible decision: take him back, even though he's a clear threat to her other children; or surrender her rights as a parent to the little boy she loves, despite all that has happened.

“I can't take him home because he's going to kill one of my other kids,” she said.

Giving up her rights to him, Desmarais said, and severing the bond with him will cause more damage, since his underlying condition is connected to not forming a bond with his birth mother and being severely neglected as a baby. And despite his behaviour, she said her other children love him and talk with him regularly on Skype.

“We tell them he has an illness – that he's sick,” she said. “This kid has lived nothing but trauma and abandonment for his whole life. He deserves better than that.”

An underlying issue, she said, is the way mental-health is treated in Ontario, as opposed to physical health. The province would never dream of forcing a family to surrender a child who is physically sick, she said.

“The system is wrong,” she said. “If this was leukemia, the government would be willing to pay for it. But but because it's a mental illness ...”

And on a personal level, she said it would be devastating to give up her son.

“It would be losing one of your children,” she said. “No one in their right mind would fight so hard for so long for someone if they didn't love them.

“You should not have to give up the rights to your child for them to get the help that they need … How can that be possible?”

Source: Northern Life