Big Sister is Watching
by Robert T McQuaid
In April 2001 Brooke Latanville took her baby to the doctor. Her questions about the effect on a six-week old baby of drawing blood for tests got a hostile reaction. In a follow-up call from the doctor, she asked the doctor to leave her alone. This exchange resulted in her and her husband losing three of their children for nearly a year.
In a case in Dufferin County (in most cases, real names cannot be used), a family took a child with pneumonia to the hospital. Routine x-rays revealed a broken arm that had healed without treatment, provoking immediate Children's Aid intervention. Later reexamination showed the the bone had never been broken, but Children's Aid would not leave the family alone. A year later the family fled the jurisdiction in a desperate effort to save themselves from Children's Aid.
In a high-profile case reported by all the Canadian media Children's Aid in Aylmer Ontario seized the children from a family that proudly admitted to spanking their children with objects. A few days later when CAS questioned another family from the same church, the Church of God, all the mothers and children in the church, over a hundred people, fled Canada.
Why does Children's Aid snatch children in such a trigger-happy manner? And how do they get such power?
Every year the Ontario legislature, in common with many other jurisdictions throughout the western world, appropriates money for the protection of children. Some reasons for their generosity are:
In child protection, the funded agencies identify children in need of protection, take them into what they euphemistically call `care', and fight any legal battles necessary to sever their connection with their parents. The children may be adopted, or kept in foster care indefinitely. The largest single item of expense is usually foster care.
Most of the details of the operation of child protection agencies are closely guarded secrets. For this paragraph I have to rely on an analysis by Doug Quirmbach of agencies in the USA, likely similar to Ontario. At the agency level, the administrators are faced with an appropriation providing a per diem rate for foster care. The rate paid to the agency exceeds what the agency pays to the foster parents, thereby covering overhead. The reimbursement rate also depends on the special needs of the child, that is, a child with a disability, such as mental retardation or deafness, gets a higher rate than a normal child. Consequently, the agency profits more from placing a special needs child than a normal one. One child may even have two evaluations. An evaluation at a low level of need justifies a low per diem payment to foster parents; another at a high level of need justifies a high per diem rate from the appropriation. Once a foster care placement of this kind has been made, it is a continuing source of revenue for the agency, making them unwilling to have the child adopted or returned to his parents. In Ontario, foster care rates start at $25 per day for the family, reimbursement rates for the agency for a special needs child may go as high as $100 per day.
For a person who spends appropriated funds, the worst possible sin is failure to spend all of the money available within the allotted time. To get the funds appropriated for child protection, the agencies must place the requisite number of children in foster care. Legislative generosity has placed children in foster care at levels far in excess of need.
Child protectors use terminology extending that of George Orwell. Kidnapping a child is `apprehension', the plaintiff is the `applicant', the accused family is the `respondent', the institutions of forcible confinement are called `care', a contractor who houses a child for money is a `foster parent', parents and foster parents alike are `caregivers', permanent legal separation between parent and child is `crown wardship'.
In Ontario the agency that does the child protection work is called the Children's Aid Society, so I will call them CAS from here on. A large part of the story comes from my interviews with other parents in Dufferin County Ontario, where I have been organizing opposition since my own son was snatched in 1999 at the age of three years.
What does CAS do when they have to get so many kids into foster care? They cast their net far and wide for tips. The laws of Ontario require anyone in a child care profession, such as teachers, doctors and day-care workers, to report any incident that may be construed as child-abuse. A few cases of non-reporting have been criminally prosecuted, and made known to the child care professions. The February 20, 2001 minutes of Dufferin CAS show their efforts to expand the net:
Kim Evans, Program Manager of Intake and After Hours, attended meetings re guidelines that police departments are to follow to report to CAS. These guidelines will result in a significant increase in calls to CAS, ie if there are any children present upon investigating a domestic situation, the police are to call CAS; if a child is not in an approved restraining system (car seat), the police will contact CAS, if police go into a house and don't see appropriate fire detectors they must report to CAS. This means more investigations and follow-ups.
And anyone with a grudge may use a phone call to sic CAS on a personal enemy. This system gives CAS a rich stream of leads while making parents wary of using professional services, or even public schools, for their children.
Once tipped off, social workers routinely enter homes of parents, approaching with smiles. If smiles won't get them into a home, they go through the inconvenience of getting a warrant and make an armed entry under police escort. When the children are of school age, they usually take the short-cut of picking them up at school and placing them in foster care. Parents only find out when they frantically call police after the children fail to come home. Social workers can then enter the home under the pretense of evaluation for reunification.
To get a child into long-term foster care, it is necessary to get a court order. This is usually a formality since CAS targets families that cannot afford legal representation. Even for those who do hire counsel, the process is a sham. There is no testimony, no cross-examination, no discovery, no jury, no rules of evidence. The material comes on competing affidavits, and no one can be asked a question that he is required to answer. There is no record made of the proceedings in the courtroom. Formally, the rules do provide for all of these things, but in practice the lawyers abridge the process so that they do not occur. In over a hundred families interviewed, I have found only one that had a chance to testify, and they wound up in bankruptcy and lost their children anyway. Here are some of the standard techniques:
If you don't have kids, or have not had one of your children kidnapped, you don't know what this stage is like. Seizure of children at the hands of the crown produces a distress unlike any other. I encountered the writing of a tragic mother who experienced both the seizure of a child, and the death of a child. The seizure was the far worse experience. Marriages often survive a child death, but rarely survive child seizure. The desperation of parents allows for unbounded abuse by social workers from that point on.
A natural question is whether this level of intervention achieves a beneficial purpose. I spent 9 and a half years in foster homes and boarding schools myself, and I know what they are really like. Any parent who is not homicidal is better than many foster parents. In the dozens of interviews I have conducted with parents, I found only one where the child was better off in the custody of CAS. In my experience, the number of children in care exceeds need by a factor of ten everywhere, and fifty in some jurdisictions, even more in some hot-spots. Janet M Frederick reports that in 1996 half the children in Clare County Michigan were removed and placed in foster care.
As Dr Frankenstein assembled body parts from several people to create one monster, Children's Aid is partly a government agency, partly private. Each Children's Aid is organized under the Corporations Act as a not-for-profit charity. The funding comes from the Province of Ontario. The Child and Family Services Act gives extensive powers to one officer of CAS, called the local director, or executive director. This Frankenstein structure sidesteps traditional protections from the police. An example is the right to remain silent. In police work, silence cannot be held against the accused, but CAS stigmatizes parents who remain silent. Another is freedom of information. As a non-government body, they reject all calls for disclosure, not only to parents, but even to graduates of foster care. John Dunn, age 31, grew up in Ontario foster care and the only record of his childhood is the notes kept by social workers, yet they will not let him view the documents. Still another abrogated right is protection against search and seizure. In the case of homeschooling parents Jim and Mary Ann Stumbo of Kings Mountain, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that the family had no constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure by Child Protective Services because child protectors are not state actors.
A network of laws and policies keeps the operation of social services secret. A simple tool is the law making it an offense to disclose the name of a child involved in a child protection case. This is construed broadly to apply to any name from which the child's name could be derived, such as the parent's name. In practice, the parents rarely object to publication of their names, most objections come from CAS. Parents who wish to get relief by publicizing their plight are subject to a banning order similar to South Africa under apartheid. In a case in which I put a family's story on the internet, CAS threatened not me, but the mother, with jail if it stayed there. It was removed.
The social service industry feeds the press with favorable stories. Here are some of the ones you may have encountered:
Outrages and scandals
In Orangeville, courts handle only one kind of case on any day of the week. On criminal and civil court days, the courthouse is nearly empty. On family court days, the parking lot is full, requiring a two block walk from the nearest space. The corridors are packed with people, and lawyers mill around incessantly making deals. Family court has become a principal means of state control over the lives of the people.
I have personally spoken to four women who took shelter in the local women's shelter, Family Transition Place, and then lost their children to foster care. Reports from elsewhere suggest this is a widespread practice, and in New York City it is the subject of a class-action lawsuit, Nicholson v Scoppetta.
One of the most extreme developments in social services is the shotgun divorce: a divorce imposed against the will of both husband and wife. A common technique is to apprehend children and tell one parent, usually the mother, that a divorce is required before she can see her children again. Another starting point is a domestic disturbance call. In these cases, police are encouraged, and in some jurisdictions required, to make an arrest, no matter what the circumstances. Once one parent, usually the father, is in jail, he is required to sign a document forbidding contact with his own family. Children's Aid will then intervene further, ensuring that the marriage is destroyed.
In October 2001 Philadelphia social worker Brandon Ware entered the home of a 28-year-old single mother and threatened to remove her children unless she submitted to sexual intercourse with him. He got what he wanted.
In 1999 Massachusetts DSS removed two children, Kyle and Damien, from their mother Diana Ross. In June 2001 Kyle Ross was killed by the foster family's rottweiler. DSS shamelessly took her next child, Aaron, born two months later, into their custody.
Florida DCF placed 5-year-old Rilya Wilson in the care of her grandmother. Late in 2000 or early 2001 according to the grandmother, a social worker from DCF took the child back. For a year after that, her caseworker regularly filed false reports affirming that she had visited the child. In May 2002 DCF finally realized the child was missing, and she has not been found. This case opened up a flood of stories in the Florida press about DCF, and governor Jeb Bush fired the head of the agency Kathleen Kearney (nicknamed the Terminator, for her habit of terminating parental rights while serving as a judge), replacing her with Jerry Regier, an advocate of family rights.
An examination of the law and the actions of social workers convinced me quickly that there was no remedy through the courts, only through political action. Membership in CAS is open to any adult in the jurisdiction upon payment of a nominal fee. I organized a membership drive and ran candidates opposed to the incumbents. The result two years later was the adoption of a new bylaw restricting candidates for director to those nominated by the nominating committee, composed of incumbent directors. Elections are now like those in the Soviet Union under communism, with only approved names on the ballot. A website at www.freespeech.org/herod has a record of this effort.
In addition to Dufferin, there are three other opposition groups dealing with a specific CAS, in Halton, Durham and St Thomas/Elgin. These may be the four worst agencies in Ontario. So far, there is no province-wide opposition group.
Disrespect for CAS is widespread in the child care industry. I have encountered many people who freely acknowledge that it is a harmful institution, yet none will take action to oppose it, since CAS is in a position to destroy the career of any child care professional who raises his voice in opposition. The situation brings to mind a line by Martin Luther King, history will not remember what bad people do, but what good people fail to do.