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Mother has 20-year struggle with Children's Aid Society

Last Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 6:45 am EDT

Summary

Lucy's fight to see her four-year-old son involves monthly, and sometimes weekly, trips between Montreal and Toronto


CAS demanding tests that are similar to a cancer-free person seeking an appointment with an oncologist


The father of Lucy's son has been in and out of custody, with one son taken away, yet is still seen as a more fit parent


Lucy* was only nine years old when she was first raped by her father and her uncle. It was an abuse she endured for years before her mother finally intervened – a intervention that likely was only sparked because she delivered a child.

Nobody called the police, nobody helped her cope, nobody helped her with therapy or counselling, nobody held her hand.

Her mother simply packed their belongings and moved to Toronto.

(*Lucy’s name has been changed to protect the identity of her son.)

But surviving incest, rape and abuse is only one horrifying chapter in a life that was largely influenced by the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST) and its workers’ actions and inactions.

Lucy was 15 when she arrived in Toronto with her mother. She thought she could start to move past the abuse she had suffered, that she could turn the page and become “a normal teenager, in a new city and play sports,” she says. But Lucy couldn’t catch a break. “Two weeks after I came to Canada, I was raped,” she says.

Police investigated and charged a family friend, but the assault “triggered the trauma of the earlier assaults,” a 2011 affidavit filed by a CAST worker reads. “The situation became overwhelming for Lucy and she openly discussed killing herself. Due to these suicidal ideations she was hospitalized for a time and later released to her mother.”

Lucy “was found to have suffered serious emotional trauma living in an abusive environment for such a length of time. Her mother was not supportive of her daughter,” the affidavit continues.

She became a Crown ward on June 2, 1994. She was 16.

“I was placed on psychiatric medications by the Children’s Aid doctor. I was never diagnosed by a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed by the children’s welfare family doctor,” she tells CityNews. “I was diagnosed with nine different mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar, adjustment disorder, PTSD, mood disorder and more.“

Usually reporters would just have to take a statement like that at face-value. CAS files are confidential – so confidential that it can be tough for clients to get their whole comprehensive file, complete with hand-written notes by social workers and activity logs.

But Lucy is in the biggest fight of her life – a fight to once again see her four-year-old son. It’s a fight that involves monthly, and sometimes weekly, trips back and forth between Montreal and Toronto, weekly two hour bus trips to parenting classes, accusations of drug use and criminality and boxes of Motherrisk tests, social workers’ notes, police reports and affidavits. And those boxes of secret, confidential notes and reports offer considerable insight into the inner workings of CAS.

Lucy hasn’t seen her son DT for several years. He was apprehended at birth, in part, because of her previous addictions, her mental health, an abusive birth father and “a lack of support network.” She spent years trying to prove her sobriety.

She and DT’s father – who has an extensive criminal record and a history of domestic violence against several partners – are no longer together. She has engaged in and completed several parenting courses and worked to create support networks. But she couldn’t disprove her history of mental health issues, or that she has the capacity to parent.

Lucy lost visitation rights to her son in 2013. He now lives with his birth father – a man who has been under various CAS investigations since 2000, who has had a child removed from his care, and who, according to a 2012 CAS affidavit “has not taken an active role in improving his parenting ability … has been abusive in his relationship … resulting in injuries, criminal charges and convictions.”

“They think that because I have a past, I’m going to let them justify my future. It’s not happening.”

But sometime over the following years, he became the “choice” parent for CAS workers while Lucy struggled with Motherrisk tests that she, and several addiction workers, claimed were inaccurate, and then the fight to prove her sanity.

Lucy spent years on an alphabet soup of psychotropic medications: Chlorpromazine, Risperdal, Trazadone, Paxit. It’s well-documented in a 2011 affidavit and a CAS medical history which outlines every illness Lucy endured while in CAST care. A gynecologist, urologist and rheumatologist were consulted to compile the history – but not a single psychiatrist or physician that prescribed Lucy that long-list of medications.

“Even though I am not a doctor, my experience working with clients who are struggling with concurrent disorders who are on medication caused me to become concerned that Lucy might have been taking too many medications at the time,” reads a 2012 affidavit from an Addictions Case Manager who had worked with Lucy for several years.

The Addictions Case Manager referred Lucy to a psychiatrist, who according to Lucy, “took me off all the medication. I went from being on nine different medications to two. I was on Zoloft and Lorazapan.”

She “became much more stable mentally once she started her new medication regiment, Lucy then started to attend the Women’s Own Day Program, in group she presented as less irritable, more coherent, more organized … ” the case manager writes.

There were positive letters from the Centre Jeunesse de la Montregie (Quebec’s equivalent to Ontario’s CAS), including a 2014 letter to CAST where they point out her commitment to meeting CAST’s expectations – and the lengths to which she’s prepared to go. Lucy “has also been participating in parenting classes. These classes are out of the region but she manages to find her way to and from without our assistance. The classes are recommended for parents who are accompanied by their children, and though it is hard for her to be in such a group with parents who have access to their children, she manages to get through the classes and take the essential information back with her.”

But despite these improvements, and an eventual conversation with the psychiatrist who did not believe Lucy suffered from a long list of mental illnesses, CAST demanded she get reassessed, with a full psychiatric assessment, at her own cost.

“The Society cannot describe a detailed “assessment” (as has been requested) without understanding what this psychiatrist is working on with (Lucy) … and if this psychiatrist is willing to speak with the Society,” a 2014 letter from CAS counsel to Lucy’s representative reads.

Lucy couldn’t access this care, in part because she says physicians wouldn’t refer her to services she didn’t need. It’s like a cancer-free person seeking an appointment with an oncologist, it’s not going to happen, and if it does, it won’t be covered by provincial health care. She even went to a hospital emergency room to claim she was in crisis to get this evaluation – but they refused her request.

Lucy was the victim of a moving goal post – no matter how hard she worked – she couldn’t meet CAST’s expectations.

Lisa Tomlinson, CAST’s Director of Intake, acknowledges it’s been a problem in the past. “Often we would believe that creating safety meant going to a parenting group or having clean drug screens – and they’d do that and (the worker) would say “okay, now I want you to do this, or that” and cases would go adrift where families didn’t know necessarily what they were supposed to do. There was no clear direction.”

She says the society is working to change the way they approach child protection, with a focus on building support networks for the family as a whole. “Building a network might include – who would you call at two in the morning?” Tomlinson tells CityNews. “Let’s get those people to the table, let’s talk to them about safety. Yes, those programs are important but they’re not the core of who we need at the table.”

“What we have learned, in a very, very hard way is that workers need to be trained better,” Suzan Fraser, an advocacy lawyer, tells CityNews. “They need to be trained through a comprehensive process, which we are waiting for the province to announce what it is they’ll do in terms of training, and that workers need to be trained and supervisors need to be trained as well to constantly guard against that tunnel vision that we can see in these cases – that ultimately became tragedies.”

Fraser isn’t involved in Lucy’s case, but her work with the Katelynn Sampson and Jeffrey Baldwin inquiries have led her to believe that many CAS social workers suffer from tunnel vision.

“One of the big challenges is that social workers are sometimes subject to the same tunnel vision we see in policing. It’s really important for workers to learn to revise their judgements, to learn how to get good information at the outset of an investigation and then to revisit the quality of that information and the value of that information as the investigation proceeds.”

Irwin Elman, the Provincial Child and Youth Advocate, says tunnel vision can lead to a lot of poor decisions. “The issue of what is called confirmation bias or tunnel vision comes up where you get an impression of a parent … and you make all decision based on that family or child on that initial impression. So everything you see confirms that initial idea. ‘Oh this child is never going to get anywhere in school’ because he had a bad grade 2 and now they’re in grade 11, but you’re still looking at them through the lens of ‘this kids never going to be good at school.’ And that’s problematic because all the data and information you receive in is seen through that lens.”

It could be part of the reason that CAST social workers advocated for RT to have access, and ultimately, full custody of DT (Lucy’s son). “This CAS goes and puts the life of a child in the hands of not only a documented woman abuser, but a documented child abuser – something is wrong with the system,” Lucy says wiping away tears.

Documents obtained by CityNews reveal that not only were there initial concerns about RT’s abusive and criminal past, but that CAST had been involved with him several times over the past 16 years. At one point a child was actually removed from his care when he was jailed on charges of assault, assault with a weapon and choking. “Police state they are concerned father will resume caregiving duties … upon his release and feel this would be unsafe,” reads a 2006 case note. That child remained in his mother’s custody.

“A judge takes away one of his children and then give (him) full and sole custody of DT,” Lucy exclaims. “There’s reports and documentation going back five years of RT and child abuse. And the child welfare society go and lets him pick up another child.”

CAS workers acknowledge he has a lengthy history. “I did review the material, and discussed physical discipline allegations, however, did not explore everything in detail as some of the concerns did not go onwards to ongoing services,” a social worker writes in a case note. Some of those cases were closed with the explanation “whereabouts unknown” – workers couldn’t find him.

And in this case, workers appeared to downplay his use of recreational marijuana in the home and even treated his less-than-stellar attendance at parenting classes as minor set-backs. “Bad news to report,” reads a 2013 CAST case note. RT “missed the group this week. Not sure why he missed it. As per the rules he is discontinued,” it continues. “Depending on what the reason is … may make an exception but this has to be discussed. The concern is (that) it is not fair to the other participants.” CAST workers were willing to bend the rules to accommodate RT and his truancy, but were consistently increasing demands on Lucy.

“What we’ve heard from past cases is that sometimes there’s a narrative of who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy or that there’s a certain judgement that becomes the prevailing judgement,” explains Fraser.

“For example, with the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest – Elva Bottineau was a caring grandmother and that became the prevailing narrative, making it very hard for workers to question that judgement. That became the prevailing analysis, so child after child went to live in the Baldwin-Bottineau home, and what we found out was that she was not a good guy. She ended up being a murderer.”

And when it comes to Lucy – the analysis seems to be that Lucy is the bad guy. A 2012 letter from her counsel to CAS counsel suggests Lucy’s support network felt CAS was working against them.

“The conversations reported to me by the worker from Margaret’s are especially troubling,” the letter reads. “She reports that the CAST worker is not only reluctant to answer questions or work with her, but that the worker is also making comments that can be considered disparaging of Lucy.”

Perhaps more damning is the 2012 affidavit from Lucy’s case manager who swore “this was the most difficult and least collaborative relationship I have ever had with a Society worker.”

Elman says inexperience can play a role in bad decision-making. “Frankly, you come out of university with a social worker degree and one of the jobs you’re likely to get, if you’re going to get a job as a social worker, is in a Children’s Aid Society in those child protection calls,” he explains. “Yet, you’re somebody who has the least amount of experience in doing the work.” It’s not clear how long the CAST workers involved in Lucy’s file were employed.

It doesn’t appear to matter – at least not now. A judge ruled earlier this year that Lucy’s access to her son should be suspended permanently, in part, because the four-and-a-half year old doesn’t know his mother.

Fraser says once decisions are made, it’s tough for them to be reversed. Lucy would have to “to demonstrate that the child isn’t safe, it’s really a shifting of where the burden lies.”

It’s a burden Lucy says she’ll bear. She’s been sober since before DT’s birth, she’s in a supportive relationship and she says she won’t give up.

“They think that because I have a past, I’m going to let them justify my future. It’s not happening.”