Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday 13 June 2000

Baby taken by CAS to go to grandmother

Mother's disability not a parenting issue, judge says, ordering 3-month placement

Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen

A young mother with cerebral palsy and her husband have for now lost custody of their firstborn child after an Ottawa judge ruled yesterday that the baby boy is in safer hands with his maternal grandmother.

Justice Jennifer Blishen stressed that her order is a temporary, three-month measure, and that the young mother's disability, which forces her to use a motorized wheelchair, does not prevent her from being a good parent.

However, the judge said the baby boy, who was born healthy on May 26, is, in the short term, at risk of physical harm. She found that the baby's father had been "overwhelmed" caring for his wife alone and that there were hygiene problems at the couple's apartment as recently as June 3.

The decision, which saw the Children's Aid Society prevail in its effort to place the baby out of the couple's home, left the baby's mother and grandmother in tears.

While the court arguments preceding the decision pitted mother against grandmother, outside court, the grandmother comforted her tearful daughter, saying: "At least he's with family."

Earlier this month, the CAS seized the boy from hospital when he was just five days old and placed him in foster care. The agency was first alerted to the case when the mother was eight-months pregnant, and an Ottawa Hospital social worker expressed concerns about the couple's ability to cope once the child was born.

The baby's 26-year-old mother and her 22-year-old husband fought the CAS last week in court, contending the CAS had focused on her disability in taking away her baby, literally as she was breastfeeding in hospital.

The couple cannot be named because their child's identity is protected under the Child and Family Services Act.

The judge noted that the parents are eager to learn parenting skills, and that they have sought and received help from a homemakers service and a visiting public health nurse. It was the nurse who stated this month that the unsanitary conditions at the apartment raised concerns about breastmilk pumped for the baby becoming contaminated.

Judge Blishen said that the services now in place are inadequate. The couple needs attendant and respite care to ease the responsibilities and demands on the father, who must care for his wife, his disabled father and baby boy, she said.

The couple is on a waiting list for attendant care, but none is available until January 2001.

Judge Blishen ordered that the parents and grandmother co-operate in arranging lengthy visits so that the baby can be with his parents. The parents are to demonstrate they can keep a clean home.

The mother is never to be left alone with the baby. Court heard last week that the father, when under stress, sometimes left his wife to go for walks. Court also heard that the mother was unable to burp or turn her child on her own.

The judge also ordered that the father attend stress or anger management counselling. Judge Blishen found that the father has reacted angrily when frustrated or under stress, but she did not find, as the CAS had submitted, that the father was physically abusive to his wife.

Outside court, the grandmother spoke to reporters while clutching her daughter's hand. "I think it's all going to work out in the end," she said.

She faulted the provincial government for failing to provide sufficient services to assist women in her daughter's situation. "She's in desperate need," the grandmother said. "Our tax dollars are supposed to go for services like this."

Lawyer Danielle Dworsky, who represented the father, said poverty was an issue in the case. Had the parents been well-off, they could have bought the services they needed, she said.

The judge's decision is open to amendment. She is to meet in-camera with the parties and their lawyers June 29 for a progress report. Depending on what an update shows, the three-month term for the mother to have custody may be adjusted following legal submissions.

The parents, however, said that they have another tack to take. They are Mormons, and said they will seek the assistance of church lawyers to fight the CAS. The church, they said, operates a separate child welfare system and may seek to figure in the child's future.

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen