Friday, January 31, 2003
How is this in a child's interest?
Adopted sisters to leave happy home at native request; new foster parent is whiteChristie Blatchford
TORONTO -- A children's aid society is poised to remove two little girls from their loving would-be adoptive parents solely because the children are half-native and the agency is fearful of being accused of "cultural arrogance."
CREDIT: Colin Price, The ProvinceA children's aid society wants two sisters now living in foster homes in Ontario to be raised by a non-native woman living near the Squamish Nation Reserve in British Columbia, above. The sisters are half-native.
The phrase is contained in a recent affidavit from Cecilia Taylor, the director of children's services for the Children's Aid Society of Hamilton, who was defending her agency's decision to hand over the sisters to the Squamish Nation of British Columbia, their birth mother's home reserve.
Remarkably, given the purported rationale for the wrenching move, the woman the Hamilton society has endorsed as the sisters' proposed foster parent is none other than a 51-year-old single white woman.
Her only claim to "nativeness" is that she lives near the band's reserve in North Vancouver and is already fostering the girls' sister.
The two little girls, now two and three, were placed by the Hamilton agency with different foster families, one in Durham Region east of Toronto, the other in the Hamilton area to the west, when they were respectively 15 months and eight days old.
The older girl was seized by the Hamilton society in December of 2000, when she was about a year and was found to have been neglected by her birth parents, who were both drinking and involved in using and selling drugs such that there were threats made against them.
Her baby sister tested positive for cocaine at birth.
The birth mother is herself intellectually limited as a result of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, is a former Crown ward of the Squamish band, and was once on the Hamilton area's "most wanted list" due to her history of violence; the birth father, a non-native, is a victim of neglect, physical abuse by his alcoholic father, and sexual abuse by a stepfather.
Neither parent attended court proceedings in the fall of 2001 that saw the three-year-old declared a Crown ward.
But more significantly, neither did the Squamish Band, though notified as required by law, oppose the Crown wardship by the Hamilton agency or offer any alternative plan.
Even until last July, the Hamilton society was still putting forward the three-year-old's foster parents as her best prospective adoptive parents and as her best chance for a happy and successful life.
In a July 9 letter to the Squamish band signed by social worker Lorraine Marshall and her supervisor, the agency said flatly that moving the little girl "is not in her best interest. Due to her unstable history, there is grave concern regarding her capacity to attach to yet another caregiver," and cited an independent assessment of the child that "supports this position."
This letter also noted that "the need to honour her native heritage will be stressed with her adoptive parents."
The letter appears to have been the agency's last-ditch effort to rouse the band into either offering an alternative in a proper plan for the little girl or agreeing they would not oppose the adoption.
It succeeded, in that a few weeks later, the band sent a faxed letter from an official suggesting the 51-year-old woman as the proposed foster mother.
But the Hamilton children's aid was concerned about the plan, and in an Aug. 2, 2002, letter, Ms. Marshall and her supervisor advised that the agency's position was still that both girls would be better off being adopted by their foster families.
The critical distinction is that while the B.C. woman was not offering to "make a permanent commitment to these children" -- in other words, to adopt them -- their foster families were, and are in fact eager to adopt the girls they have grown to love.
Given that the younger girl has been with her foster family virtually all her life, and that the older one had already been placed in and then removed from two foster families who couldn't handle her behavioral problems before landing on her feet with the Durham area couple, the agency was alarmed by the prospect the sisters could end up being removed from the B.C. woman's home -- or, worse, that her birth parents might later be granted access to them should they return to the small reserve.
But even before the flawed plan was sent to the agency, the three-year-old's foster parents were told late in July by workers from the same society that had first urged them to adopt the pretty red-haired child that the Hamilton CAS director, Dominic Verticchio, had accepted the band's proposal.
And, when the foster parents asked for a review of the decision, Mr. Verticchio refused, saying in a terse Sept. 20 letter that they weren't eligible because they aren't "foster parents of this Society" -- a technicality that stems from the fact the little girl was placed with them not by the society directly, but through a smaller agency with which the Hamilton society contracts.
Jeffery Wilson, the Toronto lawyer now representing the couple in their fight to keep the little girl, says: "What is so cruel is why did the society get the family so involved, and confirm them as adoptive parents, before going to the band? That's the cruellest human element in the case -- that and the fact this would be the fifth movement of the child in her little life."
Shuttling a child from family to family, he said, is the recipe to creating sociopaths incapable of forming lasting attachments. "This is In Cold Blood," he said, referring to author Truman Capote's study of two infamous killers who sprung from similar revolving-door, abusive childhoods.
Both Mr. Wilson, and lawyer Kathy Baker of Hamilton, who represents the two-year-old's would-be adoptive parents, say that the only factor that appears to account for the society's approval of the band's plan for the sisters is the native issue. This is confirmed by many of the documents the National Post has obtained from the three-year-old's foster parents, and which clearly show that they were the apple of the agency's eye until the Squamish Nation decided, at the last hour, to flex its muscle.
As Ms. Taylor, the Hamilton society's children's services head, said in her affidavit, "I explained again that the issue of native heritage is a significant factor in the decision, and to not give it due consideration could be perceived as cultural arrogance on the part of the society."
Ms. Baker says that it was "extremely clear" at the board review of her case that "it's purely the native issue" at work. She said there is "tremendous fear of replicating the mistakes made in the '60s scoop" of native children from reserves, "but this is not about that."
Mr. Wilson is equally blunt. When the three-year-old was made a Crown ward of the Hamilton society, he said, the "same notice was given that they gave vis-ą-vis adoption" to the band, and "Where were they then?"
Just last December, family court Judge George Czutrin issued a restraining order prohibiting the removal of the two-year-old from her foster home, pending a decision on the couple's request for an Ontario government ministerial review.
Mr. Wilson, meantime, is back in court on Feb. 11, when he will try to persuade another judge to stop the removal of the three-year-old from the Durham-area home she has called her own for 22 months, or more than half her short life.
The Durham couple -- the 37-year-old mother is a family support worker, the 39-year-old father a child and youth worker -- have five children of their own, and are currently fostering two other youngsters.
"It's worked out wonderfully," the father said in an interview this week. When the little girl came to them, as the independent assessment noted, she was banging her head on the wall, had severe temper tantrums, would only sleep squatting in her crib and refused to make eye contact.
But in the organized chaos of her foster home, with the parents always driving one child or another to hockey games or other sports activities and providing consistent affection and discipline, she has made profound progress. She calls the couple mummy and daddy, her siblings her brothers, and is particularly close to her foster father, who says of her, proudly, "She's gorgeous, and she's built like a tank. I want her for my hockey team."
The governing principle in all child-welfare legislation requires that "the best interests of the child" be the paramount goal; native heritage is not deemed the overriding factor, but merely one that should be considered.
Christie Blatchford can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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