National Post

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Friday, December 17, 1999

11-year-old's school essay sparks children's aid probe
Girl, mother questioned about reference to abuse
Don Lajoie
The Windsor Star

Ted Rhodes, The Windsor Star
Jolina Scalia, 11, holds the stories she wrote that instigated an investigation of her mother, Laura, left, by the Children's Aid Society. A CAS caseworker came to her school to interview her after a teacher raised concerns about references to an 'abusive' father.

WINDSOR, Ont. - A mother is furious that a fictional story her daughter wrote for a Grade 6 provincial assessment test led to a visit from children's aid officials investigating her for child abuse.

Laura Scalia said the intervention of the Children's Aid Society of County of Essex, first at her daughter's school and later at her home, has left her feeling "embarrassed and stigmatized."

Of the 280,000 Grade 3 and Grade 6 children tested across the province in May, between 70 and 75 cases similar to Ms. Scalia's were referred to children's aid agencies for investigation.

Ms. Scalia said a children's aid official visited her 11-year-old daughter Jolina's Grade 7 classroom last week, calling her away from her studies and asking her if her mother was "abusive, a screamer."

The official then paid a visit to the mother to question her about the possible meaning in the story.

"This accusation was just thrown at me," Ms. Scalia said. "They had no evidence, just a story. No effort was made to substantiate who I or my daughter are. It was very embarrassing."

Ms. Scalia, a single mother, said she was eventually told the investigation was over, but said that did little to put her at ease.

"It seems so easy for them to screw someone's life up," she said.

The incident began when a teacher marking provincial tests for the Ontario Ministry of Education's Education Quality and Accountability Office in Toronto singled out the story for investigation.

Jolina's story begins: "One cold night in a run down house there was a little girl named Anna, a loving mother named Mary and an abusive father named Rick."

The written composition test goes on to detail how the little girl came to school one day with a black eye.

Keith Baird, senior policy advisor with the EQAO, said that teachers who mark the tests have a "professional obligation" to take action if they suspect a child may be a victim of abuse.

"Teachers mark the tests and they have a legal responsibility, a professional obligation, to disclose," Mr. Baird said. "Of course, there is a certain amount of judgment involved."

He said the policy is to err on the side of caution when the question of a child's safety arises. Ms. Scalia said she can understand the caution but wants to know why her child was called out of class and confronted "by a stranger."

She also wants to know why no apparent effort was made to contact school counsellors or officials to ascertain if there was any basis, apart from the test story, to form the suspicions of abuse.

Bill Bevan, the executive director for the Children's Aid Society, said he could not speak specifically about the case, but added that each investigation is treated differently depending on circumstances.

He said workers carry out their duties in a "respectful way" but some parents may still be upset by the personal nature of the questions.

Jolina said she was surprised by the CAS visit, and did not know what the organization was.

"The woman was there for about 20-25 minutes," she said. "She asked me if I was the girl, if I knew any children like that, if my mom was a screamer. I looked at her, like, 'Lady, what are you here for?' "

Jolina explained that her story, called Best Friends, was entirely fictional and that she wrote it as a story of love and loyalty between two girls, one who comes from a cruel family and the other who befriends her. She said there is no abuse in her family.

Ms. Scalia said the woman then visited her and showed her the stories. After answering the woman's questions she was told the "file would be closed."

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