Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A child taken away because his parents were poor

A child taken away because his parents were poor
This is a second column about a three-year-old boy. He started life healthy, loved by capable but challenged parents. But he was taken from them, based on legitimate concerns, at three weeks.
The basic problem was they couldn't afford a safe place to live. He moved through three foster homes in five months and then ended up in hospital, with symptoms suggesting he was shaken while living in the third foster home.
Now he's back with his parents. He's blind in one eye, can't walk and has cerebral palsy. His disabilities are permanent. But they're all doing OK.
The Representative for Children and Youth examined the case to find out what, if anything, could have been done to produce a different ending.
The ministry has already done an internal review. It found that required steps in investigating child protection concerns were skipped, available information wasn't considered and there was too little effort to learn about the child's extended family.
Once the boy was taken from his parents, care was "not fully consistent with legislation, policy and service standards," the internal review reported vaguely. Assessment, training and monitoring of the foster home were he was living when injured were all "were not fully consistent" with policy and standards.
The review resulted in mushy recommendations to review plans and send out memos and hold meetings.
The representative didn't find that adequate. And Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond offered a reminder of what this was all about - a child a few months old, removed from his parents by the state, completely dependent on the adults in his life for all his needs.
The representative's report noted that only one thing blocked the parents from keeping their child - the lack of housing. Everyone acknowledged that.
But in the five months from the time a child protection concern was raised until the baby was hurt, no worker or agency addressed that problem.
The income assistance ministry turned the family away when they sought emergency help; the children and families ministry didn't address the housing issue. If they had been found a one-bedroom, safe apartment, even a motel room, everything might be different.
Helping the family into housing might have cost some money and time. But even at $800 a month, that would be at least 50 per cent cheaper than foster care,.
And, as the representative notes, because of the injuries "the lifelong cost of caring for this child is unknown." I'll guess though, at something well over $4 million.
But there was no evidence that the ministry considered finding a motel room or coming up with a housing subsidy as a better alternative for the baby than apprehension and foster care.
The problems - poverty and no or bad housing - aren't new. The Hughes report, in 2006, noted that poor families were far more likely to have their children apprehended. The First Nations community that was home to this family has a housing waiting list of 200 people.
The representative noted that in First Nations communities, a housing shortage means many family member share one home out of necessity. The ministry acts as if parents have a choice about where the live. So their children are apprehended "largely because they are unable to immediately create a living situation that they could not reasonably be expected to achieve."
Even if people can find their way to income assistance, the representative found, the housing allowance leaves them $200 to $400 a month short of what is needed. A family of three, like this baby boy's, is allowed $660 a month for rent. Check out the apartments and basement suites in your community and see what is available for that rent.
The result, the representative found, is that children are taken from their parents because they are poor. "This places the basic human rights of children in jeopardy and tears families apart in tragic way, especially aboriginal families trying to recover and rebuild," the report found.
The baby boy's parents kept working to reunite their family. They finally secured suitable housing in November 2008. "They deserve credit for their determination, but will now care for a developmentally disabled child while continuing to struggle with poverty," Turpel-Lafond said.
All because, instead of finding them a place to live, the state took their child away.
Next: Isolated case, or a systemic problem?


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