Home Advocate Prince Edward Island child advocate seeks review of case involving boy sent to Alberta

Prince Edward Island child advocate seeks review of case involving boy sent to Alberta

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The Prince Edward Island Child and Youth Advocate is calling on the Department of Community and Social Services to conduct an internal review of how child protection officials handled a case that led to a judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Even if that happened, says Marvin Bernstein, he would still reserve the right to make an impartial review of the circumstances, from the point of view of protecting children’s rights.

In 2019, the director of child welfare ordered a young boy removed from his grandmother’s care in Charlottetown, placed with foster parents he didn’t know for four weeks, then sent to Alberta. to live with the biological father he had only recently met.

“In my experience, this is very unusual and would not reflect good practice,” Bernstein told CBC News in an interview.

“Because you don’t treat kids like furniture sticks. They’re human beings, and you start moving kids around and you really affect their life trajectory, in terms of setting up a placement and taking them out. of a child of a caretaker who, for all intents and purposes, seems to be meeting the needs and developing a strong relationship with that child.”

“What are you doing to the child?”

CBC News is not naming the boy or any of his relatives because he was at one point in provincial custody.

Child protection officials removed him from maternal grandmother’s care while he was at summer camp. The boy in question is now eight years old and has never returned to Prince Edward Island to visit his mother’s family.

Aside from what you do to the adoptive parent or the grandmother, what do you do to the child, in regards to this unannounced disruption?– Marvin Bernstein, Child and Youth Advocate

“Apart from what you do to the adoptive parent or the grandmother, what do you do to the child, in terms of disruption without notice?” Bernstein wonders.

The child at the center of the custody case lives with his father in Alberta, but his grandmother in Prince Edward Island still has her dinosaur-themed bed prepared and ready for his return. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

The attorney was keen to point out that he knows child protection cases are difficult “and have a huge impact on children and families in this province.”

He said workers and managers want to do the right thing for the children and need the ministry’s support to do so.

“It’s also sometimes easy to apply hindsight and speculate on what could have been done and what could have been done differently.”

Many concerns

But he said the case as described in the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous written decision on June 3 raises serious questions for him.

Among them:

  • “When a child protection agency seeks an independent and unbiased assessment of parenting capacity, it should not use an assessor, psychologist or psychiatrist who has worked with either parent” , as was done in this case, Bernstein said. Prince Edward Island officials supported the advice of a psychologist hired by the father recommending him over the maternal grandmother, whom the psychologist had never met.
  • “The other element that was curious was the fact that the ministry made this decision to support the father without meeting the father and without presenting the child to the father.”
  • “I think we need to look at the timeliness of decisions,” the attorney said. “There have apparently been a lot of delays, approaching the violation of legal deadlines. Children have a different perception of time. These decisions need to be made faster, faster.”

How about a child custody case?

Bernstein pointed out that shortly before the child was apprehended by the province, the maternal grandmother had been recognized as the legal parent, and another type of legal process would have been triggered.

This would be a pure child custody case, not a child protection issue.

“The only way child protection officials or the department could change that was by virtue of an apprehension. So there should be serious child protection concerns. This child should be in immediate danger under the care of a grandmother to justify this kind of action.”

There was never any suggestion that this was the case; the court decisions all agreed that the only allegation against the grandmother, and unsubstantiated at that, was that she spoke negatively to the boy about his father.

The grandmother of a Prince Edward Island-born boy at the heart of a recent Supreme Court of Canada custody case holds a picture of him during a recent interview. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

“Once you had a competition between two legal parents, one who was the biological father and the other who was the grandmother, there was really no need for child protection to be involved. in the case,” Bernstein said. “It could have amounted to a simple custody application.”

The boy had no legal representation

If the case had been treated as a custody application and the department had opted out of the proceedings, “then a court could have ordered that a child could have legal representation at that age.”

That help could have come from the Provincial Children’s Advocate, a position created in 2017 to better protect children at the center of difficult custody disputes.

“If this was a custody case, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer could have been engaged,” Bernstein said. “Because it was a child protection case, they can’t.

“So we have to sort that out…so that the child has a voice in the process. We don’t have a structure in this province right now for that to happen. Other provinces do.”

MPs work on changes

Liberal MP Gord McNeilly, who chairs the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development, is among provincial politicians seeking to change some of the child welfare structures.

“It’s a very, very strong decision, and it makes us watch,” he said on Tuesday. “We need to review our policies, we need to review our procedures and we need to review the next bill to make sure we’re doing it right.”

Liberal MP Gord McNeilly chairs the province’s Standing Committee on Health and Social Development. He calls the child custody case that made it to the Supreme Court of Canada “heartbreaking.” (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

He too would like to see a review of the case of the island boy who now lives in Calgary, saying: ‘It’s very heartbreaking, it’s tragic.’

But he said it was based on “just what I see on the outside”.

He admitted not knowing all the facts of the case and stressed that child protection officials “have to make tough decisions” while keeping the best interests of the child in mind.

Green MP Karla Bernard says a rewrite of Prince Edward Island’s child welfare legislation, which is currently in the draft stage, could help prevent such situations in the future – if it involves enough consultation and feedback.

“If you have policy and legislation that is good, solid and strong, the language is good, you are going to make it clear to people, which will make it easier for them to do their job and do it consistently every day. time,” says Green MP Karla Bernard. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

“When you don’t have clear, concise legislation, it leaves room for interpretation, for people’s own biases, for people’s own beliefs, whatever, to seep in,” she told CBC. News.

“So if you have policy and legislation that’s good and solid and strong, the language is good, you’re going to tell people that clearly, which makes it easier for them to do their job and do it consistently. Everytime.”

The Department of Social Development and Housing said this case, and others, are helping to inform an ongoing legislative review. In a statement, he said that “well reasoned and informed amendments to the child protection law will be presented to the Legislative Assembly for consideration by means of the proposal Child, Youth and Family Services Act this autumn.

‘Define a bar’

Overall, Bernstein said the case left him with more questions than answers.

“I have no authority or jurisdiction to review judges’ decisions,” he said. “But I can scrutinize and examine the actions of a reviewable service where it is reported, where it is highlighted by a court.

“It’s the Supreme Court of Canada. It sets the bar high for child protection across the country.”