Ombudsman probes custody-for-care claims Ottawa parents among 12 cases Marin says emit a 'certain stench'

The Ottawa Citizen
February 7, 2009
SHELLEY PAGE

Calling such situations "abhorrent" and "cruel," Ontario's ombudsman is reviewing allegations from parents who say they've had to give up custody of their severely disabled children in order to get them into desperately needed care.

One of those complaints comes from an Ottawa family who recently put their infant daughter in temporary custody of the Children's Aid Society so she could be placed in a specialized group home for disabled children.

"I have about a dozen cases before me right now -- more than a dozen cases, in fact," said ombudsman André Marin.

"There is a certain stench that emanates from that pile. If indeed this is happening again, then it is one of the most morally repugnant things that (Ontario) government has done." Mr. Marin said he will review the cases and may launch a full-scale investigation.

When he last investigated the issue four years ago, he uncovered 113 cases in which parents had relinquished custody of their children in order to get them into group homes where they would receive round-the-clock care. His report found 196 more families on waiting lists, many of them on the verge of losing custody.

After the release of that report, Ontario's then-minister of children and youth services said she would find a way to help. "Parents, in the year 2005, in one of the richest countries in the world, should not be giving up their children," Marie Bountrogianni said.

The Ontario government dedicated millions of dollars to the problem and began to return children to the custody of their parents while leaving them in long-term, government-funded institutional care. The government also worked to provide better home care so that disabled children could stay in their homes with their parents.

"The government assured us it wouldn't be happening," said Mr. Marin, who reports a "spike" in complaints.

"The idea of having parents manufacture protection issues and then give up their kids to the state is abhorrent. ... It's a very cruel way to treat parents." He said it's a case of paying with the "left pocket or the right pocket." "The public still pays for these services. If it's an issue of budget, then you have to realign your budgets properly because it's having a very heavy toll on parents." The province's child advocate agrees.

"It's not a situation unique to this (Ottawa) family. I'm telling you (the government) has not solved the problem," says Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth.

His office continues to receive complaints. He confirms that some parents find the way to secure specialized, long-term care is to abandon parental rights and turn children over to children's aid societies. "The problem is the wait list is so long, the child might be 18 years old by the time they get accepted some place." Deb Matthews, today's minister of children and youth services, told the Citizen that parents should not have to place their disabled children with the CAS to get care. "We are really clear with the CAS that kids are not to be brought into care of the CAS unless there is a protection issue." She said she has received information about specific cases, which she is working to resolve. "If there are systemic issues we need to work on, I count on the ombudsman and the advocate to work with us to resolve that." In the Observer: Shelley Page tells the story of baby Pénélope McKeague and her parents' fight to place her in a group home while hanging on to their parental rights.

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