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The Kingston Children's Aid Society http://www.fixcas.com/oppose/kingston/intern.htm
What is shocking about this recent discovery of the financial abuses going on in Ontario is that NOT ONE PEEP was in our local paper! Why? Government control of our papers? They didn't want us to get any ideas?
We need an audit here in Nova Scotia as well!
Editorial: Shocking failures in children's aid
Dec. 6, 2006. 01:00 AM
http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&call_pageid=971358637177&c=Article&cid=1165359014346Toronto The Toronto Star
When young children are abused or neglected, Ontario's children's aid societies are supposed to act quickly to protect them. In far too many instances in this province, though, that is not the case.
In a damning report released yesterday, Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter has for the first time shone a spotlight on the children's aid societies. What he found was disturbing evidence that vulnerable children are being left in harm's way because of lackadaisical care, abysmal recordkeeping, weak oversight and questionable spending on cars and holidays.
McCarter's report is groundbreaking because it is the first time that a provincial auditor general has investigated this vital children's service.
To his credit, Premier Dalton McGuinty has responded quickly to the report, which documents unacceptable lengthy delays in assessing children who are at risk and putting plans in place to keep them safe.
In an audit of four children's aid societies in Toronto, York, Peel and Thunder Bay, McCarter found that in one-third of cases where a child should have been assessed by a caseworker within seven days, such visits were on average 21 days late. In one case, nearly six months late.
Just as troubling, in 90 per cent of cases where children required protection, the societies could not prove children were getting the proper care because there were no plans in place by deadlines mandated by the province. In some cases, plans were almost a year late.
Clearly, such shameful findings leave no doubt the societies have fallen down on the job of protecting children for whom they are responsible.
An earlier leak of the report highlighted scandalous spending by society staff, including expenditures on luxury cars, questionable trips and health-club memberships. But such extravagance at taxpayers' expense is only symptomatic of a larger, more important problem, which is that the societies are failing the very children they are supposed to protect.
In light of these findings, McGuinty announced the province will create a new accountability office to ensure societies live up to their responsibilities under the law to protect and care for children at risk. The office will have enforcement powers, as well as the authority to take corrective action when societies fail to do their job.
These changes should prompt the independent boards of directors that oversee the province's 53 children's aid societies to regain control of the organizations under their charge. And in light of the auditor's findings, administrators who have shirked their duties should be sacked.
McCarter also suggested this was one case where too little money was not the reason that problems arose. As he points out, "total society expenditures ... more than doubled between 1998/99 and 2004/05 fiscal years ... while key service volumes, including the number of families served increased by only about 40 per cent over the same period."
Too often, sensational reports from auditors general generate big headlines, only to be forgotten or shelved in a matter of weeks. That's why McGuinty's immediate response is most encouraging. At the same time, Children and Youth Services Minister Mary Anne Chambers has rightly directed both her ministry and all children's aid societies in the province to implement all of McCarter's recommendations.
But the moves to clean up the children's aid societies should not end there. McGuinty should ask McCarter to conduct another audit of children's aid societies next year to see if corrective measures are being taken.
Such steps are warranted because this isn't just about taxpayers' money. It's about protecting our most vulnerable children from harm.
McGuinty to rein in spending
New office to control cash after report shows taxpayers funded SUVs, trips
Dec. 6, 2006. 01:00 AM
ROBERT BENZIE, ROB FERGUSON, AND KERRY GILLESPIE
QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU
The province has slapped strict controls on Ontario's free-spending children's aid societies in the wake of a scathing report yesterday from the auditor general.
Responding quickly to criticism in Auditor General Jim McCarter's annual review, Premier Dalton McGuinty said a new accountability office would oversee the $1.24 billion distributed to provincial agencies that look after vulnerable children.
"We have not been getting good value for our dollars in terms of the money we've been sending to the children's aid society," McGuinty told reporters. "That ... $1 billion is there to support services for children. It's not to ensure that people who are employed through the children's aid society enjoy a comfortable ride to and from the workplace."
Along with the excesses revealed at the Toronto Children's Aid Society — including a $59,000 luxury SUV for an executive, $150 for car detailing, and questionable Caribbean trips — McCarter's exposé found the province is so lax in its monitoring that there is no way to know if children are actually getting the services they need.
Beyond flaws in the child welfare system, McCarter uncovered massive problems in the health-care system and spending abuses at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation.
On the medical side, he warned that some children getting CT scans have been exposed to adult doses of radiation, a possible cancer risk.
McCarter dubbed the government's much-touted listings of wait times for key treatments "misleading." His advice to patients? Take the advertised wait times "with a grain of salt."
He also pointed out huge potential for OHIP fraud, with 300,000 more health cards in circulation than there are citizens — which could be costing taxpayers as much as $150 million a year. Health Minister George Smitherman said the excess cards problem has been fixed, although this was not detailed in the report.
In the auditor general's first-ever examination of the broader public service, including hospitals, school boards, and other outside agencies like children's aid societies, his 413-page report found a litany of wasteful use of taxpayers' money — much of it on company credit cards.
With the notable exception of school boards and community colleges, McCarter told a packed Queen's Park news conference that every outside agency his auditors examined had more problems than he's used to finding within government.
"It was worse than we would typically find."
McCarter, whose office was probing the leak of part of his report to CBC Radio last week, emphasized he did not want to name names in his report or blame individuals or their agencies because there are "systemic issues" that must be addressed.
For example, the auditor general discovered the province is so lax in its monitoring that there is no way to know if children are actually getting the services they need.
In most cases, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has approved daily funding rates for children varying from $26 for the cheapest foster home to $739 for the most expensive specialized group home with little or no supporting documents about why a child should be in one placement over another.
The ministry doesn't regularly monitor facilities so officials don't know if the negotiated services, such as counselling for troubled children, are actually being provided.
McCarter found that children in danger are not being seen quickly enough by children's aid societies — in one-third of the cases he reviewed, children were seen an average of three weeks late — and, once they are in care, rules to protect them aren't being followed.
Any serious injury, assault or physical abuse of children in care must be reported to the ministry within 24 hours, but in almost half of the files McCarter reviewed, he found, on average, these reports were filed 10 working days late.
"The ministry must be more diligent in overseeing the work of the societies if it is to be assured that children in need are being adequately protected," he said.
McCarter conducted an in-depth value-for-money review on the agencies in Toronto, York, Peel and Thunder Bay, but warned similar problems are likely in many of the province's 53 children's aid societies, which deal with almost 300,000 children in total.
He found executives driving high-end SUVs worth up to $59,000, costly car-detailing charges, a gym membership worth $2,000 plus an additional $2,600 a year for a personal trainer for a top CAS executive.
As well, the auditor general disclosed instances like a CAS caseworker of "questionable competency" being paid 800 hours in overtime — or $21,000 — just to get caught up on paperwork.
With the money earmarked for children's aid societies having doubled over the past five years despite a caseload increase of 40 per cent, McCarter said it was clear taxpayers were not getting good value for money.
Children and Youth Services Minister Mary Anne Chambers said aside from the new accountability office to monitor children's aid societies, assess their performance, impose public-service standards on expenses, the government plans to make the province's Child Advocate an independent officer of the Legislature.
"With the will of this Legislature, the Child Advocate will never again be muzzled by the government of the day, but will be a truly independent advocate giving our most vulnerable children and youth the strong voice that they deserve," said Chambers, adding the party is over for children's aid societies, which were not previously subject to scrutiny.
"In an era when there were no rules, they weren't breaking any rules," she said of those involved, none of whom the government plans to have fired.
The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies' executive director Jeanette Lewis said the 53 agencies would be "acting swiftly" upon McCarter's findings.
At the provincially owned Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, also open to McCarter's microscope for the first time, he found problems at both the electricity system's transmitter and generator.
Hydro One's use of "blanket purchase orders" for the procurement of goods and services could allow expenditures to balloon under the radar of accountants. One two-year $120,000 contract was revised 39 times and rose to $6.7 million.
A top Hydro One executive's secretary also charged more than $50,000 to her credit card for goods and services — much of which was for her boss, who approved the purchases.
At OPG, $6.5 million in purchases on corporate credit cards were approved without receipts.
Energy Minister Dwight Duncan met with the chairs of both Hydro One and OPG late yesterday to discuss the findings.
Meanwhile, McCarter — recently asked to review all government ads and approve them before their release — said his office would be especially vigilant to "the heightened risk" of partisan messages in the run-up to next October's election.
McGuinty said he was taking seriously McCarter's diagnosis of what ails his government.
"Maybe it's a little bit like a visit to the doctor — sometimes you don't want to know," he said.
But Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory wasn't buying the government's excuses.
"What we have here is an all-you-can-eat McGuinty Liberal spending buffet," he said.
CAS failing at-risk kids: Auditor
Children's Aid assessments for vulnerable not timely in 73% of cases
Dec. 6, 2006. 07:33 AM
A risk-assessment system that was supposed to save children's lives is not being used properly by the children's aid societies that claimed it would protect them from abuse.
In a report laden with allegations of children's aid society executives overspending on cars, business trips and dinners, Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter also slammed the agencies for not properly conducting risk-assessment checks.
As a result, children under 16 who are living in homes where they are being neglected or abused, or are living with families with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, are not being seen within the proper time frame.
In 73 per cent of cases, comprehensive risk assessments were not completed on time — every 180 days. At one society, the last full assessment was done almost two years prior to the auditor's visit.
In one-third of the files reviewed, children were not seen within the required 12 hours or seven days — the time limits for children deemed at greatest risk of abuse. Caseworker visits were an average of three weeks late, with one being 165 days late.
The requirement to visit a child in care every 90 days was not met in 60 per cent of the cases reviewed.
McCarter looked at children's aid societies in Toronto, York, Peel and Thunder Bay. He said he did not want to name names in his report because the problems are "systemic." This is the first time that the agencies have been scrutinized.
McCarter recommended the province put strict controls on the 53 children's aid societies, noting that monitoring of the agencies is so lax there is no way to know if children are actually getting the services they need.
In response, the provincial government yesterday moved to impose strict controls on spending by the CAS, including a new accountability office to monitor performance.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said the auditor's report showed that "we have not been getting good value for our dollars in terms of the money we've been sending the Children's Aid Society."
A new risk-assessment system was introduced in 1998, giving children's aid societies a standardized means of collecting information to assess the risk to children and a basis to select services available under the child welfare system.
Deputy Coroner Jim Cairns, who a decade ago led the charge against a series of child deaths and abuse in Ontario, said he was shocked to learn that risk-assessment tools were cited by the auditor for misuse.
"I am concerned particularly after all the work we've done," Cairns said. "I am concerned about the delay in doing risk assessments on children. I would have thought that, after everything that has gone on over the last years, that this would have improved."
The auditor cites specific cases in which agencies failed to comply with the requirements of the intake/investigation process, including:
A child was not seen until his aunt and school principal called 12 days after the seven-day requirement period had passed and informed the society the child had been beaten by his mother.
Another child, whose case was rated above the threshold for intervention, was never seen because the caseworker was unable to reach the family during several attempts over five months. When contact was finally made, the mother said everything was fine and the case was closed.
One visit was never made because when the worker called 19 days after the referral, the family had moved away. (The society in the child's new city of residence was notified.)
The auditor's report made several recommendations around the use of the checklists, including the need for societies to conduct their assessments, and provide families with services during the required time frames.
"This is a resource issue, and these are documentation gaps rather than service gaps in our view," the societies said in response to the report.
Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies executive director Jeanette Lewis said the agencies would be "acting swiftly" on McCarter's findings.
The auditor's report found that funding to the Ontario societies has doubled but caseloads have gone up by 40 per cent.
"I had always heard `Oh, we're underfunded,' so I was quite surprised with the auditor's comments that their funding is disproportionate to their increase. You can't use funding as your argument for not being able to do things," Cairns said.
Cairns, who heads the Ontario pediatric death review committee, led a series of inquests in the late 1990s into deaths of children who were being watched by society social workers, often in the homes of abusive or neglectful parents.
During the same period, the Toronto Star published an investigation into child abuse in Ontario and societies repeatedly said that children would be saved from neglect, abuse and even death if they had detailed risk-assessment tools.
News release from Saskatchewan Party Caucus April 12, 2000
Department of Social Services - Do you Know Where Your Children Are?
Saskatchewan Party MLA Don Toth today said the NDP government is failing foster children in Saskatchewan.
Responding to the release of Children and Youth in Care Review: Listen to Their Voices, http://www.saskcao.ca/adult/media/Report2000/Report.pdf , Toth expressed dismay at the level of mismanagement within the Department of Social Services as described in the report.
“[These] statistics are alarming,” Toth said, “When you hear that in 74% of the case files, the standards for worker contact with foster children were not met or unknown, you have to wonder what the Department is doing.”
“This report indicates that in a lot of cases there is no record keeping done, the kids aren’t kept track of, and foster families aren’t receiving support.”
“Who is minding this Department?” Toth asked. “Obviously not the Minister.”
“The report also demonstrates there have NOT been many changes made by the Department since the death of Karen Quill and that is a huge concern.”
Toth said the report highlights many deep and disturbing problems facing the child protection system in the province.
“The caseload is incredible and there are questions raised within this report as to why so many children are ending up in the system,” Toth said.
Toth called on the Minister of Social Services to immediately act on the recommendations outlined in the review.
“This is a very comprehensive and through look at the system and the Minister needs to act immediately to clean up his department,” Toth said. “Foster children, families, communities and social workers should not have to wait one more day for a sign of positive action from the Minister.
Maverick Ruffo resigns from bench
KAZI STASTNA; KEVIN DOUGHERTY of The Gazette Quebec Bureau contributed to this report, The Montreal Gazette
Published: Friday, May 19, 2006
Almost 20 years after she took her first shot from the bench at what she sees as Quebec's grossly inadequate child welfare system, Judge Andree Ruffo's prolonged and very public battle with the province's youth protection services ended yesterday where it began: in the courts.
After Canada's top court decided not to hear her appeal of a Quebec Court of Appeal ruling recommending she be removed from the bench, she will lead her crusade for children's rights from outside the justice system.
Rather than wait to be dismissed from Youth Court by Quebec's justice minister, the only one with authority to remove a judge, Ruffo, 63, resigned yesterday morning.
"It's finished for me in the sense that I am no longer a judge," she said. "But what I want to make sure everybody understands is that I am going to continue - with more energy and certainly more freedom."
Ruffo has long been known for her strident public criticisms, uncompromising judgments and unorthodox courtroom manner.
The Supreme Court decision reflects a reluctance to challenge child protection authorities, Ruffo said. "They obviously want to protect the institution. There is nothing I can do about that," she said.
Even if the high court had agreed to hear her case and ruled in her favour, she would not have returned to the bench, Ruffo said from her home yesterday.
"I don't believe that at Youth Court judges can any longer be independent and render judgments according to children's rights and interests," she said. "I think the department of youth protection is so powerful, it has come to almost dictate the judgments."
Ruffo, who worked in youth courts in St. Jerome and Longueuil, has spent more than
$1 million in taxpayers' funds fighting the sanctions brought against her over the years.
These include a forced transfer from her jurisdiction and more than 100 complaints from youth protection workers and judges lodged with the Quebec Judicial Council, which reprimanded Ruffo 12 times.
Only seven charges of breach of judicial ethics made it before the five-judge panel, which in 2005 found Ruffo's laudable commitment to child advocacy did not justify her behaviour in court.
That panel criticized Ruffo for overstepping her bounds by aggressively pursuing certain youth centres and employees, publicly commenting on cases, accepting paid speaking engagements, appearing in a Via Rail commercial, and calling into question her impartiality by meeting and not disclosing a personal relationship with a witness.
In one high-profile incident in 1988, Ruffo ordered two teenagers for whom there was no place in foster care to be brought to the office of the health and social services minister.
Ruffo said yesterday she did not regret any of her tactics. She said many of the alleged incidents of improper behaviour were misportrayed by youth protection workers angry over her exposure of their mistakes.
The majority of Youth Court judges have got used to blindly following the recommendations of the youth protection department and making judgments based on what resources exist in the system rather than children's well-being, Ruffo said.
The Association des centres jeunesse du Quebec, which represents the province's youth protection services, refused to comment yesterday.
Ruffo remained adamant that the vocal defence of children in and outside the courtroom was part of her professional duty.
"Judges are not to be silent - for me, that's very clear."
It's not about judges being mute, she added. "It's about speaking about the rights of the children who are in front of them. When you're silent, you're always on the side of the power."
Her approach might have polarized her colleagues and made her an enemy of youth protection officials, but Ruffo said she's confident the public and parents - and the lawyers, psychologists, social workers and others working with children - are on her side.
The former judge said she is convinced her 20 years on the bench have raised public awareness and indignation about the failings of the child protection system that will soon force much-needed institutional reform.
Ruffo said she is not sure what form her activism will take now, but she will continue working with Magicians Without Borders, a Vermont-based organization that performs magic shows for kids in troubled parts of the world, and work on her ninth book. She has also given the nod to a Quebec production company that wants to make a film about her career.
One thing she will not do is enter politics - even though she has been solicited to run for office at various levels of government, she said. She noted she's been urged to campaign for office by her critics, who see it as a vocation more suited to her activism.
"It's another way (to effect change), but it's not my place. It's not home," she said.
In Quebec City, Justice Minister Yvon Marcoux declined to comment on Ruffo's decision.
But Mario Dumont, leader of Action democratique du Quebec, said he learned of her resignation "with great sadness."
Dumont said he spoke to Ruffo by telephone yesterday, calling her a symbol in the battle to correct the flaws in Quebec's youth protection system. "I think kids lost an important ally," he added.
He suggested someone had amassed a file on her because of her outspoken views.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006
Home schooling dispute leads to foster care
WILLIAM MARSDEN, The Gazette (Montreal)
Published: Saturday, May 13, 2006
Their bunk beds are empty, their toys idle, their books shelved, and their musical instruments - two violins, an electric piano and an antique accordion - tucked away in their cases.
Signs of a past life that their parents keep undisturbed, waiting for the nightmare to end; waiting for their two boys to return and for life to get back to normal.
On Feb. 15, a judge in youth protection court ordered their two boys, age 9 and 10, into foster care. The reason given was that the parents were negligent of their children's health and schooling.
But as subsequent events have proved, the reason the boys were taken away was not that the parents weren't loving and caring. If anything, it's because they cared too much. They refused to allow the government to impede their children's progress.
At the end of the day, the unyielding parents collided with a rigid bureaucracy and their relatively peaceful life collapsed around them.
Youth protection laws forbid public disclosure of the children's identities. So their names, as well as those of the parents, cannot be made public.
Furthermore, social workers, lawyers and doctors are forbidden to disclose details of their files. For this reason, The Gazette had to rely on interviews with the family and people who know the family, and on supporting medical and school documents.
Tragic stories occasionally surface about youth protection workers failing to protect children from abusive parents or relatives.
This story is different. This is a story of how a system designed to protect children resulted in two pre-teen boys being taken away from parents who had sacrificed their own careers to assure their children's well-being.
It's also about home schooling and children who need special care and what control parents have over education and health care.
"If they can take our children away, they can take anybody's children away," the boys' mother said.
"This whole thing began (in 2004) simply because we asked the school to supply us with textbooks."
- - -
Actually, it began much earlier than that.
It began when the youngest boy, who we will call Timothy, was 3 and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Timothy's pancreas had shut down and could no longer produce insulin. Insulin helps the body distribute glucose (sugar) for use as energy. When the pancreas breaks down, sugar stays in the blood where it can damage other organs. Untreated, diabetes is a killer.
Type 1 diabetes is the most severe and, for Timothy, it means that for the rest of his life he will have to inject himself with daily doses of insulin as well as take extreme care in regulating his diet, exercise regime and mental health.
As his parents would soon learn through their research, tight control and careful monitoring are vital.
"It's huge, huge," said Zaheer Molu, spokesperson for the Canadian Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. "Tight control is extremely important in assuring that the child doesn't develop complications in their 20s.
"If you don't manage it properly, you are looking at loss of eyesight, loss of limbs, kidney disease, amputation and all these complications that can start at a very early age. At the prime of your life, you can start experiencing some very, very bad things."
Timothy's parents were determined not to let that happen to their son. But their first experience with the disease taught them that if they wanted to ensure Timothy's long-term well-being, they would have to do it themselves.
"We found out he was diabetic when we went to wake him up one morning and he wouldn't wake up," his father said. "We rushed him to the hospital. He was in a coma for three days."
The reason he fell into a diabetic coma was that Timothy's doctor had misdiagnosed him, his parents said.
Excessive urination is a main symptom of diabetes. Timothy was peeing all the time.
"At 3 he was still wetting his bed every night," his mother said. "He'd be on the street and just pee his pants."
The family doctor said he was just taking longer than other children for potty training. She suggested he not drink water before he went to bed.
That was the worst advice the doctor could have given. Without water to flush out his system, the sugar built up in his body and he went into a diabetic shock.
"He almost died," his mother said.
To the parents, the lesson was clear: Don't trust doctors.
Both parents are academics who were preparing for careers as university professors. They are both strong-minded - some might say headstrong - people. Social and community activism are part of their fabric.
His mother wrote her master's thesis on sexual harassment in the university. In 1991, she won a governor-general's medal for academic excellence. She was active in university and community politics and at one point tried to run as an independent candidate in a provincial election. She also has a degree in music.
His father, who had published a philosophical reflection on John Lennon's song Imagine, was writing his master's thesis in philosophy.
But when diabetes struck Timothy, they put their careers on hold.
"I'm a republican and a conservative," the mother said. "I believe in self-determination and the sovereignty of the person. I think it makes the word 'responsibility' truly meaningful."
When institutions don't live up to their responsibilities, she and her husband don't hesitate to point that out.
Around the time Timothy was diagnosed with diabetes, his parents had a third child, who we'll call Susan. She was born with nasal stenosis, a narrowing of the nasal passage that can cause severe breathing problems in newborns. The child was sent home with an oxygen tank and the parents were forced to give her 24-hour-a-day care.
As they took on the added task of caring for Timothy, they eventually found themselves also taking on an education system that they felt was not fulfilling its mandate. Neither parent could have had any idea of the storm to come.
- - -
"You have a disease that really almost needs to be monitored by your friends and family at all times," Molu said. "Everyone really needs to have a good idea of what to do if you have some kind of low blood sugar emergency. It's almost like a community disease."
Timothy's parents set out to make sure their child was on the best regimen possible. Together with Timothy's doctor, they developed one over time that has kept him in good heath and out of hospital.
"He has never fainted or had a hypoglycemia (low blood level) or a hyperglycemia (high blood level) event," his father said.
They wanted to instill in him the discipline he would need for the rest of his life to manage his illness and recognize danger signals. But they also recognized that he was too young to be completely responsible for himself.
"I put one of those little alarm clocks in his pocket that would ring and tell him it was time to eat," his mother said. "When he's involved in something, it completely consumes him. I would watch him when the alarm was ringing and he was involved in art and he would just not pay any attention to it. That's how children are."
By 2002, he was old enough to go to school. But his parents worried that no school was equipped to watch over him carefully enough to ensure his regimen was followed.
"We went to see the principal of the school and told him what was required in terms of diabetes care," the mother said. "He told us that this was beyond their abilities and suggested home schooling."
Timothy's doctor also felt that home schooling was the safest route and wrote out a prescription to that effect.
"We decided that if Timothy was going to be home schooled we should home school his brother too," who had completed kindergarten at the time, the father said. "We made the decision to treat them equally."
The parents signed the appropriate registration forms with the Lester B. Pearson School Board and got the necessary approvals for their curriculum.
For the next two years they created a program that met the Education Department's requirements. Plus they taught the boys music, art and French.
Molu said most juvenile diabetics go to a regular school, but home schooling is becoming increasingly common.
"Teachers are very, very reluctant to (agree to give medical care to diabetics) and some of them refuse flat out to provide that kind of care because it goes against the school policies, and then there are insurance issues.
"So that is where the parents really have a struggle. Some mothers have actually had to quit their jobs, go on welfare and all sorts of things just so they can be close to their child if any kind of emergency happens. ...
"All parents need to have the assurance that their child is going to live through the day."
After spending their savings and maxing out their credit, Timothy's parents joined the ranks of those with diabetic children who go on welfare.
"We did not start out wanting to home school our children," the father said. "But when the school and the doctor suggested that it might be the best way for the first few years, we agreed.
"It was our intention to make sure that Timothy was on the right regimen and to teach him the necessary disciplines in regulating his diet, exercise and insulin. Then we began to realize that home schooling was better than sending them to a school. We could teach the curriculum in a couple of hours that was supposed to take a week at the school."
In 1979, only 2,000 children in Canada were home schooled. By 2000, this figure had grown to more than 80,000. In Quebec, schools did not used to receive money for these students; that changed this year, however, with the government paying $750 per home-schooled child to finance year-end evaluations.
For the next two years, the parents taught the boys at home. At the end of the first school year, the school tested the older boy, who we'll call Jeffrey, to ensure he was keeping up with the provincial curriculum. (It didn't test Timothy because he was in kindergarten.)
The results were excellent. Margaret Mitchell, who was in charge of home schooling at the Pearson board but now is retired, noted in her report that Jeffrey "displayed fluency and was very articulate in his reading with an excellent vocabulary." She said "he was performing above grade level."
He also performed well in mathematics; and his French conversation was "confident ... and demonstrated good expression" while his French reading "showed excellent accuracy."
Clearly the parents were doing a good job. They renewed the boy's home schooling registration and on June 16, 2003, received confirmation from Mitchell that the school had received the "required documents for Home Schooling with the Lester B. Pearson School Board."
The trouble started at the end of the second year.
"When we hadn't heard from the school board about testing the boys, I called up to make an appointment," the father said.
Much to the parents' surprise, they received a letter from the school stating that "your file is incomplete, consequently your child(ren) (sic) will not be assessed."
The parents phoned up and demanded the children be assessed. They also put their demand in writing.
But the board refused.
And that's when the battle started.
The school claimed the parents had not filed a proper curriculum. To make sure there would be no future problems, the parents wrote out a lengthy curriculum and asked the school to lend them textbooks, which they would return at the end of the year. They also asked for a tutor to be made available to evaluate the boys' progress at regular intervals.
The school board refused both requests, claiming it had no obligation to supply books. Finally, the parents went and got free books from the Kateri School in Kahnawake. But the school board refused to accept the curriculum based on these texts.
"We didn't see why we had to pay (for textbooks) and we didn't have any money anyway," the father said.
The parents filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, claiming the school was discriminating against home schoolers. The complaint is still being investigated.
When the parents persisted in their demands, the school in turn demanded that they send the boys to school.
"We told them fine, we'll send the boys to school but they have to guarantee that they can look after (Timothy)," the mother said. "They refused that and even asked us to sign a waiver saying they were not responsible if anything happened to him. That was unacceptable."
So the parents refused to send the boys to school, and the board refused to test them.
The argument between the family and the school board went on for almost a year. Then the school board called in youth protection authorities.
- - -
Every spring, English school boards dump a pile of truancy files onto the Batshaw Youth and Family Centre, the English youth protection agency, according to assistant director Susan Adams.
"We do end up with a lot of reports around this time of year because schools are basically cleaning their desks," she said.
Recently, Adams said, Batshaw complained to the school boards that they were basically dumping their attendance problems onto Batshaw's lap and that many of these files were not cases of parental neglect.
"We have tried to get the school boards to assume more responsibility for what really is a truancy issue," she said.
Pearson school board lawyer France Goyette, who is responsible for the truancy files, denies dumping files on Batshaw. She said the board is obliged by law to hand them over throughout the year as they become a problem.
Did the Timothy and Jeffrey file end up in this year-end house cleaning? Goyette would say only that the file was a "very complex situation." What's clear is that, in March 2005, a child-care worker showed up at their house.
It wasn't an urgent case. The worker gave it a "Code 3," which means there was no urgency and no need to take the children out of the home.
"Youth protection told us they would decide if the children should go to school," the mother said. "I thought, 'Great, they can ensure that (Timothy) will have the health care he needs.' "
But it didn't turn out that way.
Between March and June 2005, a social worker from Batshaw tried to straighten things out between the school and the parents. The parents, who were also hoping to get back into the workforce, agreed to register their children at the local school. But when the school could not guarantee that Timothy would get proper care, they refused to follow through.
Letters between the school and the parents indicate that the school was doing its best to try to assuage the parents' fears. The school committed itself to "provide necessary medication to the said student." However, the school wanted the parents to sign a waiver absolving the staff of "any action or inaction ... associated with the administering of medication to the said student."
The parents refused to sign because it gave them no guarantees that the school's reassurances were real.
After three months, when there was no resolution to what was essentially an alleged truancy issue, Batshaw transferred the file to the French youth protection branch, the Direction de la Protection de la Jeunesse, claiming this was at the parents' request.
"We never requested this," the father said. "We're English."
Adams would not comment on this specific case, but she said Batshaw never transfers files to the French sector without the parents' request. And even then, it would not transfer a file unless the parents and children are bilingual. Timothy's parents have only a working knowledge of French.
In any case, the parents soon found themselves in the hands of a francophone youth protection worker.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006