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One Ongoing Futile Attempt to Obtain an Independent Lawyer for a Child Over 12 Years Old as Mandated by the Nova Scotia Children And Family Services Act
Judy, you boasted about becoming the parent of all the children who have been apprehended by your government when you first took this position, but you did not bother to hear the other side of this child's story.
We know her mother requested meetings with you but you would not meet with her. This child was criminalized by the very system that was suppose to protect her - The government, saw fit to throw criminal charges against this girl when she lashed out in frustration - Did you know the basis of this frustration?
An "independent" criminal lawyer was then given to this child when these charges were thrown against her. Then, against this child's best interest, your government Legal Aid lawyers pressed this child to accept these charges instead of fighting them in court, because to do so would have not been in the government's best interest.
We also know that this child is currently being threatened with being sent back to lock-up in Truro if she contacts her mother again.
Shame on you Judy Streatch- Give this family the services, promised in the Children and Family Services Act, they need to heal from the wounds you have inflicted on them!
My name is Linda Youngson. In June 2005, with another fellow advocate, Marilyn Dey, we filed a mandamus application in the court of Nova Scotia against the Nova Scotia Minister of Community Services, David Morse, to force him to obey Section 88 of the Children and Family Services Act 1990 whereby the Minister was to appoint a committee to review the Act and its implementation on an annual basis. Two of these committee members were to be parents who had had their children apprehended by the Minister, or in fear of having their children apprehended. Since the implementation of this Act, in 1990, there had only been 2 such committees doing the job specified: in 1993 and 1996.
In December of 2005, our application went to trial with the provincial government’s main argument being that “the Crown only owed its duty to the Crown” and that individual citizens like Marilyn Dey and I did not have the right to bring this action to Court to force the government to obey its own laws!
I am part of an association of people who have had their family members apprehended by this notorious system. Though I am active in many aspects of advocacy work concerning our many serious concerns, including speaking to, encouraging and directing currently victimized families, and appearing as a witness to the court proceedings, as well as accompanying individuals as a support person, my forte is research and writing. My academic credentials include B.A. (highest aggregate), B.Ed., and M.Ed.( Psychology with a focus on Human Relations with a 4.00 GPA).
From our years of advocacy work and research, we have come to know that there is serious systemic corruption that runs through a number of provincial government departments. These departments include the Department of Community Services, The Health Department, the Justice Department, the Education Department, and the Finance Department.
The following is just one example, amongst many. Though there are many grave issues that are apparent in this case, the persistent concern that has followed this family is their inability to get independent legal representation for the child who was apprehended by this province at the tender age of seven and has been in the system for 9 years now.
Section 37 of the Children and Family Services Act states that a child who is 12 years of age or more shall receive notice of a proceeding and, upon request by the child at any stage of the proceeding, the court may order that the child be made a party to the proceeding and be represented by counsel, where the court determines that such status and representation is desirable to protect the child’s interest.”
Section 41 (4) of the Children and Family Services Act states that “Where a parent or guardian consents to a disposition order being made pursuant to Section 42 that would remove the child from the parent or guardian’s care and custody, the court shall:(a) ask whether the agency has offered the parent or guardian services that would enable the child to remain with the parent or guardian(b) ask whether the parent or guardian has been consulted and, where the child is 12 years of age or more, whether the child has consulted independent legal counsel in connection with the consent; and(c) “satisfy itself that the parent or guardian understands and, where the child is 12 years of age or older, that the child understands the nature and consequences of the consent and consents to the order being sought and every consent is voluntary.”
Despite this law, the mother has been struggling to get a lawyer for her, now, 16 year old daughter for 4 years. I and another advocate, Marilyn Dey, sat as witnesses in the courtroom 4 years ago, when the daughter was 12 years old, as this mother requested a lawyer for her daughter. Despite the law declaring a 12 year old to be mature enough to be a party to the proceedings, the Children’s Aid lawyer argued that he did not believe a child of this age should have her own lawyer because he felt that access to certain documentation would be upsetting to a child of this age.
It is important to note that this was a general observation linked to the lawyer’s personal understanding of the abilities of a twelve years old. The lawyer did not make any specific observations about the abilities of this particular child. On this statement alone - the justice disallowed the child her right to have her own lawyer.
We were appalled! Since when should the personal opinion of a lawyer come before the law! The law had declared 12 year olds to be capable - what gave the lawyer, and the justice, the justification to flippantly wave away this legal right?
It should be noted here that when senators representing the Federal Senate Committee came to Halifax in June of 2005, they raised the issue that they believed that 8 year olds were capable of having their own lawyers and were inquiring why the age had been set at 12.
While this mother struggled through the courts attempting to rescue her daughter from this system, she was denied access to her daughter. However, approximately 4 years ago, when her daughter was twelve, the Halifax Children’s Aid Society allowed the daughter to write letters to her mother. Upon receiving these letters, the mother immediately replied, but it was not until 2 years later, when the mother finally saw her child, that she discovered that none of these letters were given to her daughter.
This poor child had finally been allowed to write her mother, but because she was never allowed to receive any of her mother’s letter’s, she was left wondering why her mother had not answered. One could only imagine the rejection this child was made to feel through this ordeal. The Halifax Children’s Aid Society cannot possibly defend this action as being in “the best interest of the child”? Indeed, to do such a thing is mental cruelty!
When the daughter, was 14 years old she located and contacted her mother. When they met, the daughter stated that she wanted her own lawyer and it has been a roller coaster ride ever since.First, this mother and daughter were directed to provincial legal aid. It is important to note that there is grave concerns with legal aid because both legal aid and Halifax Children’s Aid is overseen by the provincial government - Many see trying to get a legal aid lawyer to battled Children’s Aid/Service or the provincial government Agency as nothing more than a conflict of interest!
When the mother attempted to make arrangements to see a legal aid lawyer, she was then informed by the provincial legal aid officials that she could not assist her daughter in finding a lawyer, that the child would have to do this herself. Finding a lawyer can be an daunting experience for adults. To expect a 12 year old child to do so by herself is not realistic.
Then, after being told that the child had to look for her own lawyer, the story suddenly changed - the mother was then informed that the child already had a lawyer, that the guardian ad litem’s lawyer was the child’s lawyer. This is totally incorrect information. The guardian ad litem’s lawyer is there to protect the legal interests of the guardian ad litem NOT the child.
And let me also clarify, the guardian ad litem , a person appointed to represent the child’s wishes in court in their absence, is not the child’s lawyer either. This person is NOT independent from the system, and works very closely with Children’s Aid/Service or the provincial government Agency. From our advocacy work, we are aware of blatant disregard for the children’s requests through their guardian ad litems and that there are no checks and balances in place for the children to determine if their concerns or requests have indeed been brought forward. All to often, the children naively believe the guardian ad litems have done their jobs.Children and parents are told they are not allowed to discuss court concerns during their visitations but in our advocacy work we have determined that when parents have discussed these issues with their older children, that it is not unusual that the parents realize that issues the children believed were being brought before the court were NOT!
Back to the family in question - Finally, the child did contact legal aid on her own and she was informed by the secretary that a particular lawyer had been assigned to her and she was given a card with the lawyer’s name on it. The child made many frustrating phone calls attempting to set up a meeting with this lawyer, but her calls were never returned. Eventually, this lawyer contacted the mother’s lawyer stating she had never received any communication from this child!
After this, the daughter, on her own accord, at the age of 14, left the group home in which she was residing and went to live with her mother. The Children’s Aid Society responded by serving the mother a “Protective Intervention Order” demanding her appearance in court July 5, 2005. Though the police had been contacted, the mother understood that they do not see grounds to intervene.
During this time, the Halifax Children’s Aid was refusing to allow this child to have her personal items including her prescription medication. Please note that Children’s Aid/Services and the government Agency will use such an action against a parent if they are attempting to justify taking a child away from their family.
When the mother and daughter visited the daughter’s doctor, the same doctor who was seeing this child while she was at the group home, the doctor made a direct call to the group home, in front of the mother and daughter requesting her medicine - The doctor was shocked to be told that the medication would not be forth coming .
Frustrated, the mother finally approached an independent lawyer to represent her daughter. This lawyer had already heard a number of disturbing things about the system and he indicated that he was keen on representing this child. But this possibility was shut down when the legal aid office refused to issue a certificate of service for this lawyer.
Over the next two years, the daughter spent time at the group home and with her mother. These were not visitations that were sanctioned by the system but it was apparent that both mother and daughter were determined to have a relationship. Unfortunately, no services were offered to assist with this reunification, services that were desperately needed for a mother who had last been a mother to a seven year old and a daughter who had long ago forgotten how to respond to a mother.
It is important to note that up until the child found her mother, there had been no unusual problems with her in the group home. When the child returned from meeting her mother she reported being deliberately provoked by the staff. This goading resulted in angry outbursts by the child. The first incident was throwing milk in the face of one of the house workers.
As advocates, we have no problem believing this intentional goading by individuals in the system because we have witnessed this ourselves, even during court appearances! In one case, totally unprovoked, a self-representing woman was tackled by the security guard after she had gathered her notes and was walking down the aisle towards the door. There were at least 5 court witnesses that day- one a World War 2 Vet who shouted out to the justice to do something. Instead, the justice just stood there, silently watching the spectacle for a few seconds before she turned on her heels and retired to her chamber.
In response, I quickly followed the guard and this poor woman as they rolled through the doors into a small outer chamber. When I got there, the woman was pinned half on the floor and half on the wall. Then I calmly repeated to the guard 3 times - “I am a witness- I am a witness- I am a witness” In response the woman simply stated twice “She is a witness- She is a witness”. And then, the guard backed off, without a word, and let the woman go home.
One night, a fellow advocate was shocked to get a phone call from this child. This 14 year old had been hauled off to the police station in handcuffs for the aforesaid incident, throwing a glass of milk at the worker! We were appalled . What were they trying to do to this child? Scare her into compliance? She was in tears.
Again, I ask, where is “the best interest” of this child being served? Is criminalizing this child for such action in this child’s best interest?
Over the next 2 years, this group home managed to rack up over 30 charges against this child, including missing curfew, smoking cigarette, damaging the carpet etc, as well as punching a worker in the face.
A few times this child left the group home, spending nights on the street and at times phoning one of our advocates, begging for a place to stay. Unfortunately, this was an act that was deemed too risky because this advocate had a child of her own that she had only recently gotten out of the clutches of this system. We have been informed that one absence from the group home resulted when the child had phoned to inform the staff that she was going to be a bit late making curfew and she was told that the police would be waiting to haul her off when she came in! Under these circumstances, could you blame the child for not going back?
We are aware that this child was eventually sent to “ the province’s secure treatment facility in Truro” that professes to assist troubled children. However, children in the system have reported that being sent to Truro is often used by workers to threaten them.
Now, we are deeply upset to find out that there is talk of sending this child out of province or even out of country. There is also grave concern that this child is now being deemed to be functioning at a grade four level, (she is in grade 10) and that she has all kinds of psychological problems. We do not agree with this assessment. The advocate who has been working with this child over 4 years has always described this child as being bright, well mannered (please, thank-you, your welcome), with a good head on her shoulders. When meeting with this advocate over the Christmas holidays, she was touched when this young lady brought small gifts for her and her daughter, a coffee mug and a small teddy bear.
Understand, the criminal charges against this child starting racking up only after the group home staff started goading this child after she located her mother, and all of these action are specific to the group home and group home workers.
We are also well aware that it is not beyond this system to produce fraudulent assessments. We have had assessment done by this system reviewed by well known and respected PHD psychologists. In court, they have testified vehemently against these assessments with nothing good to say about them at all! Here in Halifax, we arranged to have a PHD psychologist speak publicly on this issue. In this meeting, she candidly confessed there were a grave problem with assessments done for Children’s Aid/Services and the government Agency here in Nova Scotia .
Besides using this assessment to justify sending this child to out-of- province facilities, we have no doubt that Halifax Children’s Aid will now bring this forward to justify not allowing this, now, 16 year old child to have her own lawyer. If you review the history this child has had trying to get her own lawyer, it is not difficult to ascertain that this is the basis of this negative assessment against this child - Not to mention that this would then classify her as special needs giving the system, and the group home, more money for this child.
How ironic that this child had to be criminalized before she was allowed to have her own lawyer - a criminal lawyer- yet she has been persistently denied a family court lawyer for her dealings with Halifax Children‘s Aid!
Please understand, that we have not been able to find one child in the system who has been able to find an independent lawyer. One of our advocates, when her family was being victimized, approached a number of regular, non-legal aid lawyers to represent her child and was informed repeatedly that they did not even know a mechanism by which they could represent a child “in care”.