Kids First Parents Association of Canada

Mother of Home Alone 8-year-old to BC Premier: “I Felt Bullied”

Media Release October 6th, 2015 -- email letters included

Kids First Parent Association of Canada

In letters to BC Premier Christie Clark the mother of the eight-year old at the centre of a recent ruling by the BC Supreme Court describes feeling "harassed and bullied" when Ministry of Child and Family Development staff threatened to apprehend her children. She says she has spent over $20,000 on legal fees, and calls for meaningful oversight of social workers to prevent “irreparable damage” to families.

In the September 23 email, "BR" also alleges that the social worker asked to interview her child but refused to allow a witness to be present or to have the interview recorded, and strongly discouraged her from seeking legal advice.

The September 29 emailed response from Alex Scheiber, Deputy Director of Child Welfare, on behalf of the Premier affirms that the age of 12 is a "guideline" only and that “actual age can vary significantly depending on a number of factors”. (See BR’s email, Schreiber’s reply and BR’s response below.)

The hearing at the Provincial Court on the use of age as the sole criteria for initiating the investigation and the presentation hearing concluded September 20. A decision is expected in two months.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM LETTER TO PREMIER FROM BR: “I AM THE MOTHER OF AN 8 YEAR OLD CHILD”

  • The initial complaint was from “a neighbour who works for MCFD …[who] had issue with me parking on the public street in front of my house and the day before made her irritations known”.
  • When asked to sign an agreement hand-written by Tracey Mitton, a Social Worker in Terrace, BR said she needed to talk to a lawyer first. Ms Mitton “stated that I might as well sign her agreement because I would be wasting a lot of time and money as the courts will always side with her.”
  • Ms Mitton then threatened to apprehend her 2 children if she did not follow Mitton’s “plan”.
  • “I asked if she was threatening me to which she responded ‘no, I'm just telling you the facts.’ ”
  • “I had asked if the interview could be recorded and was told that it would take too long to arrange. I then asked if a third party could be witness and was again told no.”
A 1995 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada recognized a “protected sphere of parental decision-making which is rooted in the presumption that parents should make important decisions affecting their children both because parents are more likely to appreciate the best interests of their children and because the state is ill-equipped to make such decisions itself…. intervention must be justified.”

Helen Ward, President of Kids First Parent Association of Canada says, "There is a power imbalance between parents and state agencies. Policy makers and staff bear no personal liability for their decisions and their legal fees are paid. All parents face the stressful possibility of an investigation based on an anonymous call and threats of child apprehension - even with no complaint or evidence of abuse.”

Kids First takes no position on this parenting decision. The organization supports reforms to ensure government agencies are in compliance with parental & child rights protected in the Charter, common law, and international agreements.

Info: Helen Ward info@kidsfirstcanada.org 604-291-0088, Wade MacGregor (lawyer for BR) WMacGregor@heartlandlaw.ca


1 - SEPT 23 LETTER TO BC PREMIER FROM BR: I AM THE MOTHER OF AN 8 YEAR OLD CHILD (slightly edited for privacy reasons)

Good afternoon. I know that as the premier of my province you do not interfere with cases in front of the courts but as closing arguments in my case concluded today I just wanted to relay my experience to you.

I am the mother of the now nine year old, who, after much research and conversation with colleagues, parents of my neighbourhood and day care providers who knew my child, made the decision to allow my child to stay home after school. This has been a common occurrence in my safe neighbourhood for years as we only live five houses from the school and many of the eight and older children walk home and wait for their moms and/or dads to return home from work.

I am a single parent, and after many conversations with my child and prepping for emergency situations and first aid issues that may arise, I had decided to let my child to stay in my secured house. The only person in opposition to this was my ex-husband and my day care provider confirmed that he had asked her opinion on leaving my child home alone for a few hours. The day care worker agreed with me that my child was ready and as she had known my child since the age of two, I imagine my ex-husband took her opinion into account and I did not hear of him having issues since. Until now.

My story began this past January 8 when a neighbour who works for MCFD stopped my child on the street and asked if I was home. She had no cause for concern in doing so but when my child confirmed I was not at home she called her office. Only Jackie Steele can confirm her motives for doing this, but I do know that she had issue with me parking on the public street in front of my house and the day before made her irritations known to my place of business. I live in a very small town and the politics here are all about who you know.

I immediately received a call from the ministry office on January 8 asking if I was home. I stated I was on my way. I was then told by the person named Dan that it wasn't cool to be leaving my eight year old home alone. I inquired if I needed a lawyer at which time Dan said no but I would be hearing from his office the next day. I was very upset as I had done my research and looked at both the federal and provincial laws which were essentially quiet on the issue of minimum age. The next day came and went and I heard nothing.

Four weeks later I received a call while out of country that the terrace ministry office wanted to speak with me. I believe a week went by before I was home and took the call of Tracy Mitton. I agreed to meet her in my home two days later but had expressed my concern over why this was an issue as there was no law or legislation stating when a child could be left for short periods of time. Her response was that no child under the age of twelve could be left alone but we would discuss that at our meeting.

Our meeting was held a few days later. What transpired was most disturbing and after feeling harassed and bullied I was left not knowing what to do next. Tracey Mitton entered my home and read me the complaint...my eight year old was babysitting my younger child. Certainly not true was my response and I pointed out that that was not the original complaint. She then asked what the circumstances were behind the complaint. I told her that I had begun to leave my oldest child for an hour or two after school. Tracey stated this was unacceptable, hand wrote a safety plan that I would not leave my children alone and told me to sign it. I read her contract and asked when it expired because this document could be used until my children are of legal age. She took the contract back, wrote "until the age of ten" and pushed the agreement to me across the table. I told her I wasn't about to sign any contract that could be entered into a court of law without consulting a lawyer. She then stated that I might as well sign her agreement because I would be wasting a lot of time and money as the courts will always side with her. She then stated that if I refused to follow her plan that she would extract my children. I asked if she was threatening me to which she responded "no, I'm just telling you the facts." I was appalled. I again told her of my wish to seek counsel's advice and I am told that according to the ministry's own policy, the conversation was supposed to end when a parent wishes to seek the advice of a lawyer.

This did not happen in my case. I was harassed in my own home for another 15 minutes about wanting to interview the children. At which point I had asked if the interview could be recorded and was told that it would take too long to arrange. I then asked if a third party could be witness and was again told no.

According to the Minister of MCFD in a recent interview, there is supposed to be an investigation of facts involving the safety, comfort level and plans in place for a child to be left alone. None of this occurred in my case. Interviewing my children would have made no difference in the outcome of a social worker who was wanting to be right and enforce her professional opinion on me. A professional opinion that I disagreed with and when asking Tracey to show me the laws, legislation or policy that I was breaking was met with "there are none." Tracey had stated she wanted my response to her safety plan by next day which I told her wouldn't be possible as tomorrow was Friday and I'm not sure I could get legal opinion that quickly so she gave me until the following Monday. I then phoned Wade mcgregor who confirmed the ministry had no case and should not be enforcing rules that simply don't exist. He advised not to sign the contract. Monday morning at 10:15am, Tracey Mitton came to my workplace and served me with a petition to seek a temporary supervision order. She didn't even give me a chance to respond. She uttered the threat of "if you leave your children home alone I will extract them."

And this is how my expensive legal fees began. My ex has a no contact order in our Supreme Court divorce agreement. He stated in front of my lawyer that I was the best person to decide for my child and then walked into court the very same day and spoke against me, essentially siding with the ministry. He had verbally expressed he was fine with my child staying home alone in a phone conversation February 12. So his opinions have certainly not made my case any easier.

Jason Evans, the team leader, is of the opinion that no one can question a social worker's decision. I take great pause if this is what employees of any ministry office are allowed to practice. I certainly empathize with many social workers who deal with inhumane and tragic cases, they do have a difficult job. But I believe this office has lost their ability to focus on what they should be focusing on.

As I sit here today and ponder the question of "why me", I am at a loss. I love my children dearly and have ensured their safety and well being above my own, always. Whether we are skiing, quadding or kayaking, I always talk to my children about what they need to do in case of an emergency ie falling out of the kayak, what to do when an adult gets hurt during quadding or how they should respond if ever falling into a tree well while skiing. I have certainly conveyed stranger danger and all other dangerous scenarios with my children since they could articulate the English language.

I would never put my children at risk and yet the province of BC is telling me that I am not fit to make the decision as to when they should start taking on certain responsibilities that I took on at a much younger age and that many other children across the country also practice. I am a well educated, responsible parent who has nothing but the utmost best interest of her children at heart. And yet a provincial ministry is seeking to protect my own children from me.

My only question is "why."

Sincerely


2 - SEPT 29 EMAIL REPLY ON BEHALF OF PREMIER CLARK

FROM: "MCF Correspondence Management MCF:EX"

DATE: September 29, 2015 at 1:43:23 PM PDT
TO:
SUBJECT: LETTER FROM THE DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CHILD WELFARE
VIA E-MAIL


Dear Ms….,
As Deputy Director of Child Welfare, I am replying on behalf of Christy Clark, Premier, to your email sent September 22, 2015, regarding concerns with the ministry’s response to a report that you left your child alone. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on matters before the court; however, I can say that you are correct in that the law is silent on what age a child can safely be left unattended, nor does the ministry have policy about this specific circumstance. Social workers are required by law to assess and respond to all child protection reports and trained to assess each child’s need for protection based on the child’s circumstances and risk of harm. While the ministry generally considers 12 years old to be an age when children can be safely left unattended for periods of time, this is a guideline only and actual age can vary significantly depending on a number of factors, including:

  • The child’s capacity and level of development;
  • The duration and time of day the child is left unattended;
  • The safety planning for the child (e.g. access to adults, proximity of parents); and,
  • The child’s views
If you are concerned about the service you received from ministry staff you can make a complaint by contacting a Complaint Specialist who will discuss options and assist you in resolving this. Decisions that are before the courts are not eligible for the complaints program but some of the other concerns you expressed in your note about lack of respect may be.

If you wish to make a formal complaint, please call the Client Relations Branch at 250 387-7027, or toll free at 1 877 387-7027 and ask to be transferred to the Complaint Specialist in your area. For more information on making a formal complaint with MCFD, please visit the following website: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/complaints/index.htm [1]. Thank you.
Alex Scheiber
Deputy Director of Child Welfare
_Sent on behalf of the Deputy Director of Child Welfare by:_


CLIENT RELATIONS BRANCH
_Executive Operations_
_Ministry of Children and Family Development_
Links:
------
[1] http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/complaints/index.htm


3 - OCT 2 BR RESPONSE TO REPLY

DATE: October 2, 2015 at 9:14:55 PM PDT
TO: "MCF Correspondence Management MCF:EX"

CC: "premier@gov.bc.ca"

SUBJECT: RE: LETTER FROM THE DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CHILD WELFARE

Good evening. I thank you for your response to my email (see below). Please know that I contacted Anita Basset within a few weeks of Tracy Mitton attempting to enforce her "professional opinion" upon my right to parent my child and threatening to extract my children from me if I did not sign her hand written safety plan.

You are correct in the fact that the MCFD complaints cannot be addressed when the matter is in front of the courts. I have been told by the complaints office that they have no power to direct an office, no authority over the behaviour and decisions made by a social worker and they cannot intervene in any case before irreversible damage is done to a parent, child and/or family. I wish to hear Jason Evans explain the actions of his office before I consider an administrative review.

My position is that the facts have been presented in court. Tracey Mitton and Jason Evans did not disclose the happenings that occurred in my home, the events of which were left out of Tracey's report which in my opinion, is perhaps attempting to mislead the courts and the public by omission of facts. I had a witness to the harassment and mistreatment I underwent in my own home.

Beginning the resolution process would have no bearing on the court proceedings. The Terrace office continues to refuse such a meeting and Anita Basset has no power to force this office to meet with me.

I also ponder at the effectiveness of this province's MCFD complaints office. If this office has no authority or power over MCFD ministry offices or social workers, what is the purpose of this office?

I have already turned to the Ombudsperson Office of BC. I have attempted to call Jayne Elder on three separate occasions and she has not returned my calls. I again ponder the effectiveness of this office in dealing with such delicate matters regarding the safety and welfare of children which usually requires a more expedient response than the 3 to 6 months the ombudsperson office takes to respond to a parent's concern.

To date, I have spent over $20,000 in legal fees. Money that has been spent trying to defend my right to parent my child who is not being neglected, abused or mistreated in anyway. I have spent this money without having any investigation completed. I have spent this money against a social worker who has a professional opinion that "no child under the age of ten can be left home alone at anytime, under any circumstance." I have spent much time, money and effort being prosecuted by an MCFD office that is apparently going against it's own minister's protocols and policies.

When is this province going to stop persecuting parents and begin helping them? When are social workers going to be held accountable to a higher standard than their own professional opinions and interpretation of the laws and policies of this province and country? Interpretations that are often misguided or incorrect all together. When are parents going to have the opportunity to question a process that is so horribly broken they have no recourse to make their concerns known before irreparable damage is done to their family and their children?

I invite the Hounourable Premier and Prime Minister to have an open conversation regarding this issue and I look to the future for the hope that this issue can be addressed not only provincially but federally. Nothing is more important than the relationship between a parent and their child. A relationship that should be preserved without the fear of state intervention by social workers who have the authority to enforce their own misguided opinions and interpretations on uninformed parents.

Social workers could perhaps benefit in having a more concrete universal policy and procedure that could be helpful rather than harmful and I believe all professionals should have a body of accountability. I also believe this province would benefit in having an independent body to oversee cases such as mine. Perhaps everyone involved in my case could have had a simple conversation of common sense rather than eight months of stressful court dates and financial hardship or I could have expressed my concerns to someone who had the authority to review my case before court proceedings ensued.

I am still at a loss as I now sit and wait two months for a provincial judge to decide whether the Terrace MCFD office will be granted a supervision order to protect my children from me. Again, I ask, why?

Best regards

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