Look here to view articles, editorials, commentary on Canada's Child Protection system at the place where child protection, the criminal legal system, and other forms of state sanctioned oppression intersect.

(A group for women who have been subjected to state sanctioned oppression directly related to her substance use) 

"Supporting Mothers" met for the first time in June 2012 to hear from a mother who lost (and later - much later regained) custody of her children due to illicit substance use.  We met to hear about this issue, and to discuss possible modes of addressing this form of systemic oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, etc) head on.
Below is a document which was developed at this and later meetings, seeking to define the problem as we see it and to find solutions, ways of addressing the issue through direct action, education, and the development of programmes, services, and networks to support Mothers who use or have used substances.

 Systemic Definition of the Problem

We talked about continuing the discussion around what is needed to provide support, services, and make real change for mothers impacted unfairly because of their substance use.  

  1.  Govt systems such as CAS are top down, hierarchies – a structure which negatively impacts female agency, and sense of control over ones own life
  2. Child protection and criminal justice are false systems not based in the trust, time, and experience that real life relationships are built on - healthy relationships can’t be mandated
  3. Capitalist structures have always been exploitative on some level, those viewed as different have always borne the brunt of that exploitation. 
  4. Systemic issues contributing to problematic drug use:  poverty, criminalization of poverty, history of abuse, inequality, racism, sexism, ageism, lack of power and autonomy, lack of access to higher education, counselling services, safe, affordable daycare, housing,.....
  5. Govt interventions are leaning more and more heavily to the political right allowing less space for social justice
  6.  When we talk about "reform" we are asking women to trust or believe in the very systems which have oppressed and traumatized
  7. Something outside of systems, offering individual choice and empowerment, and collaborative community building is needed

    List of Issues Substance Using Moms Face
   Affecting Mothers
1.     Drug using mothers are damned if we do and damned if we don’t - referring to those Mothers who seek substance abuse treatment or those who choose not to and the negative outcomes either way.
2. Prevented from accessing treatment for lack of childcare
3. Mothers are under more pressure than others to maintain abstinence whether her drug use is problematic or not
4. Drug testing At birth– with or without "reasonable 
    cause", or consent and knowledge of mother
5. Birthing room apprehensions
6. Hospital policy which separates mom and baby at 
    birth when mom is known to have used during 
7. Policies which disallow mom to make arrangements for her children if she is arrested
8. All illicit drug use is drug abuse
9. Illicit drug use automatically entails child neglect/abuse
10. Medicalization/psychiatrization of women’s health issues
11.  Medical monopoly in determining healthful vs. harmful  
      substances, who can have access, and why
12.  The role of  drug use propaganda in shaping legal,  
       medical, social landscape regarding treatment of drug 
       using mothers
13.  Lack of integration and/or acceptance of Mothers who use  
      drugs among VAW services, Shelter systems, Mental Health 
      services, and Substance Use services
14.  Many parents describe the power of CAS, the vulnerability 
      of their situation and hence the need to simply “play the 
      game” – implications of this survival strategy for parents to 
      gain real support
15.  CAS workers who tear away at a woman’s social supports –
       particularly her intimate partner relationships
16.  Introduction of risk assessment and "best interest of 
       the child" philosophy in CAS jargon
17.  Manipulation by workers and the larger system
18.  Victimization
19.  Demoralizing
20.  Biased, stigmatization, Judgmental
21.  Red-flagged--- once moms have been red-flagged in 
      the system it is so hard to get that erased, so that 
      something that happened a long time ago can follow 
22.  Surveillance—how they watch you and everything you    do
23.  Invasive, abusive
24.  Creating problems, producing more stress,Non-
25.  Critique is not helpful or educational
26.  Not talking to the mother - secretive
27.  Unrealistic demands/expectations, Always want more, 
      we are never good enough
28.  Not everyone has same the characteristics/personality
      /style- people may share similar struggles but the  
     ways of coping with them may not be the same but CAS often wants people to follow the same way of dealing with problems.
29.  Intergenerational aspect—your history as a crown ward is used against you-- you quickly go from being seen by CAS as a child in care that needs to be protected to an “unfit” mother who can never be a good parent since you were raised by a messed up system.
30.  PTSD- post-traumatic stress disorder
31.  Having special needs kid and you get blamed for not 
       taking care of them enough but they don’t provide 
       you with support, just wait for you to make a mistake
32.  CAS is like police in that they work like manners 
       police--- if you get angry its not resistance 
      &protecting your child, it’s seen as aggressive & 
      hostile and you might be harming your child
33.  Forced legal drugging--- having to take 
      anti-psychotics that CAS chooses not the drugs you 
34.  Questioning things is considered wrong
35.  Forced into poverty and separation from partners
36.  A real lack of supportive housing for couples -- 
       Rosalie Hall is doing a survey of service providers to 
       see what the need is like for supportive  
       housing/shelter for couples with children.
37.  Sometimes kids are apprehended and dads are not even notified or women have to meet all these conditions that they can’t and dads haven’t been given conditions but they also aren’t given a chance

  Affecting the Service Providers which Support Women,
  1. Workplace or government policy that restricts front line workers from doing what is needed to assist families (professional boundaries, etc)
  2. Lack of information on advocating for women with CAS involvement
*****Group discussion needed - any issues to name for this list?*****
Solutions, Systemic Suggestions
Any Initiative to Support Women Will…
1.        Acknowledge that most women in Canada have used both illegal and legal drugs at some point in their lives

2.    Include a public education component (through media and community events) with focus on efforts to deconstruct stereotypes, mis-information, and bias of the drugs and the women who use them including:
·         The notion that women are criminal, victims, unfit, and immoral 
·   The presentation of illegal drugs as so "dangerous" that intervention by the state and medical agencies is considered worthy
·   Challenge the notion that apprehension is in the best interest of the child
·   Challenge the notion of what CAS calls “risk” with regard to mothers who are stigmatized for various reasons including use of substances or incarceration
·   Raise awareness that problematic drug use is often a coping mechanism for women with histories of trauma 

3.     Examine the structural factors which shape drug use and the consequences of drug use or misuse including VAW, history of childhood abuse, power and privilege, race, age, gender, ability, income, housing, education, career, exclusion, isolation, legal, medical, and social service professions

5.    Give women space and voice to both express and further develop their knowledge and experience in safe, creative, culturally relevant, and meaningful ways

6.   These community initiatives will provide similar supports to birth mothers as what is provided to foster parents including but not limited to:

·         free or low cost, quality daycare
·         free counselling and therapy services
·         free respite care
·         free recreational activities and vacations for children 
           and families
·         subsidized clothing, medications, dental care
·         $800.00 - $1800.00 per month, per child

7.      Community initiatives will provide financial, social, emotional  
        independence from oppressive, exploitative systems  (see # 12 
        under specific ideas)

8.      Something outside of systems, offering individual choice and empowerment, and collaborative   
 community building is needed

9.     Provide advocacy for women CAS is currently intervening with – attend CAS meetings, relationship building, education on rights of women and children – and where systemic issues oppress

Solutions, List of Ideas (General)
1.             Challenge the way funding is based on number of children taken in to the system to be replaced by number of families supported to care for their children
2.             Groups and rallies to bring awareness of the harm done by over-zealous workers and harmful policy
3.             Looking at what is being done by other groups/allies and reaching out to allies
    • Vancouver research Vandu, Kate will share copy of HOME facilitators guide (provided)
    • Mackenzie to share password to Blackout film  (provided) “powerful”
·         Link to and share information about John Dunn’s Ontario Association of Children's Aid Society  Members
·         Various groups who are working towards rights of parents and children involved with CAS

Solutions, List of Ideas (Specific)
1.             Grief and Loss Programme – South Riverdale Community Health Centre
2.            Rosalie Hall is doing a survey of service providers to see what the need is like for supportive housing/shelter for couples with children.
3.            Vancouver research identified need through Vancouver Area network of Drug Users (vandu) around mothers using illicit drugs, child apprehension, grief, loss, shame, blame - created a study (HOME), and facilitators guide - looking into more info

4.             Create or advocate for crisis line for mothers who need support while they are in their home to avoid risk of CAS intervention – child behavioural issues, domestic violence, etc

5.             Focus groups as method to hear from those directly impacted about what it is they need to be supported.

6.             Focus groups to share experiences and strategies with those who have had success at negotiating CAS system

7.             Compile a list of who and what was helpful for women involved with CAS.  (lawyers, case workers, home visit support workers, peer support)

8.             Create a registry of mentors

9.             Be able to advocate for women currently involved with CAS

10.         Education on how to be a strong advocate for women a risk of CAS intervention, provided in part through focus groups or survey of the women themselves

11.         Create a list of lawyers who have worked on CAS cases and who women found to be good legal advocates

12.         Develop resources which allow women to achieve greater independence in a way which builds empowerment – such as services provided by women for other women through a social enterprise or co-op business structure– ie: offer services and training to provide support women need : childcare, household chores, play groups, mentorship, parenting support, or industry skills training: bike mechanic, computer skills,– thus attending to the needs of vulnerable women on both sides of service – those providing, and those receiving
     (Sheryl has more info on possible funding sources and models of social enterprise/co-op)
13.         Advocate for Ombudsman to oversee CAS
14.          Advocate for fair appeals system in family courts CAS cases
15.      Develop a brochure outlining rights for women becoming involved with CAS, for children in care of CAS, for front line workers (Metrac may have done this)

Solutions, List of Ideas (Public Education)
1.         Contact media (radio, CBC and newpapers) with our stories, use google alerts to notify our group of items dealing with CAS and to post comments or letters to editor whenever possible (Kate, Amy, Mackenzie?)
2.         Heather to look into article on techniques for “how to get yr letter to editor published”
3.         Film festival (Kate)
4.         Develop a CAS report card to show the number of injuries or deaths of children in care, poor outcomes for children in care (Stephanie)
5.         Raise awareness about how traumatic child apprehension can be for mothers and children, for families (Stephanie)
6.         Educating student lawyers (Osgoode and Legal Aid Clinics) on the real experience of women and their children involved with CAS (Mackenzie, Amy?)
7.         Advocate for drug counselling and support for mothers to attend treatment with their children (Sheryl)
8.         MacKenzie can find contact for yearly Social Justice legal conference for students on the possibility of forming a panel there to educate students on CAS system failures

 Prison more likely for those prenatally exposed to alcohol 

Not only are those diagnosed with FASD more likely to do time, but they are also more likely to be on the radar for other forms of institutionalisation such as group homes, fostercare, and mental health facilities.  Its important that residents of Canada and other colonized nations be aware of the implications of FASD with regards to Aboriginal peoples.  They are among the most vulnerable populations to actual FASD and to mis-diagnoses of FASD and FASE (effects), 2 sure signs of systemic racism.  Take a look at the below article from New Zealand on this topic with reference to Canada and the USA.  Also check out the link provided for a range of information on FAS in the Canadian Aboriginal context.  Keep in mind some of the articles listed here are viewed from a progressive, intersectional analysis, while others (particularly the government sources) are deeply ingrained with racism and classism. 

 Prison more likely.....

The Health Select Committee should take seriously Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills concerns about the increase of children with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders(FADS), says Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. FASD is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual prenatally exposed to alcohol.
"Research in Canada and the USA shows that children with FASD are 19 times more likely to end up in prison than those who are not affected. About 35% of young people with FASD end up in the criminal justice system, and over half have been in trouble with the law. Canadian research with young offenders showed that more than one fifth are behaviorally impaired due to prenatal alcohol consumption."
"While there has not been any local research into the incidence of FASD in prisons, there is every reason to believe that the situation is much the same here. It would be a forward step if all prisoners were screened for FASD, and then managed appropriately.
"These are typically the offenders who lack impulse control and have trouble thinking through the future consequences of their behaviour . They can't connect cause and effect, lack empathy toward victims, have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions, and make really bad decisions. In short, they are incapable of doing all the things we expect offenders to do after they commit a crime."
"Offenders with FADS are often the ones who get talked into committing crime by their mates, or who confess to crimes they didn't commit. They often break the law without intending to do so; such as touching people when it is unwanted, or taking property because they are attracted to it."
If they are unfortunate enough to end up in prison, there's very little that can be done for them. They often are manipulated by other prisoners, and victimised. Therapeutic programmes rarely work. They are better placed in an environment where they can get job training, family and community support, and proper medical care."
"While they may not commit serious crime, they are often repeat offenders engaging in the same sort of crime time and time again; for example theft, burglary and car conversion."
"Offenders with FASD represent a significant recurring cost within the criminal justice system. This is one of those cases where legislation which limits the access of alcohol to young pregnant mothers, would have a huge economic and social return on investment."

 'We want ... our son back' 

Rita Poliakov/The Sudbury Star

There has been a movement in Ontario and indeed throughout Canada and much of the western world to bring accountability and oversight to the agencies mandated with child protection.  The Ontario initiatives look to the government of Ontario to allow Ombudsman oversight of Children's Aid Societies in this province.  While an important endeavour, its one that is unlikely to bring about any significant changes to our child welfare system.  That's because the Ombudsman oversight initiative looks into a case after things have gone wrong, and does little or nothing to prevent the institutionalised bias, racism, classism, and ablism which play out within our child welfare system daily and almost as a matter of course.

Though CAS have in recent years taken on some anti oppression training internally, though with little change especially in smaller towns which tend to have conservative leanings.  Check out this document on anti-oppression practice in CAS':

Does not take away from the importance of giving power to an impartial and separate investigative body such as the Ontario Ombudsmans office.  When things do go wrong, when families are subjected to discrimination and abuse at the hands of CAS', its imperiative that parents have somewhere to turn.  Somewhere separate from the internal CAS investigatory process and separate from the internal Ministry of Children and Youth investigation proceedure.  These biased internal processes are by nature apt to lean towards self preservation.

Take a look at these links to connect with others seeking Ombudsman oversight;

For testimonials of parents involved in the system take a look at this York University student documentary;

Check out this recent article for information on the push for accountability and the recent tragedy for one family in Sudbury when their infant was turned over to CAS care:

An anti-CAS rally was held Wednesday outside the provincial government building on Cedar Street./Rita Poliakov, The Sudbury Star

Marvin Ganteaume wants the impossible.
"We want the Children's Aid Society to give back our son. That's what we want. Our son back," he said at a rally on Wednesday outside the provincial government building on Cedar Street.
Ganteaume's son, Malachi was four-months-old when he died in early July, days after being placed in foster care.
The infant was born prematurely and weighed only one pound.
According to his father, Malachi was taken to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, where he stayed for about three months before transferring to Sudbury's Health Sciences North.
"He had lung problems, brain problems and an eye problem," Ganteaume said, adding that doctors said the infant was healthy enough to go back to Sudbury.
According to the father, it was around this time that the Children's Aid Society of the District of Sudbury and Manitoulin contacted Leslie Beaudry, the child's mother, who had four other children - two sets of twins - under the age of four.
The family had been living in Wikwemikong, but were forced to move to Sudbury, where they had trouble finding housing and were staying in a motel room. Beaudry hesitantly agreed to give her baby boy to a temporary foster family.
"We were informed that all of his medical needs would be met," Ganteaume said.
The infant was released from hospital in early July and went to a foster family. On July 3, Malachi was taken to Sick Kids for an appointment, which the mother also attended.
"Mommy was concerned for his health and well being. She realized he wasn't looking well," Ganteaume said, adding that, around 6 a.m. the next day, the foster family called the hospital with concerns that the baby wasn't eating. They were told that he was probably tired from the trip to Toronto, but ended up rushing the child to the hospital later in the day. Around noon, the infant's parents were asked to come to the hospital. Around 3 p.m., they were told that he had died.
"Mommy and I were distraught. We started asking questions right away," he said.
These questions fuelled Wednesday's rally.
"We're hoping to get justice. We want someone to be accountable for our child's death," Ganteaume said.
The infant's death is now being investigated by the coroner's office, which could take four to six months. The Greater Sudbury Police are helping the coroner in the investigation and the Children's Aid Society are conducting an separate investigation.
Colette Prevost, executive director of the Manitoulin and Sudbury District CAS, said the agency can't comment on the matter.
"The matter ... is under investigation, so we're not in a position to comment, but we're aware of the rally," Prevost said.
The rally, which attracted dozens of participants - many from First Nations communities - was partly organized by the Ontario Coalition for Accountability. The coalition is fighting to allow the Ontario Ombudsman to investigate children's aid societies.
"Right now, (Ontario) is the only province in Canada that doesn't allow our ombudsman to investigate Children's aid Societies," said Tabatha Haskett, of the coalition. "We're here today in memory of a child that just recently died while in the care of the CAS."
Like the family, Haskett has many questions.
"We want answers ... we feel the family's in limbo at this time, because we don't have the coroner's report. We don't have any reports from anybody. We want them to get the closure they desperately need. They need to know what happened to their child," she said.

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