By Anne Dachel
Last month, I watched this video from Canadian TV.
It was a story about the mother of four adopted special needs children living in Quebec. Two of them were suddenly taken from her by Youth Protective Services.
News anchor: "They have serious medical conditions and the mother fears that while she fights to get them back, their condition is deteriorating."
It seems that because this is an ongoing case, CTV can't show us their faces or tell us their names, but the video tells their story. The single mom, who has a masters degree in special education, adopted four children with disabilities whose ages range from seven to 23.
Mother: "They mean everything to me. They're my life."
Reporter: "Each child was adopted as a baby. ...The oldest and the youngest, ... both have autism and Down Syndrome."
Their doctor, Barry Breger: "She's completely dedicated to these children and I've said many times, she's an angel sent from heaven to take care of these children. She absolutely loves these children. They are her children."
Yet last September, authorities in Laurentians, the northern part of the province of Quebec, suddenly took two of her children into custody while they were at school.
Reporter: "The allegations against her come from a former helper: that she used excessive control, specifically, with regards to their dairy free, gluten free diet."
The mother went to court to get them back.
Her lawyer, Politimi Karounis: "Youth protection must makes a case in front of the court. It's up them to make the proof. What actually happens is, God forbid, Youth Protection sets their sights on you. You are guilty until you prove your innocence."
So for ten months, the mother has had only limited contact.
Youth Services Laurentians failed to contact the children's doctor to get his opinion on the quality of their care before they were seized.
Dr. Breger: "I was never asked by them for an interview to discuss my observations."
I made contact with the mom and learned more about what led to this situation. Since these two were her legal children, authorities were obligated to first seek out relatives willing to take care of them. This was not done. The children's grandmother told me personally that she would have been happy to have the children placed with her and her husband.
The mother told me about each of her children:
Son, 23, has lived with her since he was 5 weeks old and is Cambodian. He had 11 operations for urinary and other problems related to having Down Syndrome. He also has autism, a neurogenic bladder, and hydroneuphrosis. The mother describes him as "the happiest of souls and loves to go bike riding, swimming, roller blade and hiking in the summer. He loves to toboggan, ski and skate in the winter."
Daughter, 17, is also Cambodian. She has had 3 operations so far for her cleft pallet and hair lip. She will need 2 more surgeries. She is gifted in academics and has won many awards for her academic and sports abilities.
Daughter, 12, is Chinese and has been with her mother since she was 9 months old. She has had 5 operations including 3 spinal surgeries and a spinal fusion. She's described as "friendly and caring with everyone. She tries hard in everything she does. her smile and joy de vivre lights up a room!"
Son, 8, is Bulgarian in his background. He was abandoned at a Montreal Hospital at 4 weeks of age. His mom said, "He loves to play soccer, swim, and run around. He enjoys bike rides, walks, and playing on the jungle GYM. He is a very active and content child when given the security familiarity and routines he needs with his loving family around him. At school he excels in learning to speak and learning routines. he is a gentle soul and very kind to all!" He has autism and Down Syndrome as a result he has digestive issues and requires a special diet. He suffers from very low muscle tone like many kids with Down Syndrome and requires thyroid medication.
So what's the problem? Why is a devoted mother being subjected to this nightmare? How can the government of Quebec keep these children away from their mother when no charges have been made against her?
I asked the mother to elaborate on her situation.
Q: Which of your children were removed and why were you considered unfit only for two of them?
My 12 year old daughter and 8 year old son were removed at this time. My other 2 children live in Ontario with me now and are safe from Quebec Youth Protection. Ontario authorities see no problem with their care.
It is unclear to me why my children were taken away. The story is constantly changing in court. It seems to have to do with the opinions of 3 uneducated Dept. of Youth Protection workers in Quebec. Their assumptions are completely biased and are not based on any facts, as I was told by my lawyers.
Q: What have you done to get your children back?
Last September, I received a phone call at 4:30 pm informing me that my children had been taken at 2 pm from their school. They had no warrant so the couldn't come and take them from home, therefore they seized them at school. I was given no warning. Suddenly, my children were gone and there was nothing I could do about it.
We did have a few meetings with the DYP workers but they didn't give me information on how I could get my children back or elaborate on what I had done wrong. I have serious concern over what will happen to my son, 8, because he display severe signs of anxiety. I'm allowed 90 minute visits, two times a week at a hospital in Quebec. My eight year old clings to me, holds my hands, I've gotten reports that he displays extreme emotional outbursts when I'm not there.
I've gotten no official reports on how my two children are doing in school. I've had no meetings with teachers. I did contact school personnel, off the record, and I found out that there have been serious behavior changes in the kids along with weight loss. They did tell me that they were shocked to learn that the children had been taken.
I've had over a dozen court dates, where I go to Quebec, and listen in French to endless accusations attacking my character and the care I've given my children. They're ridiculous charges about pureeing their food, the color of the food, and the taste and smell of the food.
[The mother is an organic cook and much of the food is raw.]
I am allowed to come to Quebec to see them at their doctor visits every few weeks because they have multiple medical issues. The doctors have told that they're shocked and concerned that the children have been taken from their stable home environment. I've known these doctors for more than twelve years.
DYP tried to get my medical rights removed for my children which did not work. They do not want me talking to the doctors because they do not want to be accountable for the children's deterioration. They refuse to listen to anything that I have to say about my children's medical conditions.
I've been warned that during my visits, I can't tell the children that they'll ever be able to come home . It's been said that because I kept my children on a GFCF diet, I was depriving them of normal food. These people have no idea of the importance of diet for the heath of a disabled child.
Q: How are the children being cared for currently?
They are in foster care. I see them at checkups and their weight has been affected. They are living in two different foster homes and I'm not allowed to contact the foster parents.
Q: Why were your children removed while you were living in Quebec? Do you think this would have happened if you'd been living in Ontario?
Nothing is clear about why exactly they were taken. Quebec Youth Protection did contact officials on Ontario after I moved here to get custody of my seventeen year old daughter, but Ontario refused to send her back to Quebec. I was asked if the children had any bruises or if they lacked warm clothing, lacked a home, or lacked food. Because it was none of these reasons they were completely perplexed as to why they were ever removed.
Ontario professionals went on to say unless the children were in danger and the above reasons clearly witnessed, they would never be removed in Ontario! Rules are followed in Ontario.
Q: What contact have you had with your children?
I'm not allowed to know where my children are living or the names of the foster parents that have them. I am allowed to see my son, 8, twice a week for 90 minutes each time under strict supervision. I been allowed to see my daughter, 12, once a week for two hours, but unfortunately that has been suspended pending a review because I allowed my older daughter to also speak to her sister during a supervised 10 minute phone call. This was forbidden by Youth Protection and all phone calls and visitations have been stopped.
Q: You are now in Ontario, do you fear the provincial government here could take similar action with your remaining two children?
Ontario is very involved with my 2 older children and the attitude and involvement is one of caring. Authorities are extremely supportive for our family. One professional even had tears when she saw how exceptionally the children were cared for with diet, physical activity, and family time. Ontario does what is necessary to support families with children, teens and young adults with diverse needs.
The Ontario professionals I have seen thus far view families as an essential part of the team and the ONLY way to truly develop children's potential and overall wellness and stability life long.
Q: What do you think is behind the vindictive treatment you've received? Why is the government of Quebec going after you?
I've been on several boards and I've questioned the support for special needs kids. I've received front page coverage criticizing Youth Protective Services. And I'm English.
Q: How much more difficult is this because your case is being decided in Quebec?
The 3 DYP workers in Quebec are very angry because I moved to Ontario. Their bullying and intimidation of me and my family is far more limited because I am in Ontario now. In Ontario there is accountability and rules that must be followed. I feel safe living here also knowing that being English is not seen as undesirable or unwanted.
Q: Who has been assisting you?
Doctors, therapists, nurses, OPHQ (Government of Quebec for handicapped rights), (Protector du Citoyen), Julius Grey's office in Quebec for human rights, the Order of Nurses, Order of Social Work, family friends, and most importantly a strong faith in God, justice, and family/love being stronger than the hatred/discrimination we now feel and live with the 3 Youth Protection workers in the Laurentians.
Dr. Chantal Giguere, a pediatric otolaryngologist and surgeon (ear, nose and throat specialist) wrote a letter to my lawyer vouching for my care of the children, but the letter wasn't accepted in court in Quebec. She's been my children's doctor for 11 years and she's observed the deterioration in their conditions since they've been removed from my care. In her letter she wrote this about me she said, "She has always taken excellent care of all her children...I can assure you that [she] treated all her kids with equal gentleness, attention and care."
Q: What will happen next for you in your quest to get your children back?
Right now, I'm waiting. I'm setting things up here in my parents' home in Ontario. We have playroom for with a swing for my 8 year old and we're putting up a 13X22 foot swimming pool in the backyard.
I'll keep writing emails to social service officials in Quebec, although they've never responded to my previous ones. There are two or three petitions online calling for the return of the children. The next formal action will be on Sept 12, 2013 in Quebec when a hearing is scheduled for final arguments on the placement of the children. This is more of my agonizing wait. I fear their health will continue to deteriorate, especially because they're out of school for the summer.
After extensive conversations with this woman, I can only say I am stunned by what's happened. She is an incredibly devoted mother, passionate about her children's care and happiness. She told me that she's won several awards, including Canada's top 40 under 40, a national award recognizing individuals for leadership and vision in education.
She also ran a preschool that included 40 percent of students with special needs. She created this school with an emphasis on inclusion and success and as result she received an international award, the Preschool Mainstream Award, from Exceptional Parent Magazine. She said that her school was covered in over 100 newspaper articles in Canada.
The mom told me about taking her children annually to Florida over the passed 12 years where her parents have a home. In 2011, she took the four children on a train ride across Canada to New Brunswick. Every year her kids go to camp and she's even gone as an aide.
Maybe the best way to look at this is from the perspective of the mother's 17 year old daughter who is still with her mother and who said, "I haven't done anything wrong, I just want to talk to my sister. It is our human right to speak to each other and we're being denied this for no reason... The focus in Laurentians isn't on bringing families together. Their focus is on breaking them apart."
This story was published at the same time news reports have exposed a huge health care scandal in the province of Quebec. The Quebec Globe and Mail ran the story, Intellectually handicapped 'neglected' in Quebec on June 5, 2013. It said, "Intellectually handicapped people in Quebec are among the most vulnerable and neglected groups in society and the government must do more to improve their care, according to provincial auditor Michel Samson.
"They often go undiagnosed for years, receiving inadequate services, according to the auditor's report released on Wednesday."
The Montreal Gazette had the story, Wait lists described as devastating for disabled children, families, on June 5, 2013
"An Ottawa mother made the heart-wrenching decision to leave her severely autistic son at a government office in April, and the head of a Montreal social services centre said the same thing could easily happen here.
"'We're lucky it doesn't happen more often here. It does happen that families leave a child at a hospital rather than our front door,' said Katherine Moxness director-general of West Montreal Readaptation Centre, which provides a range of services for 1,900 children who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, mostly autism spectrum disorders.
"Another 513 children are on a wait list that is two years long, Moxness said. And 175 of those are under age 5.
"They're waiting for basic services to help them acquire skills they need to integrate into society, which at that age means kindergarten, said Moxness, who welcomed Quebec's latest auditor-general report, made public Wednesday."
The mother I spoke to knows her special needs children are in the care of this system and she's very worried about what will happen to them. In a larger sense there's meaning here for all of us. Where is the concern for the children when the government can do what they've done to this mother?
These are the same people who will be in charge of today's disabled children when parents can no longer care for them as adults. Imagine how much worse the situation will be then. This is a system that's clearly broken.