OHSWEKEN, ON – Nearly a hundred people gathered at the community hall last week to hear guest lecturer Vernon Beck address parent’s right when dealing with the Children’s Aid Society.
The meeting was open to the public, however employees and volunteers to the Children’s Aid Society were not permitted entry to protect the privacy of those seeking more information.
Beck was representing Canada Court Watch (CCW), an independent advocacy group pressing for accountability from the judicial and family law systems.
Beck was invited to bring awareness to the Six Nations community about what every parent’s legal rights are, and where the authority of a worker operating through Canada’s Child Protection Act ends.
According to the Canada Court Watch website, the group follows principles of fairness and justice in matters relating to the judicial system, separation, divorce and children.
Beck told the crowd there are three ways a child can be apprehended by the CAS. Two common ways are through a voluntary service agreement with parents and the agency, or through a court order.
In extreme cases, or in the case of an emergency, a social worker with the Children’s Aid Society can remove a child without either one of these documents, but the action must be brought before a judge within five days to secure its status.
Some parents seeking help from CCW state they were tricked into signing temporary agreements, or lied to by social workers to get their children out the door. “What is happening with CAS today is not much different than what they did with the residential school system,” Beck told the crowd. “If you sign and were coerced you can have the service agreement rendered null and void. That is extortion. Extortion makes them null and void.”
The event, organized by Six Nations social worker Brandi Martin, was aimed at educating parents to know their rights. There was also a large discussion about the protocol social workers and the courts are required to follow when investigating a family.
“If you know that something is fundamentally wrong and will bring harm to you or your children, don’t sign it.” Beck said to the people. “It’s better that your case goes into the courts first before you sign your rights away.”
Martin says there is a growing need for advocacy in the community for parents dealing with CAS. She was a young mother when her three children were apprehended by the CAS and placed under a temporary care agreement. She was afraid, and was willing to agree to any standards set before her.
Unfortunately and because she lacked knowledge, she says she was coerced by social workers. “They told me their Gramma was going to babysit. The kids went over there for the weekend and they never came home.
Instead of the kids coming home, a society worker came to my house and said if I didn’t sign that agreement the kids would stay temporarily with their grandparents for one to three months and then they would go to a judge and get my kids adopted out and I would never see my kids again.” Martin signed the agreement and eight years later she is still fighting in the courts for the return of her two daughters.
The painful experience makes her passion to educate parents about their rights all the more important to her. She says if she’d been aware of her rights at the time, “…the children wouldn’t have been out of my home for a day.” Martin was approved to have her college work placement within the Native Services Branch of the Children’s Aid Society in Brantford – the very agency that apprehended her children.
It was during this work placement she was able to learn the protocol workers were instructed to follow in her case.
During her placement Martin also discovered the paperwork sent when she requested disclosure from CAS about her case was incomplete. Many relevant documents were not included. “I only received my case notes,” she said.
It is a common situation many parents in the public online forums at Canada Court Watch are experiencing as well. “These [missing] records show about the events that happened…the decisions made about these children, the funding that they [CAS] are getting how they are getting this funding what legal status that these children actually have.
If you were to get the whole file it’s possible to see that there was a hundred complaints about the person your kids have been placed with and they didn’t move them.”
Beck says the best action folks can do is to know their rights and have a good parenting plan in place to prevent children being removed from the primary care of the family.
Martin says the start to a local solution may be for an autonomous agency within the Six Nations that does not follow the Canadian structure at all.
“Child protection is needed in cases. What I have learned is that a long time ago before CAS, the clan mothers were the ones that had that job of intervention when a child needs to be removed from a home. I really feel that we should have our own child protection laws, rather than taking the Canadian way of doing things.”