The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same.
The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same.
1839: Ontario passes “An Act to Authorise the Erection of an Asylum within this Province for the Reception of Insane and Lunatic Person.”
“Orillia Asylum for Idiots” opens in Ontario.
1876. The provincial government opened its first asylum for individuals with developmental disabilities in 1876. It was initially called “Orillia Asylum for Idiots” and then renamed Ontario Hospital School. At its peak in 1968, it housed approximately 2000 residents, but the institute was frequently overcrowded (Rossiter & Clarkson, n.d.). The institution was eventually renamed the Huronia Regional Centre, and several lawsuits were launched by former residents against the centre in 2010 due to inhumane treatment inside the institution (Rossiter & Clarkson, n.d.).
The institution's original aim was to be a Training School for juveniles, but as eugenics theories gained ground in the 1900s with support from important Canadian figures such as Dr. Helen MacMurchy, and Dr. C. Hincks, the institution became more about segregating the "feeble-minded" from the rest of society for the rest of their lives (Wheatley, 2013). Many of the children in Orillia came from lower social classes or were orphans, while those from upper classes often went to the New York State Idiot Asylum (Wheatley, 2013). However, Orillia also housed a variety of people with disabilities of different ages, as well as "indigents" (Simmons, 1982 as cited in Rossiter & Clarkson, n.d.). Like in many other institutions across Canada, patients were expected to perform duties such as household duties, farming, or clothing production (Rossiter & Clarkson, n.d.), as a type of therapy. Many incidents of abuse have been recorded at the institutions. Pierre Berton of the Toronto Star wrote in 1960:
"Remember this: After Hitler fell, and the horrors of the slave camps were exposed, many Germans excused themselves because they said they did not know what went on behind those walls: no one had told them. Well, you have been told about Orillia" (Berton, 1960, as cited in Rossiter & Clarkson, n.d.)
Although Ontario never passed sterilization policies, the impact of the eugenics movement is clearly demonstrated in Ontario through institutions such as Orillia. Many parallels can be drawn with institutions in Western Canada.
-Erna Kurbegovic and Colette Leung
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CITE THIS DOCUMENT (APA):
Leung, E. (2014, March 18). “Orillia Asylum for Idiots” opens in Ontario. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from http://eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/timeline/53284371132156674b00028b
Government of Ontario. (2008). History of Developmental Services. Ministry of Community and Social Services. (Website). Retrieved from http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/dshistory/.
Rossiter, K, & Clarkson, A. (n.d.). Opening Ontario's "Saddest Chapter:" A Social History of Huronia Regional Centre. Retrieved from http://cjds.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/cjds/article/view/99/153
Wheatley, T. (2013). The Asylum for Idiots and Feeble-Minded, Orillia, 1876 (Website). Retrieved from http://www.thelmawheatley.com/the-asylum-for-idiots-and-feeble-minded-or...
The Original Ideal of the Orillia Institution.
The Asylum for Idiots opened primarily as a custodial institution with the promise of a Training School for juvenile Idiots. Jobs were available to local residents. The Orillia Times exulted: “It is as healthy as it is beautiful.”
The original ideal of providing an institution only for mental defectives was positive and humane in intention at the outset, and the government did not intend to permanently segregate all the feeble-minded.
The purpose was to educate and train those ‘educable’ youngsters to their ability and then return them home to their families or community. Only those who were most disabled or feeble were kept on as custodial cases.
The first 35 residents consisted of mentally retarded people from the London Idiot Adult Asylum and those in the provincial jails. The asylum was soon filled and overcrowded. By 1879, boys were sleeping two to a bed. Dr Alexander Beaton, the first superintendent, began using his own resources, teaching reading, writing, gymnastics to the educable ones in a small school. Eventually by the 1880s the school had eight teachers. Funding was the lowest in North America, he complained.
This ideal was sabotaged in the early 1900s by the eugenicists and political parties such as the Patrons of Industry who strongly opposed “wasting” tax-payers’ money on educating the “feeble-minded”. They wanted people with intellectual handicaps – the ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’, ‘epileptics’, ‘morons’, and so-called ‘feeble-minded’ – to be segregated and confined to the institution for life, called “custodial” care.
“Custodial” was a term that meant “for life”. And many did spend their entire lives in the wards and grounds of the institution right up to the 1980s and to the closure of Orillia in 2009.
The poorer classes tended to send their children to Orillia, while the well-off who could afford it sent their retarded offspring to the New York State Idiot Asylum which had better facilities and funding.
Attitudes were to change at the beginning of the twentieth century, brought on by an era of eugenics in the early 1900s.
Ontario Government Agency History (BA551)
Huronia Regional Centre
History and function of this agency
Archival records series created by this agency
History and Function
NameHuronia Regional CentreDates of Existence1861-2009FunctionThe Huronia Regional Centre was a facility in Orillia, Ontario, that housed, assessed, and treated developmentally disabled individuals, with an emphasis on education and training.
The Huronia Regional Centre was the first provincial institution to house developmentally disabled individuals in Ontario. Although the facility was a branch of the Toronto Asylum for mentally ill patients from 1861-1870, it opened as a home for developmentally disabled persons in 1876. Initially known as the Orillia Asylum for Idiots, the institution expanded and received new accommodations in 1885. As early as 1888, the institution strongly encouraged the education and training of residents.
The school was renamed Hospital for Idiots in 1890 and Hospital for the Feeble-Minded in 1911. It was not until 1936 that the institution was renamed the Ontario Hospital School to reflect its educational component. At this same time the facility began experimenting with halfway houses and reintegration of select residents into the community.
The Hospital School came under the auspices of the Department of Health in 1930. In 1966 the Department of Education assumed administrative responsibility for the facility but part of it continued as a facility for the developmentally disabled. The institution became part of the Ministry of Community and Social Services in 1974 and training of the developmentally disabled was again emphasized. It was at this time that the facility became known as the Huronia Regional Centre.
The Huronia Regional Centre was closed on March 31, 2009.
No authorizing agent was found for this agency.
Agency Also Known As
Orillia Asylum for Idiots
Hospital for Idiots (Orillia, Ont.)
Hospital for the Feeble Minded (Orillia, Ont.)
Ontario Hospital School (Orillia, Ont.)
Functional Analysis for the Developmental Services Sub-Function in the Ministry of Community and Social Services, 1998
Ministry of Community and Social Services Annual Reports, 1974-1984
Ministry of Community and Social Services website, newsletters section.
Sexual Abuse at Huronia
As may well be imagined in overcrowded and understaffed conditions, sexual abuse was common. Some attendants took young boys down to small rooms and recesses off the tunnels (called “tram-ways”) in the basement and “played with them”, sexually abusing and sodomizing them, recalls former patient Desi Harnum. After the 1976 Willard Report, the recesses were ordered to be filled in.
Another survivor, Barry Thatchuk, recalls having to perform oral sex as a boy on a night attendant after he had used the washroom, and then being sexually abused (sodomized) by him. (See Institutional Survivors’ Stories and And Neither Have I Wings To Fly.)
The attitude of attendants towards masturbation varied. Some punished patients by strapping their hands with a razor strop. Others were permissive and encouraged the practice in the communal showers, turning a blind eye.
Female patients were also abused by attendants. Desi Harnum, a patient at Ontario Hospital School from age three, recalls attendants having sex with girls down by the lake on the Thursday cook-outs, and threatening them not to report it. A popular threat was to swing a girl upside down as a warning.
The Willard Report 1976
Male attendants often had access to female patients. The Willard Report noted complaints of parents that “male staff were bathing adult female residents.” However, this continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. -
Sexual abuse was not limited to male attendants. Male Survivors interviewed recall female as well as male attendants squeezing boys’ genitals while they stood lined up in the dorms for early morning inspection.
We will never know the full extent of sexual abuse suffered by young patients who were too vulnerable and intimidated to protect themselves or protest.
Physical and Psychological Humiliation
While punishment was painful, all survivors interviewed stressed that the worst thing was the psychological hurt and shame felt when attendants ridiculed them, calling them “retards”. This was constant and endemic.
Lack of privacy and general neglect was another important factor in the physical-psychological abuse of patients, particularly in toileting, bathing, and undressing. Patients lined up to shower and showered under communal shower-heads. Bathrooms had no doors, showers no curtains.
Filthy rows of toilets faced rows of wash-basins. A former staff worker related that she worked at Huronia in the 1980s and was shocked that old men were showered in groups, with female attendants hosing them down “to save time and effort.” Girls in particular felt humiliation at having to undress in front of others and line up naked for the showers.
“The toilets face the washbasins and here as elsewhere, there is no attempt at privacy. I had nearly said decency.” - Government Inspector Dr Fletcher’s report,1932, of Cottage “A”.
Menstruation: Again, girls were given no privacy. A girl had to stand up after breakfast and, in front of everyone, announce that it was day one of her menstruation. This was recorded by staff and she was allotted kotex pads for the day. An intimate record was kept of number of days and flow of blood. If a girl did not menstruate around the expected date, she was sent to the infirmary to be examined in case she was pregnant. (After the advent of contraceptive pills in the 1960s, girls were forced to take the drugs to eliminate the bother of menstruation and prevent pregnancy.)
In 1960, Pierre Berton from the Toronto Daily Star, visited the institution and reported almost identical conditions, citing that in one cottage there was one bathtub for 144 persons.
Anne Stafford, former Community Living member and volunteer at the institution to help individual children, recalls pushing her way with some parents into Cottage “D” (Boys) in the early 1960s demanding to see conditions. They were shocked to find that the shower area consisted of two bare brick walls between which the boys were hosed down with one hose-pipe.
Yet despite the scathing criticisms of their own inspectors over the decades, and the admission of Dr Matthew Dymond, Minister of Health in 1960 of overcrowding and neglect, the government of Ontario did little to assuage conditions. Cottage “B” and “L” were torn down following Pierre Berton’s report, and a new building erected, the McGhie Pavilion, with more private quarters.
Sterilization, Drugging and Medications
Sterilization in Ontario: Ontario never passed a Sterilization Act to eugenically sterilize people with intellectual disability, unlike the Province of Alberta, which passed a Sterilization Act in 1928, and British Columbia in 1932.
However, superintendents at the Orillia institution and other institutions were well aware of the aims of Canadian eugenicists who petitioned Premier Mitchell Hepburn of Ontario to pass such an act during the 1930s. While Superintendent Dr Bernard McGhie at Orillia was against the sterilization of all mental defectives, claiming it would do little to reduce mental retardation, his successor, Dr Horne, was more ambivalent.
In a letter to Dr Atkinson, the Medical Superintendent of the Manitoba institution, Portage La Prairie, in 1935, Horne inferred that sterilizations were done “on the quiet” in Ontario
Chemical Sterilization of Females
Another more insidious form of sterilization was the use of Depo Provera as a contraceptive in the institutions. It was used to suppress menstruation and control fertility in intellectually disabled women without their informed consent. It had been refused licensing in the United States as there were reported side-effects linking it to cancer. However, in Canadian institutions, including Huronia, women were forced to take the drug not knowing what it was, in violation of their legal and human rights. Using the drug to control fertility and menstruation contravened the provisions under which the drug was licensed in Canada. In 1985, the Canadian Association for Community Living formed a Coalition on Depo Provera and met with the Minister of Health and Welfare to discuss safety issues of the drug and the abuse of their human rights of giving the drug to women without their informed consent. Again, in 1988, the Association along with other coalitions tried to counter the Department of Health and Welfare which intended to license Depo Provera.
The Willard Report of 1976 devoted a section to “Medication”, citing parents’ complaints that “too much medication was being given to residents.”
“At a meeting with representatives of the Ontario Association for the Mentally Retarded (OAMR) it was suggested that on the basis of statistical data, the volume of medication being prescribed at mental retardation centres was high. There is concern about the detrimental effects over time as well as adverse short term side effects that may result from tranquilizing, anti-convulsant and other agents.” (Willard Report, p. 107).
The matter was discussed with medical staff, the Chief of Pharmacy, and a number of counsellors at Huronia Regional Centre. While medical staff and counsellors did not consider this a problem, it is interesting that the Pharmacist “indicated that a very large volume of drugs was being used at the Huronia Regional Centre.”
As a result, a Drug Utilization and Control Committee reported that various surveys indicated that there was:
“a problem of misuse as it relates to excessive use of psychopharmological agents, polypharmacy in the area of anti-convulsive control, and inadequate use of certain psychopharmological agents, for example, lithium. Epileptics on multiple anticonvulsant and tranquilizing agents were irritable and difficult to manage. A team of three psychiatrists in July 1976 felt that this irritability “may well be the result of toxicity from the medication.” (Willard Report, p. 109.)
Gail Lynam’s patient records showed that she was put on 75mg of a powerful anti-psychotic medication, Mellaril, for supposed “homosexuality” at age sixteen.
Prof. Harvey G. Simmons, in his book From Asylum To Welfare, (Downsview: National Institute on Mental Retardation, 1982) writes that there was evidence that under J. Downey’s superintendency Orillia residents were used by the Connaught Laboratories in Toronto to test new drugs. In his report for 1925, Mr Downey noted that Orillia residents had suffered several epidemics. The Connaught Laboratories were called as they were investigating the Dick test and scarlet fever anti-toxin. One thousand and eighty tests were made on patients, with 297 positive reactions to which the experimental immunization was then applied. Simmons notes that Downey did not say whether the parents of the inmates were consulted. By contrast, when a diphtheria toxoid test was made of Toronto school children in December, 1926, parents were first asked to give their written consent.
Patients were to be educated and trained to perform tasks and labour that would make the institution self-sufficient so as “not to be a drain on the public purse”, as Dr MacMurchy, Inspector for the Feeble-Minded in Ontario 1905-1920, urged.
High Grades and Low Grades
New admissions were divided into two main groups: the “High Grades”, with above 50 IQ, who were ambulatory and could work and contribute to the economy of the institution. They were the most important group and highly desirable.
The group with below 50 IQ were labelled “Low Grades”, and though many of them might be able to perform low-grade work such as shovelling coal, many were unable to work at all, and needed the support of others, such as the “High Grade” patients and regular staff.
A constant complaint of superintendents over the decades was that there were never enough “High Grade” patients to do the work and ease staffing. The High Grade patients did the work of hired staff, thus relieving the cost of wages since their labour was unpaid. Though on the surface it appeared that they were receiving “vocational” and “occupational” training which might enable them to work outside in the community, a close look at their labour shows many patients working long hours, a regular working man’s day outside in the community.
Boys and Men: Labour
Farm Labour: This was an important aspect of the economy of Orillia. On the surface it would appear that the farm boys had a healthy enjoyable life working in the fields planting crops and harvesting, and working in the barns with the dairy herd, and in the hoggery. In 1936 and into the 1940s, there were 96 head of cattle, with a daily milk production of 2,500 pounds, 131 swine and 13 sows, and 1000 chicks with 90% survival.
The “farm boys” lived segregated from the main population in the institution, in Cottage “F”. Boys were shaken out of bed at two-thirty in the morning for milking at three am. with breakfast served not until eight am.
Out in the fields, boys worked long hours working alongside hired labourers. In 1935 they harvested 550 bushels of oats, at 35cents a bushel, that brought in $192.50. They also harvested 3,000 bushels of mangels at 10cents a bushel, bringing in $300 for the farm.
A medical inspection by Dr J. Sharpe, government inspector, in 1937, gives a revealing picture of life for the farm boys:
Dunn Farm, Cottage “F” (also called Farm Colony House): Farm colony house, ½ mile from the hospital. Quiet older parole type patient, resides 23 males there, have main meals in Cottage “C”. Supervised day and night by attendant. House in poor condition – Floors bad – some of the windows are out, verandah falling down. In the attic you can see daylight through the walls. Toilet poor in a shed, therefore impractical to use in winter. Lease expires June 30th, 1937.
Farm labour continued well into the 1960s. Survivor Desi Harnum recalls that in helping out with the pigs boys were treated “like pigs”.
Shoemaking at Huronia. Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario.
SHOEMAKING AT HURONIA. PHOTO COURTESY ARCHIVES OF ONTARIO.
Shoemaking Shop: Boys and men also provided good income for the institution in shoe-making. Under Mr Downey’s superintendency in the 1920s and 1930s, boys turned out up to 30 pairs of shoes a day, as well as all grades of work boots and walking shoes for the girls. This industry in 1932 brought in $14,802 for 305 dozen pairs of shoes and in 1941 sales were valued at $10,425.
Another productive source of income for the institution using patients’ free labour. Boys not only made clothes for patients such as shirts, smocks, caps and staff uniforms, but they filled orders from other institutions. Tweeds made by patients in Guelph Reformatory were used to make clothing at Orillia.
Furniture Repair Shop:
‘High Grade’ boys helped repair furniture, while ‘Low Grades’ did sanding and varnishing.
'High Grade' older boys and men were often used to as night monitors in the wards, locked in with the patients. These men had to work by day at various jobs and do the supervision of staff when staff were not available, at night. Inspectors disapproved of this practice, but the institution was short-staffed.
‘Low-Grade’ Boys’ Labour:
Boys and men deemed “low grade” in intelligence, or “Imbeciles”, were nevertheless put to work, doing physical labour around the institution, such as shoveling coal in the “coal piles”, berry-picking, removing sludge from drains, draining marshes, snow shoveling.
Girls and Women: Labour
“Low Grade” girls were assigned “Ward Work”, which included washing and scrubbing institution floors in wards, hall-ways and the nurses’ residence, cleaning out slop pails in the old women’s residence, cleaning up urine, blood and feces of other patients, gathering up soiled laundry.
They also served in the dining rooms, helped out in the kitchens preparing food, cooking, cleaning, setting up trays. Sometimes girls got burned on the hot steam pipes in the kitchens.
Dining Room and Kitchen:
They also served in the dining rooms, helped out in the kitchens preparing food, cooking, cleaning, setting up trays. Sometimes girls got burned on the hot steam pipes in the kitchens.
Patients did 28,000 pieces of laundry per week. Boys and men helped out at the laundry as well as girls, because the wet sheets in the machines were too heavy to be lifted out by girls. Patients did 1,200 sheets and articles of clothing per week.
Helping the Nurses’ Aides:
Girls helped look after the babies and young children, again doing menial tasks such as changing diapers, cleaning up. Gail Lynam, former patient, recalls in the 1960s having to help with the babies suffering from hydro-cephalus on the children’s wards, and how heavy the infants were to carry on account of their heavy enlarged heads. She was only a young girl of about thirteen herself at the time. (See: And Neither Have I Wings To Fly.)
Girls were also used to help look after old women in Cottage “L”, for instance, helping change their diapers and clothes, bathe them or hose them down, feed them from side trays.
From the 1930s onwards up into the 1970s and 80s, sewing was an important part of self-sufficiency in the institution economy. Girls and women sewed most of the clothes worn by patients, such as underwear, dresses, pleated skirts, middies, blouses, smocks, pantie suits, ties, nightgowns, bath-robes, nurses’ uniforms, as well as sheets, pillow-cases, towels, aprons, curtains, mattress covers; also socks knitted on the auto-knitter. They even made their own straight-jackets!
Domestics on Probation:
Many girls and women in the institution were of normal intelligence. Along with the “high grades”, those with an IQ above 50, they were trained as domestics and allowed out on probation under strict supervision, living in Colony House, a home in the town of Orillia. They were employed as domestics in citizens’ homes in town, working from eight in the morning to six at night. They kept half their wages, banked for them in accounts, and the other half went to the institution.
Dr Horne, Superintendent, in the 1930s, reported that the per capita cost of maintaining each girl out on probation at Colony House had been 75 cents per day compared with 86 cents per day for residents in the hospital, giving the institution a small profit. Employing girls as domestics in the town continued into the 1970s and 80s.
Kitchen work. Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario.
KITCHEN WORK. PHOTO COURTESY ARCHIVES OF ONTARIO.
Girls in laundry. Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario.
GIRLS IN LAUNDRY. PHOTO COURTESY ARCHIVES OF ONTARIO.
Baby suffering from hydro-cephalus.
BABY SUFFERING FROM HYDRO-CEPHALUS.
Girls and women sewing. Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario.
GIRLS AND WOMEN SEWING. PHOTO COURTESY ARCHIVES OF ONTARIO.
Sewing. Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario.
Settlement agreement and apology
In fall 2013, the Ontario government reached a settlement with former residents. The $35 million settlement included provisions for a formal apology and settlement of claims, as well as efforts to honour the legacy of the Huronia Regional Centre. As Premier Kathleen Wynne said in her official apology to former residents of regional centres for people with developmental disabilities, “We will protect the memory of all those who have suffered, help tell their stories and ensure that the lessons of this time are not lost.”
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME.
Ontario researchers have found that not only were psychotropic drugs prescribed to a clear majority of the current and former wards interviewed, but most were diagnosed with mental-health disorders by a family doctor, never visited a child psychiatrist or another doctor for a second opinion, and doubted the accuracy of their diagnosis.
A Toronto Star investigation has found Ontario’s most vulnerable children in the care of an unaccountable and non-transparent protection system. It keeps them in the shadows, far beyond what is needed to protect their identities.
“When people are invisible, bad things happen,” says Irwin Elman, Ontario’s now former and last advocate for children and youth with the closure of the Office.
A disturbing number, the network's research director, Yolanda Lambe, added, have traded the child-welfare system for a life on the street.
"A lot of people are using drugs now," she said. "There's a lot of homeless young people who have been medicated quite heavily."
In Ontario the CAS has turned themselves into a multi-billion dollar private corporation using any excuse to compel parents into submitting to fake drug testing to justify removing children or keeping files open keeping that government funding flowing.
All the while they've taking the thousands of children to specific CAS approved doctors who are all to happy to prescribe medication based on the workers assessments of the child's condition.. That's why there are no follow ups with qualified medical and psychiatric doctors and not because the CAS lack the funding, staff or attention span to care properly for the children.
Marti McKay is a Toronto child psychologist was hired by a CAS to assess the grandparents' capacity as guardians only to discover a child so chemically altered that his real character was clouded by the side effects of adult doses of drugs.
"There are lots of other kids like that," said Dr. McKay, one of the experts on the government panel. "If you look at the group homes, it's close to 100 per cent of the kids who are on not just one drug, but on drug cocktails with multiple diagnoses.
"There are too many kids being diagnosed with ... a whole range of disorders that are way out of proportion to the normal population. ... It's just not reasonable to think the children in care would have such overrepresentation in these rather obscure disorders."
“There are lots of kids in group homes all over Ontario and they are not doing well — and everybody knows it,” says Kiaras Gharabaghi, a member of a government-appointed panel that examined the residential care system in 2016.
In a National Post feature article in June 2009, Kevin Libin portrayed an industry in which abuses are all too common. One source, a professor of social work, claims that a shocking 15%-20% of children under CAS oversight suffer injury or neglect.
Several CAS insiders whom Libin interviewed regard the situation as systemically hopeless.
A clinical psychologist with decades of experience advocating for children said, “I would love to just demolish the system and start from scratch again.”
“It is stunning to me how these children... are rendered invisible while they are alive and invisible in their death,” said Irwin Elman, Ontario’s advocate for children and youth. Between 90 and 120 children and youth connected to children’s aid die every year.
A Rexall medication review provides the opportunity for you to sit down one on one with your Rexall Pharmacist to review your prescription and non-prescription medications. Unless your a child in Ontario's care this process will identify medication-related issues.
Why Rexall Medication Review?
The Rexall Medication Review was created specifically for people who are regularly taking multiple medications at a time.
You can rely on your pharmacist or healthcare provider to let you know if medications you take have any unsafe interactions unless your a child in Ontario's care. Not only do certain prescription medications interact dangerously with one another, but they can also interact with over-the-counter medications, vitamin and mineral supplements, or even certain foods.
In the US if the pharmacist doesn’t feel comfortable filling the prescription they can refuse to fill it.
There are many reasons, including ethical and religious beliefs, for why a pharmacist may not feel comfortable filling a prescription. We saw this recently when a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for misoprostol, a medication used to end a pregnancy.
A pharmacist is technically allowed to decline filling your prescription based on their moral beliefs. If that happens, try seeing if there’s another pharmacist working at the pharmacy and speak with them. You can also try transferring your prescription to another pharmacy to be filled, although this can add some inconvenience.
If you have reasonable grounds to suspect a child is in need of help, you need to make the call. It isn’t up to you to prove or investigate the abuse but it is up to you to reach out and help protect the child.
Under section 125 of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act every person who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be in need of protection must promptly report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to a Children’s Aid Society. This includes persons who perform professional or official duties with respect to children, such as health care workers (and how about pharmacists?), teachers, operators or employees of child care programs or centres, police and lawyers. In 2018 the age of protection was raised to include youth up to 18 years old. Youth who are 16 and 17 years old are now eligible to receive protection services from Children’s Aid Societies. While reporting for 16 and 17-year old youth is not mandatory, please contact your local Children’s Aid Society if you have concerns about a youth.
It is not necessary to be certain that a child is or may be in need of protection to make a report to a children’s aid society. “Reasonable grounds” refers to the information that an average person, using normal and honest judgment, would need in order to decide to report. This standard has been recognized by courts in Ontario as establishing a lower threshold for reporting concerns. The role of the Children’s Aid Societies is to investigate calls made by the public using a professional and standardized process. The person making the report should bring forward their concerns and Children’s Aid will determine if there is a sufficient basis to warrant further assessment of the concerns about the child. Research indicates that many professionals overreport families based on stereotypes around racial identities. Both Indigenous and Africa-Canadian children and youth are overrepresented in child welfare due to systemic racism. Stereotypes around poverty can also lead to overreporting. While poverty is a risk factor for children and youth, it is not a cause of child maltreatment.
A document called “Yes, You Can. Dispelling the Myths About Sharing Information with Children’s Aid Societies” was jointly released by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Ontario Provincial Advocate. The document, targeted at professionals who work with children, is a critical reminder that a call to Children’s Aid is not a privacy violation when it concerns the safety of a child. In fact, professionals who work with children have a special responsibility, as stated in the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, to protect the safety and well-being of children.
Does this mean if your a professional working with children concerned about a child in Ontario's care that information can be shared? Or is this another standard that applies to everyone except the workers like their lower standard for reasonable grounds to report concerns to the society?
2019: Calls grow for independent review of child protection cases involving Ontario psychologist who ‘misrepresented’ credentials
A judge found Nicole-Walton Allen unqualified to complete a specialized assessment that is often “the kiss of death” for parents fighting to keep their children. She testified she has completed more than 100 since 1992.
2018: “We need to do more to make sure that children are safe and cared for. If a child dies, someone is responsible,” Children, Community and Social Services minister Lisa MacLeod added.
Does that mean someone was responsible for all the deaths in care up to now or just from now on?
“From the CASs to group homes to my ministry, we all bear some responsibility,” MacLeod said, referring to Ontario’s 49 children’s aid societies. “And I want to assure the house that, as the new minister, the buck stops with me and I will take action before I'm held accountable.”
Is the ministry simply avoiding the responsibility by sharing the blame with everyone?
Between 2014\15 the Ontario children's aid society claim to have spent $467.9 million dollars providing "protective services" that doesn't seem to extent to the 90 to 120 children that die in Ontario's group and foster homes that are overseen and funded by the CAS.
If as a matter of common sense we don't trust our government without internal and external public oversight so why do we trust the government with the only oversight of the children's aid society?
While the number of children in Children’s Aid custody has remained relatively consistent to meet funding goals, Johnson says more kids require more complex care, and that is costly.
“On average that’s $310 a day, but when you bring some kids in it costs $500 to $1,000 a day,” says Johnson. “It has a huge impact on the budget.”
2015: Child Protection Services—Children’s Aid Societies
Note: Total expenditures reported by Children’s Aid Societies were less than total transfer payments to Societies identified in Figure 2 by about $14.5 million.
This is primarily because Ontario’s Societies collectively reported a surplus (profit) in 2014/15 that will be - contributed to their balanced budget fund for future expenses/lawsuits.
This study also showed that doctors are increasingly and inappropriately prescribing antipsychotics to children and youth. Between 2005 and 2012, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia saw a 300% increase in dispensing of quetiapine to young people aged five to 24, even though the drug is not recommended for use in children and youth.
2019: Mass resignation at Brantford children’s aid society to protest under-funding. By Jim Rankin Staff Reporter.
The executive director of Brant Family and Children’s Services says because the Ontario Conservative’s “won’t acknowledge the opioid crisis in Brantford,” 11 board members have opted to resign their posts.
The ministry disagrees, saying in a statement released Wednesday that the local opioid crisis hasn’t had a financial impact on the agency and, with the board resigning, it plans to appoint a supervisor to “operate and manage the affairs of Brant FACS so that services are transitioned seamlessly.”
The statement also said the agency was funding services “outside its mandate” and delivering service in an “inefficient manner and in ways inconsistent with best practices of other similar sized children’s aid societies.”
But board chair Paul Whittam said, “Our concern is that our financial problem was created by the ministry, not by our actions, and that the ongoing arbitrary actions of the ministry will exacerbate our financial issues.
The departure of the volunteer board members, consisted of family doctors, a senior police officer, dispatcher, and local businessmen.
The board says there was no choice but to flee the scene since board members individually would eventually become responsible for the agency’s deficit, which is over half a million for this year alone.
The agency has an accumulated debt of $3 million.
Maybe if the workers want to keep the board members that don't require them to register with the college of social work and look the other way when children in their care die - they should take a great big huge pay cut until deficit is all paid off..
“I’m close to retirement anyway,” Koster said. “And I want to be able to hold my head up and say I did what I could for the kids in Brantford.”
WHY IS THERE AN OPIOID CRISIS?
Nearly half of children in Crown care are medicated.
Psychotropic drugs are being prescribed to nearly half the Crown wards in a sample of Ontario children's aid societies, kindling fears that the agencies are overusing medication with the province's most vulnerable children.
According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail under Ontario's Freedom of Information Act, 47 per cent of the Crown wards - children in permanent CAS care - at five randomly picked agencies were prescribed psychotropics last year to treat depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety and other mental-health problems. And, the wards are diagnosed and medicated far more often than are children in the general population.
"Use of 'behaviour-altering' drugs widespread in foster, group homes."
Almost half of children and youth in foster and group home care aged 5 to 17 — 48.6 per cent — are on drugs, such as Ritalin, tranquilizers and anticonvulsants, according to a yearly survey conducted for the provincial government and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS). At ages 16 and 17, fully 57 per cent are on these medications.
In group homes, the figure is even higher — an average of 64 per cent of children and youth are taking behaviour-altering drugs. For 10- to 15-year-olds, the number is a staggering 74 per cent.
What’s worse is that the number of children prescribed dangerous drugs is on the rise. Doctors seem to prescribe medication without being concerned with the side-effects.
Worldwide, 17 million children, some as young as five years old, are given a variety of different prescription drugs, including psychiatric drugs that are dangerous enough that regulatory agencies in Europe, Australia, and the US have issued warnings on the side effects that include suicidal thoughts and aggressive behavior.
According to Fight For Kids, an organization that “educates parents worldwide on the facts about today’s widespread practice of labeling children mentally ill and drugging them with heavy, mind-altering, psychiatric drugs,” says over 10 million children in the US are prescribed addictive stimulants, antidepressants and other psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs for alleged educational and behavioral problems.
In fact, according to Foundation for a Drug-Free World, every day, 2,500 youth (12 to 17) will abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time (4). Even more frightening, prescription medications like depressants, opioids and antidepressants cause more overdose deaths (45 percent) than illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and amphetamines (39 percent) combined. Worldwide, prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death.
Standards of Care for the Administration of Psychotropic Medications to Children and Youth Living in Licensed Residential Settings.
Summary of Recommendations of the Ontario Expert Panel February 2009.
2009: Ninety children known to Ontario's child welfare system died in 2007, according to the latest report from the chief coroner's office – a number the province's new child advocate says is shocking and should trouble us all.
Between 2008/2012 natural causes was listed as the least likely way for a child in care to die at 7% of the total deaths reviewed while "undetermined cause" was listed as the leading cause of death of children in Ontario's child protection system at only 43% of the total deaths reviewed.
92 children equals 43% of the deaths reviewed by the PDRC. 92 mystery deaths and like every other year no further action was taken to determine the cause...
WHY CAN'T THESE DEATHS BE PREDICTED WHEN THEY HAPPEN EVERY YEAR? AND HOW IS IT AN AGENCY THAT CAN DETERMINE WHICH CHILDREN ARE AT RISK IN ANY OTHER SITUATION CAN'T DETERMINE WHICH CHILDREN ARE AT RISK IN THEIR OWN GROUP AND FOSTER HOMES?
“They put kids in care,” says Natasha James, a former Crown ward, “and leave them to the wolves.”
James was placed in a Hamilton foster home when she was 13, then moved to a Brampton group home before ending up in a Toronto foster home. She changed high schools nine times during four years in care.
“When I went into care I was exposed to mental-health issues, prostitution, drug abuse, suicide — everything,” she says, referring to other wards with whom she lived. “You have your roommates slitting their wrists and you’re like, ‘What are you doing?’
Calls grow for independent review of child protection cases involving Ontario psychologist who ‘misrepresented’ credentials and as with everything else CAS no one checks anything....
A judge found Nicole-Walton Allen unqualified to complete a specialized assessment that is often “the kiss of death” for parents fighting to keep their children. She testified she has completed more than 100 since 1992.
An Ontario psychologist testified she lied about her credentials and was unqualified to perform the work.
Nicole Walton-Allen had "intentionally misrepresented her qualifications" since at least 2009, according to a December ruling by Ontario Court Justice Penny Jones in a case in which the Hamilton-based psychologist gave an expert opinion supporting the Halton children's aid society's request that all five children in one family should be placed in its extended care.
Dr. Charles Randal Smith was long regarded as one of Canada's best in forensic child pathology. A public inquiry was called after an Ontario coroner's inquiry questioned Smith's conclusions in 20 of 45 child autopsies.
In 1992, the Ontario Coroner's Office created a pediatric forensic pathology unit at Hospital for Sick Children and Smith was appointed director. He had become almost solely responsible for investigating suspicious child deaths in Ontario.
In this period he conducted hundreds of autopsies and testified in court multiple times. He conducted training sessions for lawyers on how to examine and cross-examine expert witnesses, and training for law-enforcement and medical staff on detecting child abuse.
While at Sick Children's Hospital, Smith lived on a farm in Newmarket. His marriage collapsed around the time that his pathology work at Sick Children's received heavy scrutiny. Smith was briefly relocated to Saskatoon and since 2007, he has lived in Victoria, British Columbia, with partner Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, director of the Centre for Youth and Society at the University of Victoria.
In 1999, a Fifth Estate documentary singled him out as one of four Canadians with this rare expertise.
For more than a decade, Mr. Smith enjoyed a stellar reputation as the country's leading pathologist when it came to infant deaths giving lectures to law enforcement, medical students and other coroners. Several complaints about his work had little effect.
A 2008 inquiry on Smith’s work condemned his “flawed approach” and noted the he “lacked the requisite training and qualifications” to work as pediatric forensic pathologist.
Smith’s findings had helped convict more than a dozen people, some of whom spent years in prison and lost access to their children.
For 24 years, Smith worked at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. In the hospital's pediatric forensic pathology unit, he conducted more than 1,000 child autopsies.
But Smith no longer practices pathology. An Ontario coroner's inquiry reviewed 45 child autopsies in which Smith had concluded the cause of death was either homicide or criminally suspicious.
The coroner's review found that Smith made questionable conclusions of foul play in 20 of the cases — 13 of which had resulted in criminal convictions. After the review's findings were made public in April 2007, Ontario's government ordered a public inquiry into the doctor's practices.
That inquiry, led by Justice Stephen Goudge and concluding in October 2008, found that Smith "actively misled" his superiors, "made false and misleading statements" in court and exaggerated his expertise in trials.
Far from an expert in forensic child pathology, "Smith lacked basic knowledge about forensic pathology," wrote Goudge in the inquiry report.
"Smith was adamant that his failings were never intentional," Goudge wrote. "I simply cannot accept such a sweeping attempt to escape moral responsibility."
"Dr. Smith expressed opinions ... that were either contrary to, or not supported by, the evidence," Ms. Silver told the hearing Tuesday, reading from an agreed statement of facts.
Smith had been in search of his own personal truths. He was born in a Toronto Salvation Army hospital where he was put up for adoption three months later. After years of looking for his biological mother, he called her on her 65th birthday. But she refused to take his call.
Smith's adoptive family moved often. His father's job in the Canadian Forces took them throughout Canada and to Germany. He attended high school in Ottawa, and graduated from medical school at the University of Saskatchewan in 1975.
On the one hand (right or wrong) the coroner office always finds a cause of death but on the other hand finding a cause of death of children in care is almost rare...
Between 2008/2012 natural causes was listed as the least likely way for a child in care to die at 7% of the total deaths reviewed while "undetermined cause" was listed as the leading cause of death of children in Ontario's child protection system at 43% of the total deaths reviewed.
43% is 92 children reviewed by the baffled and totally perplexed PDRC. 92 mystery deaths and like every other year no further action was taken to determine the cause...
Doctors who supervised disgraced pathologist Charles Smith never faced disciplinary hearing.
James Young and Jim Cairns voluntarily resigned in 2009, and the college struck a deal in exchange for dropping its probe. COMMUNITY Feb 28, 2015
Five years after the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario made controversial deals with two doctors who played central roles in Ontario’s pediatric forensic pathology fiasco, victims of miscarriages of justice are still steaming.
In 2010, the college entered into undertakings with former chief coroner James Young and former deputy corner Jim Cairns, agreeing to drop investigations into them if they promised never to reapply to practice medicine again.
Motherisk scandal highlights risk of deferring to experts without questioning credentials.
Lab's flawed hair testing echoes Charles Smith scandal, with similarly devastating effects.
The scene plays out daily in courtrooms across the country. An expert witness in forensics is sworn in. Their often lengthy resume is entered into the record. A lawyer and maybe the judge ask a few questions about qualifications. Then, in almost all cases, that expert is good to go, considered qualified to testify about a wide range of forensic evidence — from autopsy results to blood splatter patterns.
But a recent review of the Motherisk scandal at Toronto's SickKids Hospital has highlighted just how flawed that deference to "experts" can be.
Motherisk program shut down
Motherisk lab's hair drug testing 'inadequate and unreliable'
Hundreds of adoptions on hold amid Motherisk scandal
The review looked into hair analysis done at the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory, whose hair strand testing was used to back up allegations of drug and alcohol abuse in thousands of child protection cases in several provinces and even some criminal cases. It found that neither the lab's director, clinical toxicologist Gideon Koren, nor his staff had the qualifications or expertise to do that kind of forensic work, and those findings have now thrown 16,000 child protection cases and six criminal cases into doubt.
Gideon Koren, the former head of the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, was a clinical toxicologist but had no training or experience in forensic toxicology. Nevertheless, he testified in court on several occasions as a forensic expert. (CBC)
It is the second time in a decade that a doctor at SickKids Hospital who had been serving as a forensic expert turned out to have no forensic experience or credentials that would qualify him to give expert testimony in court or analyze forensic evidence.
In the previous case, a lack of "basic knowledge about forensic pathology" and faulty analysis of autopsy results by Charles Smith, the former director of the hospital's pediatric forensic pathology unit, led to at least 12 wrongful convictions of parents or caregivers for the deaths of children, according to a 2008 public inquiry.
So, how did two spectacularly unqualified individuals end up as respected forensics experts working at one of the world's most renowned pediatric medical facilities?
"It's a failing across the system. It's a failing of prosecutors, defence and, in some occasions, the judiciary," said James Lockyer, senior counsel to the board of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
Smith's testimony was so influential that lawyers would convince innocent clients to plead guilty because they were so sure his testimony would result in conviction, says Harold Levy, who covered Smith as a reporter for the Toronto Star. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
"Smith made himself into an icon despite warning signals. No one picked up on them. Koren has a terrible history."
While there are significant differences between the two situations, the similarities are striking:
Both Smith and Koren were charismatic physicians whose charisma seemed to overshadow the fact that they were out of their depth when it came to doing forensic work, work that in both cases contributed to parents losing custody of their children or losing their own freedom and serving jail time.
Officials ignored warning signs about both men. Early in Smith's career, a judge in a murder trial admonished him for his poor work and faulty autopsy conclusions. In Koren's case, he had a public spat with his colleagues over research into an experimental drug in the 1990s, sent them nasty, anonymous letters, then lied about it, resulting in a one-week suspension. Both Smith and Koren nevertheless went on to become the go-to forensics experts on certain types of cases.
In both instances, the hospital that housed their labs was found to have exercised scant oversight to ensure the labs were run by qualified experts and met international standards for forensics.
Name recognition played a part
Retired Ontario Appeal Court judge Susan Lang completed her exhaustive review of Koren's Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (MDTL) last December and was struck by the similarities to the Smith case.
"That SickKids failed to exercise meaningful oversight over MDTL's work must be considered in the context of the hospital's experience with Dr. Charles Smith," Lang wrote in her report.
Richard Brant, left, pleaded guilty in the death of his infant son after Smith falsely testified that he died of shaken baby syndrome. Brant was acquitted a few months after Smith was stripped of his medical licence. (Pat Hewitt/Canadian Press)
She also pointed out how in both situations, the association with the hospital bolstered the doctors' reputations and others' assumptions about their qualifications.
"Just as the SickKids name assisted in positioning Dr. Smith to become a leading expert in pediatric forensic pathology, that name likely gave credibility to the work of MDTL, as well," Lang wrote.
Lawyer and retired newspaper reporter Harold Levy saw firsthand how Smith avoided scrutiny throughout his 15-year career by exuding charisma and confidence while testifying.
When Smith walked in, the legend walked in.
- Harold Levy, lawyer and former reporter
"He created such a powerful, holy, godly image of himself that people accepted him for what he held himself out to be," said Levy, who now writes a blog named after the disgraced pathologist that tracks examples of flawed forensic science.
"When Smith walked in, the legend walked in. And very few lawyers challenged him. Sometimes, innocent people, innocent parents, would plead guilty because they were told by their lawyers that his testimony was so powerful and influential that they would be convicted even though they were innocent."
Making conclusions based on preliminary results
Koren's testimony had similar heft and in 2009 helped convict a Toronto area mother accused of feeding her toddler cocaine of several serious charges, including administering a noxious substance with the intent to endanger life.
Lockyer first crossed paths with Koren while representing the mother during her appeal of the cocaine-related convictions.
Lockyer said he had never dealt with a case involving hair-sample testing before and decided to have the results from Koren's lab looked over by a certified forensic toxicologist in Alberta.
A lack of oversight by the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children, known as SickKids, was cited as a contributing factor to a breakdown of accountability in both the Smith and Koren cases. The hospital says it has instituted new measures to ensure staff who will be working within the justice system receive adequate training. (CBC)
The forensic toxicologist found the original test results were not nearly good enough to have been used in court.
Lockyer says Koren argued his lab's testing methods were "gold standard," but it turned out the lab's work wasn't even worthy of a bronze.
Lang's review found the lab was drawing definitive conclusions about the presence of drugs and alcohol based on hair samples tested with a preliminary screening test that was meant to be used only as a first step to weed out negative results. Positive results were supposed to be confirmed with a more robust test and not passed directly on to authorities.
Motherisk drug tests should be reviewed in Nova Scotia, says lawyer
Dr. Charles Smith: The man behind the inquiry
Read the Motherisk report
Read the Goudge report into Charles Smith scandal
The lab used the test for five years between 2005 and 2010 even though the testing kits, as Lang writes in her report, "included an explicit warning for the user about the preliminary nature of the … results."
Lang's review notes that even when the lab began doing more robust confirmation tests in 2010, lab workers didn't conduct those tests properly, rendering the results inaccurate.
New oversight measures in place
Lang writes that both the Smith and Koren debacles at SickKids "highlighted the dangers associated with having a laboratory within the institution that routinely provided a forensic service yet was led by individuals who lacked any forensic training."
In an emailed statement, hospital spokeswoman Matet Nebres said SickKids now has mandatory training for any staff who have dealings with the justice system. Subpoenas and summonses now have to be reviewed by the hospital's legal department.
The hospital shut down the Motherisk lab last spring, and Koren has retired from SickKids. But the ordeal is not over for parents who may have lost custody of their children based on the lab's faulty work. The province of Ontario has appointed a commissioner to look back at 25 years' worth of cases to determine which ones need to be re-examined.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ron Charles has been a general assignment reporter for CBC News since 1989, covering such diverse stories as the 1990 Oka Crisis, the 1998 Quebec ice storm and the 2008 global financial crisis. Before joining the CBC, Ron spent two years reporting on Montreal crime and courts for the Montreal Daily News.
2014: Ontario’s most vulnerable children kept in the shadows.
Child welfare system lacks accountability and transparency, with services for vulnerable children described as “fragmented, confused”
There is a child in the Ontario government’s care who has changed homes 88 times. He or she is between 10 and 15 years old.
Senior government officials describe The Case of the Incredible Number of Moves as a “totally unacceptable outlier.”
Yet they don’t know what is being done to ensure the 88th move is the child’s last. The local children’s aid society is required to have a “plan of care” for each child. Whatever it is, it’s clearly not working.
The case was noted in government-mandated surveys obtained by the Star. The reports show three other teens changing homes more than 60 times.
Getting more details on how many times children change homes while in care is a murky business. A child welfare commission appointed by the government noted in 2012 that Ontario’s 46 children’s aid societies don’t agree on how to count or record such moves.
The commission looked at two groups of children who had spent at least 36 months in care. About 20 per cent of them changed homes more than three times. The Star obtained the commission’s numbers through a freedom-of-information request.
The government, while expressing concern, has done little to ensure more stable environments for children who experience multiple moves once taken from their parents. And it has not publicized data that would flag the issue.
Tragic examples of children dying while in contact with a CAS — including a case where a child-protection worker was charged with criminal negligence — triggered province-wide alarm in the late 1990s, fuelled by coroners’ inquests and media stories.
2018: Vulnerable children are being warehoused and forgotten.
The report describes a fragmented system with no means of monitoring quality of care, where ministry oversight is inadequate, caregivers lack training, and children are poorly supervised.
The expert panel convened by Ontario chief coroner Dirk Huyer found a litany of other problems, including:
Evidence that some of the youths were "at risk of and/or engaged in human trafficking."
A lack of communication between child welfare societies.
Poor case file management.
An "absence" of quality care in residential placements.
Eleven of the young people ranged in age from 11 to 18. The exact age of one youth when she died wasn't clear in the report.
Dr. Dirk Huyer said the need for change is starkly spelled out in a report commissioned by his office after 12 youth in the care of a children's aid society or Indigenous Child Wellbeing Society died over a three-and-a-half-year stretch from 2014 to mid 2017.
Two thirds of those children were Indigenous, most died by suicide, and all contended with mental health struggles while living away from home.
Of the 12 cases examined by the report, eight were Indigenous youth who came from families that showed signs of "intergenerational trauma." They also routinely dealt with the effects of poverty in their remote northern communities, including inadequate housing, contaminated drinking water, and lack of access to educational, health and recreational resources, the report said.
Once the child welfare system became involved, the report found many of the children bounced between numerous residential placements ranging from formal care arrangements with more distant relatives to group homes hundreds of kilometres away from family.
The report found the 12 children lived in an average of 12 placements each. One one young girl stayed in 20 different placements over 18 months, the report said.
All the children had a history of harming themselves (according to CAS records), but most received little to no treatment for underlying mental health issues, it said.
Eight killed themselves, two deaths were ruled accidental, one was undetermined, and the death of one 14-year-old girl was ultimately deemed a homicide, the report said.
Many societies collect their own “performance” data but publicly reveal little more than head counts. They each have their own way of collecting and recording it. The result is a statistical mess. The child welfare commission couldn’t even figure out how many adhere to mandated response times when a call comes in about possible abuse.
The government’s record-keeping also frustrated the commission. Children’s aid societies must file reports to the government on incidents considered serious — when a child is physically restrained, for example. The government was unable to give the commission aggregate, province-wide statistics about the incidents.
Trocmé, lead investigator for the abuse incidence studies, describes a child-protection system “flying blind.”
“We don’t know whether we’re doing more harm than good,” he says.
“Harmful Impacts” is the title of the Motherisk commission's report written by the Honourable Judith C. Beaman after two years of study. After reading it, “harmful” seems almost to be putting it lightly. Out of the over 16 000 tests the commission only examined 56 cases of the flawed Motherisk tests, administered by the Motherisk lab between 2005 and 2015 and were determined to have a “substantial impact” on the decisions of child protection agencies to keep files open or led to children being permanently removed from their families.
WHAT ARE THE HARMFUL IMPACTS?
Wrongfully Separating kids from parents a 'textbook strategy' of domestic abuse, experts say — and causes irreversible, lifelong damage.
“Being separated from parents or having inconsistent living conditions for long periods of time can create changes in thoughts and behavior patterns, and an increase in challenging behavior and stress-related physical symptoms,” such as sleep difficulty, nightmares, flashbacks, crying, and yelling says Amy van Schagen - California State University.
The Science Is Unequivocal: Separating Families Is Harmful to Children
In news stories and opinion pieces, psychological scientists are sharing evidence-based insight from decades of research demonstrating the harmful effects of separating parents and children.
In an op-ed in USA Today, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (University of Delaware), Mary Dozier (University of Delaware), and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University) write:
“Years of research are clear: Children need their parents to feel secure in the world, to explore and learn, and to grow strong emotionally.”
In a Washington Post op-ed, James Coan (University of Virginia) says:
“As a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, I study how the brain transforms social connection into better mental and physical health. My research suggests that maintaining close ties to trusted loved ones is a vital buffer against the external stressors we all face. But not being an expert on how this affects children, I recently invited five internationally recognized developmental scientists to chat with me about the matter on a science podcast I host. As we discussed the border policy’s effect on the children ensnared by it, even I was surprised to learn just how damaging it is likely to be.”
Mia Smith-Bynum (University of Maryland) is quoted in The Cut:
“The science leads to the conclusion that the deprivation of caregiving produces a form of extreme suffering in children. Being separated from a parent isn’t just a trauma — it breaks the relationship that helps children cope with other traumas.
Forceful separation is particularly damaging, explains clinical psychologist Mia Smith-Bynum, a professor of family science at the University of Maryland, when parents feel there’s nothing in their power that can be done to get their child back.
For all the dislocation, strangeness and pain of being separated forcibly from parents, many children can and do recover, said Mary Dozier, a professor of child development at the University of Delaware. “Not all of them — some kids never recover,” Dr. Dozier said. “But I’ve been amazed at how well kids can do after institutionalization if they’re able to have responsive and nurturing care afterward.”
The effects of that harm may evolve over time, says Antonio Puente, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who specializes in cultural neuropsychology. What may begin as acute emotional distress could reemerge later in life as PTSD, behavioral issues and other signs of lasting neuropsychological damage, he says.
“A parent is really in many ways an extension of the child’s biology as that child is developing,” Tottenham said. “That adult who’s routinely been there provides this enormous stress-buffering effect on a child’s brain at a time when we haven’t yet developed that for ourselves. They’re really one organism, in a way.” When the reliable buffering and guidance of a parent is suddenly withdrawn, the riot of learning that molds and shapes the brain can be short-circuited, she said.
In a story from the BBC, Jack Shonkoff (Harvard University) discusses evidence related to long-term impacts:
Jack P Shonkoff, director of the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, says it is incorrect to assume that some of the youngest children removed from their parents’ care will be too young to remember and therefore relatively unharmed. “When that stress system stays activated for a significant period of time, it can have a wear and tear effect biologically.
"These children have lots of issues and the quickest and easiest way to deal with it is to put them on medication, but it doesn't really deal with the issues," said child psychiatrist Dick Meen, clinical director of Kinark Child and Family Services, the largest children's mental health agency in Ontario.
"In this day and age, particularly in North America, there's a rush for quick fixes. And so a lot of kids, especially those that don't have parents, will get placed on medication in order to keep them under control."
Psychiatric drugs and children are a contentious mix. New, safer drugs with fewer side effects are the salvation of some mentally ill children. But some drugs have not been scientifically tested for use on children, and recent research has linked children on antidepressants with a greater risk of suicide.
Yet the number of children taking these drugs keeps rising, even in the population at large.
Pharmacies dispensed 51 million prescriptions to Canadians for psychotropic medication last year, a 32-per-cent jump in just four years, according to pharmaceutical information company IMS Health Canada. Prescriptions sold for the class of antidepressants, including Ritalin, most prescribed to children to tackle such disorders as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rose more than 47 per cent, to 1.87 million last year; a new generation of antipsychotic medication increasingly prescribed to children nearly doubled in the same span, climbing 92 per cent to 8.7 million prescriptions.
And with close to half of Crown wards on psychotropic medication, their numbers are more than triple the rate of drug prescriptions for psychiatric problems among children in general.
With histories of abuse, neglect and loss, children in foster care often bear psychological scars unknown to most of their peers. But without a doting parent in their corner, they are open to hasty diagnoses and heavy-handed prescriptions. Oversight for administering the drugs and watching for side effects is left to often low-paid, inexperienced staff working in privately owned, loosely regulated group homes and to overburdened caseworkers legally bound to visit their charges only once every three months.
Unease over the number of medicated wards of the state is growing: This September, when provincial child advocates convene in Edmonton for their biannual meeting, the use of medication to manage the behaviour of foster children across Canada will be at the top of their agenda.
'whole range of disorders'
Nowhere is concern greater than in Ontario, where the provincial government recently appointed a panel of experts to develop standards of care for administering drugs to children in foster care, group homes and detention centres.
The move was made after the high-profile case last year of a now-13-year-old boy in a group home outside Toronto came to light. The boy was saddled with four serious psychiatric diagnoses, including oppositional defiant disorder and Tourette's syndrome, and doused daily with a cocktail of psychotropic drugs before his grandparents came to his rescue. Now living with his grandparents, he is free of diagnoses and drugs.