Prov­ince or­ders CAS to check on ex­perts

Their re­ports can be in­flu­en­tial in re­mov­ing chil­dren from par­ents

The Peterborough Examiner - - Front Page - JAC­QUES GAL­LANT

The On­tario gov­ern­ment has or­dered all chil­dren's aid so­ci­eties to im­me­di­ately re­view the cre­den­tials of ex­perts used to as­sess whether par­ents should lose their chil­dren.

The di­rec­tive comes in the wake of an on­go­ing Toronto Star in­ves­ti­ga­tion into par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ments — ex­pert re­ports that can be heav­ily re­lied on when de­cid­ing whether chil­dren should be re­moved from their par­ents’ care.

The as­sess­ments typ­i­cally ex­am­ine par­ents’ abil­ity to ad­dress the needs of their chil­dren and whether there are sup­ports avail­able.

As the Star's in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found, there are no qual­i­fi­ca­tions re­quired to do a par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ment, no rules around method­ol­ogy and test­ing, and no over­sight body that tracks as­ses­sors’ per­for­mance.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was sparked by a Halton re­gion child pro­tec­tion case in which a judge found that psychologi­st Ni­cole Wal­tonAllen — who tes­ti­fied she has done more than 100 par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ments — had lied about her cre­den­tials for years.

Wal­ton-Allen is au­tho­rized by the Col­lege of Psy­chol­o­gists to prac­tise in school psy­chol­ogy but, the judge noted at the time, ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing her CV and web­site listed her as a clinical psychologi­st.

“I be­came con­vinced that she had been in­ten­tion­ally us­ing the clinical des­ig­na­tion to in­crease her cred­i­bil­ity as a psychologi­st,” On­tario Court Jus­tice Penny Jones wrote in her De­cem­ber rul­ing.

The rul­ing tossed Wal­tonAllen’s as­sess­ment, which had sup­ported the so­ci­ety's po­si­tion that five chil­dren in one fam­ily should be placed in CAS care.

Jill Dun­lop, as­so­ciate min­is­ter of chil­dren and women's is­sues, said the min­istry di­rec­tive was sent to the so­ci­eties Thurs­day.

It is “un­ac­cept­able” that chil­dren and fam­i­lies may have been af­fected by Wal­ton-Allen’s mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of her cre­den­tials, Dun­lop said, speak­ing at the Jewish Fam­ily & Child CAS in North York on Fri­day.

She shared news of the di­rec­tive while an­nounc­ing a gov­ern­ment re­view of the child wel­fare

sys­tem that will in­clude an on­line sur­vey for youth, fam­i­lies and front-line work­ers.

The gov­ern­ment will also be bring­ing on a third party to pro­vide in­de­pen­dent ad­vice “on mod­ern­iz­ing ser­vices,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease.

The di­rec­tive — which ad­vo­cates have al­ready crit­i­cized as in­ad­e­quate — or­ders so­ci­eties to iden­tify all par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ments that are in progress or that have been com­pleted in cases still be­fore the courts, and to ver­ify the as­ses­sor's cre­den­tials.

For ex­am­ple, if an as­ses­sor is a psychologi­st regis­tered with the Col­lege of Psy­chol­o­gists or a psy­chi­a­trist regis­tered with the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons, the CAS must ver­ify with the col­lege that the in­di­vid­ual is who they say they are, and are in good stand­ing.

If the so­ci­ety has con­cerns with an as­ses­sor’s cre­den­tials, and re­mains con­cerned af­ter speak­ing with the in­di­vid­ual, the so­ci­ety must file a com­plaint with the as­ses­sor's re­spec­tive col­lege, the di­rec­tive says.

The so­ci­ety must also keep a record of the steps it has taken to ver­ify the cre­den­tials, as well as a record of any com­plaint filed and its out­come.

In the Halton case in­volv­ing Wal­ton-Allen, it was lawyer No­valea Jarvis, rep­re­sent­ing the mother in the case, who dis­cov­ered on the Col­lege of Psy­chol­o­gists’ web­site that Wal­ton-Allen was only au­tho­rized to prac­tise in school psy­chol­ogy.

De­spite be­ing told of this find, Halton CAS still tried to have Wal­ton-Allen’s as­sess­ment ad­mit­ted, but the judge re­jected her opin­ion.

Halton de­ferred to the On­tario As­so­ci­a­tion of Chil­dren’s Aid So­ci­eties (OACAS), which de­clined to com­ment on the case.

Go­ing for­ward, each so­ci­ety must have a process in place for ver­i­fy­ing an as­ses­sor’s cre­den­tials, the di­rec­tive says.

All so­ci­eties are re­quired to re­port back to the min­istry by Sept. 30 that they have fol­lowed the di­rec­tive's re­quire­ments.

In a state­ment to the Star, the CEO of the OACAS said the as­so­ci­a­tion and CAS lead­er­ship have been re­view­ing mea­sures to im­prove the process for find­ing qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als who do par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ments and “these mea­sures are well aligned with the min­istry’s re­cent di­rec­tive.

“We are con­fi­dent that On­tario’s chil­dren’s aid so­ci­eties are well-po­si­tioned to un­der­take the ac­tions de­scribed in the min­istry's di­rec­tive ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively,” said Ni­cole Bon­nie.

Tammy Law, the pres­i­dent of the Toronto chap­ter of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Child Pro­tec­tion Lawyers, said the di­rec­tive fails to ad­dress many of the con­cerns around par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ments, in­clud­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tions nec­es­sary to do an as­sess­ment in the first place and the types of tests that should be used on the par­ents and chil­dren.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a cut on a bro­ken arm, and not treat­ing the bro­ken arm,” she told the Star. “It doesn't ad­dress the root is­sues.”

Mean­while, the min­istry said in a state­ment it is con­tin­u­ing “to un­der­stand the scope of the work con­ducted by this in­di­vid­ual,” re­fer­ring to Wal­ton-Allen.

The min­istry has so far re­fused to say whether it will launch an in­de­pen­dent re­view into par­ent­ing ca­pac­ity as­sess­ments, which lawyers, ad­vo­cates and the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion have said is nec­es­sary.

Ir­win El­man, the former pro­vin­cial ad­vo­cate for chil­dren and youth, said he was struck by the fact that such a di­rec­tive was not al­ready in place.

El­man’s of­fice was abol­ished by the Ford gov­ern­ment last year; its in­ves­tiga­tive pow­ers were trans­ferred to the om­buds­man’s of­fice, but not its ad­vo­cacy man­date.

He said an in­de­pen­dent, restora­tive in­quiry into the child wel­fare sys­tem could help come up with guide­lines and qual­i­fi­ca­tions for these as­sess­ments.

“For me, the fact that there was no such di­rec­tive or think­ing in the past, and the fact that the min­istry has still not made any declar­a­tive state­ment about what our chil­dren and fam­i­lies con­nected to child wel­fare can ex­pect, is a sign that the gov­ern­ment yet again has not taken the whole child pro­tec­tion sys­tem se­ri­ously,” he told the Star.

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