A few days ago, I overheard a radio discussion with Adrian Crook about his recent interactions with MCFD. I was attracted to his dilemma because, unlike many who have been the subject of oversite (or intrusion) by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, he seemed gracious enough to opine on the necessary work often performed by the Ministry.
His position, however, was that, in his case, MCFD overreached.
What was the concern?
Apparently, it was an anonymous report that four of his five children were riding the bus without appropriate supervision.
I won’t bother to describe the full situation as he more than adequately covers that and a host of related issues in his blog, https://5kids1condo.com/ For example, there is inconsistency across Canada on the age with which children are free to be unsupervised. Children mature at different rates of course and this fact alone has caused our host of Governments to wander around in confusion. Crook explores that imbalance in how Canada thinks about its children. He is a fine researcher and a very strong writer.
Here is another e-take on the situation Adrian Crook and his children faced. http://nationalpost.com/opinion/adrian-crook-the-government-came-after-me-because-i-let-my-kids-ride-the-bus-alone
Unless there is some other issue within the lives of Adrian Crook and his kids that I know nothing about (as it should be, of course, but in this situation, nothing untoward immediately jumps out at me), I find the process of examination, of scrutiny that his family came under by Child Welfare authorities somewhat disconcerting.
As a Retired Child Protection Worker, I try not to second guess those currently doing the work. There are always factors outsiders, even those who are intimately involved, are blissfully unaware of. Nevertheless, as an exercise, I have tried to imagine what I would have done if I had received the complaint that four children were riding a public conveyance…to whit, a bus…without the benefit of responsible supervision.
Step 1: I would have checked our records to see if this was a first complaint.
Step 2: Assuming this was a new complaint, that there was no previous child protection history, and that there were no other factors given, I most likely would have initially done a Community Check. This might involve contacting responsible adults who might know the family. For example, the School, the Family Doctor, or Public Health nurse. (I should add here that I may not have been given much information by the complainant. For example, was it a stranger calling? If it was, did they have names, ages, and such? If they were a stranger, how would they know names.) My guess here is that the caller had some identifying information and thus was an acquaintance.
Step 3: In the scheme of things child welfare, a gaggle of children of various ages riding a bus to and from school is not an earth shattering concern. (Here I need to speculate that as Adrian Crook lives in downtown Vancouver and his ex-wife lives elsewhere and as the children apparently split their time between their respective parents, that the bus ride of 40 or so minutes takes them to the school they attend near their mother.)
Step 4: Not really a step four; initially just a caveat. Throughout an assessment, risk is always being measured. The tools available these days are undoubtedly more sophisticated than in my day. For my purposes here, I have few tools available. So…the real Step 4. At this point, I would undoubtedly run the situation by a supervisor. If we had names and if we had spoken to the school and if the school had expressed almost any concern about the well-being of the children, the most likely course of action would be for me to interview them. In many case, especially if there were relatively significant concerns, for example, abuse or more serious neglect concerns, I would conduct the interviews at the school (if they were still there and not gone home.) If there were no concerns expressed, nothing else percolating, festering, my probable course would be to call the father (or mother) and arrange a home visit. Quite likely, I would want to talk with the children individually in their own home. Ideally that would be with no parent sitting in (always the preferred course of action.) Occasionally, rarely, depending on the concern, I might waive that request if there were reasonable objections. The bottom line in any child protection investigation is to garner the unvarnished view of the children.
I would like to say that I simply do not understand the decision by MCFD to insist that Adrian Crook accompany the children on the bus. His explanation that he spent two years training his children to feel strong and independent on the bus makes eminent sense to me. Truth is though, I do understand how difficult it must be to permit an unusual or slightly akilter act of parenting (dictated by necessity, I believe.) The reality is that parents part, kids share their lives, school becomes complicated if the parents live inconveniently far from each other. And systems are not kind to those who make what some might call a risky decision. There is always risk. Kids in care in my time were not necessarily allowed to attend activities that might…might, mind you…result in injury. Skydiving, for example. I do admit it would not have been my cup of tea but, to the best of my recollection, no youth in my care ever expressed an interest.
No matter what I think, Adrian Crook has wisely succumbed to MCFD’s cautionary request. Whether the new Minister, Katrine Conroy, will bring a more reasoned approach to the Ministry is anybody’s guess. Change comes slow and never easily in the child welfare system.
Or the Hollies…