July 23, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Thanks to the ever-excellent Lenore Skenazy for this article (Magic Valley, 7/19/20). Skenazy has long been one of the most effective advocates for parents in their conflicts with child-protective authorities. Her article is one example.
Vancouver resident, Adrian Crook had custody of his four children who, at the time in question were aged 7 – 11. Crook seems to have been an excellent and responsible father, because his kids were themselves responsible kids. So he allowed them to ride public transportation to and from school. Everything went off without a hitch. Indeed, one bus patron once emailed Crook to tell him what well-behaved children he had.
But then an anonymous tip to the British Columbia Ministry of Child and Family Development complained that the kids were unsupervised. Stated another way, they were behaving like the capable, responsible, autonomous individuals they were and are.
As such, and despite the fact that they weren’t being abused or neglected by Crook or anyone else, the MCFD swung into action. But there was a problem. They couldn’t figure out anything that Crook had done or not done that required their intervention.
[A]fter the MCFD was notified about the unsupervised kids and the authorities came to Crook’s home to investigate (he’s divorced), a supervisor on the case reported that Crook had gone “above and beyond” in training his kids to be responsible.
But a fine parent with fine kids, none of whom had been harmed in any way, didn’t deter the MCFD.
But, unable to believe their own eyes as to the kids’ competence — why wasn’t that enough? — the ministry officials started digging around for any guidelines as to whether children are officially allowed to be independent public transit riders. Finding no specific rules, it eventually deferred to a court decision from 2015, wherein British Columbia’s Supreme Court ruled that no child under 10 can stay home alone, even for a couple of hours after school with a latchkey.
Armed with that ruling and, I suspect, the Sword of Damocles wielded by every child welfare agency – the power to take away your kids – the MCFD forced Crook to sign a “safety plan” under whose terms, Crook’s kids had to be, at all times, in the presence of someone 12 years old or older. It’s an interesting age, given that Crooks eldest at that time was 11. Where’d the MCFD get that number? Not from the case law they cited, so where? I suspect they made it up strictly because none of Crook’s children had reached that age. If his oldest child had been 12, I suspect they’d have chosen 13. But that’s just a hunch on my part.
Whatever the case, Crook’s life as a single father changed radically.
Crook “had to return to taking the bus with them” — 45 minutes each way, twice a day. You can see how someone trying to work full time, or someone with a couple of babies at home, would be crippled by such a rule.
Crook didn’t have little ones at home, but still, with a job to do to put food on the table, taking time out twice a day to ride the bus with his kids, who can do so perfectly well on their own, didn’t make Crook’s life any easier. But he did it.
He also contested the MCFD’s “safety plan” in court and, after three long years, prevailed.
Crook kept fighting, and finally, last week, he had his day in you know where. In writing the opinion of the court, Justice Barbara Fisher said that the MCFD and its social workers “had no authority to require the appellant to supervise his children on the bus (or elsewhere). It follows that this purported exercise of statutory power was unreasonable.”
Good for him.
But before we celebrate, let’s remember that he and his kids were under the thumb of MCFD for three years. How much did it cost him in time, money and stress to fight the government for all that time? Skenazy doesn’t say, but the simple fact remains that, however affluent, educated and dogged Crook was, not everyone is. Most people have neither the time nor the money to fight a government agency through multiple courts over multiple years. So a win for Crook is a fine thing, but readers of this blog know, as do caseworkers for the MCFD, that for every one of those the agency loses, there are countless others in which the parent simply doesn’t have the resources to fight.
Therefore, the heavy weight of child welfare agencies falls most on the poor and poorly educated. That’s not the only problem with those agencies, but it’s certainly one of the worst.