Community Services takes over Cape Breton children's aid society

The Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria is now under the direct supervision of the provincial Community Services Department.

The Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria is now under the direct supervision of the provincial Community Services Department.

The department stepped in after a Family Court judge publicly criticized two of the society's caseworkers in March for withholding information from the court and a parent in a custody case.

That scathing report from the bench led to a departmental review of the society.

What the department found prompted the temporary takeover that will likely last for the next year, Community Services Minister Judy Streatch said Thursday.

"We do routine audits of the children's aid societies across the province. We had already just completed a review and so we went in with a more forensic analysis, so to speak. Andwe were able to look[at] varying pieces of information," Streatch said.

"We learned that there were deficiencies in the agency's case management and there were a certain number of provincial standardsnot being met and so certainly we took that very seriously."

Streatch would not say what deficiencies were found, nor would she say what has happened to the society's executive director, Marie Boone.

A news release said a new director will be appointed soon.

"We've got a board of directors who have got a history of understanding the community, and the unique needs of the families and the children. And we've got a staff who are prepared to do the very challenging work of child welfare," Streatch said.

"What we need to do now is as a department go in, work with the board of directors to assist the agency to ensure that what we've got in place is a consistent set of standards, a consistent set oftraining that allows the agency to do just that."

The incident began when a Sydney woman went to family court in Cape Breton to gain custody of her 13-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, who were living with their father in Alberta.

Evidence at a hearing showed the Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria was aware that the common-law wife of the children's father had a 12-year record with the Calgary Children's Aid Society before the children were sent to live with him in that city.

In a letter dated six days before the children left Cape Breton for Alberta in February 2006, the Calgary Children's Aid Society informed the Cape Breton agency of allegations of domestic violence, sexual abuse between children, neglect and filth in the common-law wife's home.

Household in disarray

Six weeks after the children arrived in Calgary, local children's aid workers visited the house and filed a positive report. But four days later, they found a household in disarray. The workers described neglect, constant fighting and drug use by the father.

The two children were then separated and placed with various relatives.

Family Court Judge Theresa Forgeron found Cape Breton child protection worker Marilyn MacNeil and her supervisor, John Janega, misled the family court and did not disclose the true circumstances confronting the children in Calgary.

In her report, Forgeron said the agency knew that its plan to send the children to Alberta would be in jeopardy if the court knew about the common-law wife's history.

The judge said not including that information in the file was intentional and deliberate.