Social workers failed Sask. mom, judge says
A Saskatchewan judge is raising concerns about provincial social service workers who repeatedly ignored court orders relating to a woman hoping to reunite with her children.
Court of Queen's Bench judge Geoffrey Dufour, in a decision released this week to an online legal database, said he wants more answers from the ministry and — if none are provided — may refer the matter for criminal prosecution.
"I am compelled to address ... the apparent failure of the Ministry of Social Services to comply with orders of this court," Dufour said in the case, which was initiated by a woman suing ministry officials to regain custody of her children.
The names of the children, aged five and three, and the mother, 26, who is from Prince Albert, Sask., cannot be reported.
According to Dufour's decision, the mother had undergone a transformation from a drug-addicted sex worker to a responsible adult.
"This is a truly remarkable story," Dufour said. "The story of A.H., a mother who has escaped a life of prostitution and squalor and bested addictions so that she might have the ability to parent her two children."
In the court ruling, Dufour outlined how A.H. spent her childhood in the foster home system, eventually ending up on the streets.
"A.H. was pretty much on her own by the time she was 14," Dufour said. "[She was] exchanging her body for alcohol and bouncing between extended family members, temporary foster parents and state-run facilities. She started injecting Ritalin when she was 16 and soon became addicted to the morphine derivative dilaudid."
Her children, who A.H. believed were fathered by johns, were apprehended at birth.
No longer a 'waif'
The judge wrote that A.H. was eventually able to beat her addictions and improve her life.
"A.H. had morphed from the waif I saw in April, 2009 into someone who was healthy, well-groomed and much more focussed and confident," Dufour said. "She has been living in the same nice two-bedroom suite for more than two years and has not injected Ritalin for more than a year."
According to Dufour, despite several positive professional assessments of A.H., ministry officials did not want the children returned to the woman.
Dufour had ordered that A.H. be allowed supervised visits, but those were largely ignored.
"It is clear that the visits that were ordered did not take place," Dufour said. "It is essential in my view to find out why not."
He ordered the ministry to provide an explanation by Feb. 12, 2012 and warned that if none were forthcoming, he might take further action.
"Other courts have referred the matter to the Attorney General for a determination as to whether prosecutions for contempt of court should be initiated," Dufour noted.
Finally, he found that A.H. had progressed enough to gain more access to her children and ordered that nine weeks of supervised visits take place, followed by the full return of the children, effective Thursday.
Dufour said that social workers could still supervise the woman's home for 12 months.
CBC News contacted officials at the Ministry of Social Services, but they declined to speak about the specific case.
"We are continually reviewing our processes to improve the services that we do provide for children and families," Andrea Brittin, the Executive Director of service delivery for child and family services, told CBC News Wednesday.