Nova Scotia

Lily Morinville, girl with developmental delays, relieved to be placed in group home

A Cole Harbour family, whose adopted daughter has developmental disabilities, is urging the Department of Community Services to open more spaces in small option homes for children.

Family says Lily Morinville unable to stay at home, urges province to open more spots

Vicky Morinville and her daughter Lily at home in Cole Harbour. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

A Cole Harbour family, whose adopted daughter has developmental disabilities, is relieved that its search for a group home placement is over.

However, the family says many other children are still waiting for a spot, and it's urging the Department of Community Services to open more spaces in small option homes for children. 

In June, 14-year-old Lily Morinville was arrested while trying to access mental health services at the IWK Health Centre. Police brought Lily into the care of the hospital, where she was admitted and received excellent care.

Her family said they have spent the last few months trying to find a permanent care home for her to live in, since it has become impossible to keep their daughter at home.

Lily was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as an infant, and has also been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder, ADHD and cognitive delays. She has also been aggressive toward family members by pushing, hitting, pinching and biting them.

"She has very low tolerance for the other children doing anything or being around her," said her mother Vicky Morinville.

"Ideally, what I would like for Lily would be a placement in a small options home that's staffed by trained staff, who are competent in dealing with complex needs and complex children," she said.

"Ideally that would be within a certain area of HRM so we could still maintain close contact with her." 

On Friday afternoon, the Morinvilles received word that Lily has been accepted to a small options home in Yarmouth.

Vicky Morinville says while her daughter has been placed, many others are still waiting.

40 spaces for children and youth

The Morinvilles applied to the disability support program in the Department of Community Services to find a placement.

The province runs 10 small options homes for children and youth aged 19 and under. There are 40 spots in total around the province. The disability support program director said earlier this week there are no vacancies. The department was unable to provide information about how many children are on the wait list. 

Lorna MacPherson, the director of the disability support program, said the department considers many factors in deciding which children should come into the care homes, and when.

"We have to consider the individual circumstances, and the priority of the urgency of the placement," she said.

"There are individuals that move out of the homes that they're in. And then we have a process in identifying who might be considered a suitable candidate based on their needs and the support that they would require." 

Morinville said she believes the number of spaces doesn't match the need. 

"Considering that there's a waiting list, a significant waiting list … I would have to say no, that's not sufficient," she said. 

While waiting for the placement, Lily has been cared for at the IWK, which is not a long-term care facility, and was sometimes given day passes to go home when she was stable.

Lily said that she would like to live in a place where staff could assist her, and where she could see her mother and father. She said she does not want to live with her siblings.

"Sometimes, when they bother me, I get too mad," she said. 

'Bring her back home or abandon her'

Vicky Morinville said she was also directed to child protection social workers for assistance. Child welfare services is a separate division of the Department of Community Services. She said she was upset and angered by advice she received from two different social workers. 

"Our choices at that point were to either bring her back home or abandon her, legally abandon her, at which point community services would be forced to find some sort of placement for her," Morinville said.

Lori Errington, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Services, explained front line staff work to ensure children's safety and would never advise child abandonment as a course of action. Child abandonment is illegal and Errington said she doesn't know where the Morinvilles got the suggestion, but it is not good advice.

Lorna MacPherson, of the disability support program, said in her division staff use a "voluntary care agreement" where the parents don't give up guardianship of the child, even when the child has to be cared for outside their home.

The voluntary care agreement can be reversed, and always tries to maintain connection with the family. 

However, Morinville said other families she has spoken with say they have been told the same thing. She said the option should not be presented as a faster way to get help for a child in Lily's position.

"We were told that at the IWK, and I was told that by more than one child protection social worker," she said.

"The policy needs to be addressed. There is no way a family who wants to remain involved, and a family who cares very deeply what happens to their child should be told that their only recourse is to abandon their child." 

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