Conduct of social workers in abuse case faces review

The provincial government will review the conduct of social workers criticized by a judge for ignoring or misleading the courts, failing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and, ultimately, delivering four children into the hands of their predatory father.

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said the government is still planning the investigation and will release more details once they are available.

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“I have directed my deputy minister to work with the Public Service Agency on what form of staff conduct review is appropriate in this situation — respecting, of course, public servants’ rights to be treated fairly and with due process,” she told the legislature.

“My expectation is that that plan will be brought to me with haste.”

In a written decision this week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker found the ministry liable for negligence, misfeasance and breach of fiduciary duty.

He said social workers sided with an abusive father in a bitter custody battle, failed to investigate the mother’s allegations of sexual abuse, wrongly apprehended her children and then provided false or misleading information to the judge to support the apprehension.

Walker also concluded that social workers tainted a police investigation by inaccurately portraying the mother as mentally ill, and went so far as to disregard a court order and allow the father unsupervised access to his children during which he sexually abused his youngest child.

Overall, the judge concluded that ministry employees in this case “lost sight of their duties, professionalism and their objectivity.”

“This situation has left very, very real impacts on a family,” Cadieux said in the legislature. “No one can hear the story and not feel empathy and sympathy.”

Her decision to order a review, however, did little to appease the Opposition, which demanded that she apologize to the mother and her children, and disclose how many other court orders the ministry has ignored.

“Is this happening in other places?” NDP children’s critic Doug Donaldson said in an interview.

“The pattern that we see developing is not just ignoring court orders, but also that once the ministry gets headed in a certain direction, there’s no way for them to acknowledge that they’ve made incorrect decisions.”

The judge said that, even today, many social workers “doggedly stick to their adverse view” of the mother in this case, despite the lack of any expert evidence that she suffers from mental illness and despite the court’s findings that the children were, in fact, sexually and physically abused by their father.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, representative for children and youth, said the ministry needs a way to deal with allegations of “worker bias,” which can send an investigation down the wrong path.

“This isn’t the only case I’ve had where a family feels there’s bias and we do not automatically get assigned a set of fresh eyes,” she said.

“And we need to have that in British Columbia to prevent this.”

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