'Traumatic' removal of children from immigrant family's home exposed flaws in social services, advocate says

'Traumatic' removal of children from immigrant family's home exposed flaws in social services, advocate says

A case where police and social workers had to force their way into a home to remove children highlights problems with Newfoundland and Labrador's social services system, according to the province's child and youth advocate.

"The removal was a very difficult one. Even the professionals afterwards said it that it was a very traumatic experience for all involved, the children, the family and the professionals as well," said Jackie Lake Kavanagh.

The case happened more than four years ago. It's described in the child advocate report released April 17 called "The Case for Culturally Responsive Services."

The family in the report isn't identified.

Lake Kavanagh said after they came to Newfoundland from another country, a warrant was issued for the removal of the family's children for their safety. 

When police and social workers arrived, the mother of the children — who was 'visibly' pregnant and spoke very little English — refused to let them in. After consulting with their supervisors, RNC officers and social workers forced their way into the home and took the children.

Some of the workers and police didn't know the children's mother didn't speak English, and no interpreter was there for her.

Lake Kavanagh said these problems should have been taken care of before police and workers went to the family's home.

The children were eventually returned to their parents, who have moved to another province, but the child advocate said she doesn't believe this is an isolated case.

"I won't say that this is rare...It was this one family that was identified in this particular investigation. But with these deficiencies that were there, it could have been any number of families that could have been involved in this situation," said Lake Kavanagh.

"We think that these deficiencies are systemic in nature, and really need to be addressed on a broader level."

Changes recommended

The child and youth advocate office is calling for some far-reaching changes. Her report makes four recommendations, including this one:

All provincial government departments providing front-line services to culturally diverse individuals and families should: 

- Cultivate and utilize culturally responsive interpretation services when needed

- Ensure mandatory training for designated front-line professionals in the area of cultural competence, diversity and inclusion

- Review and evaluate services available to culturally diverse individuals and families to identify any gaps in services and areas for improvement.

Lake Kavanagh said the investigation also revealed there were problems with the services provided to the children while they were separated from their parents.

"Social workers were notified about concerns for one of the children's mental health. This child was not referred to the appropriate psychological services until eight months after the concerns presented, and then it took 10 months for the proper assessment to occur," she said.

In her report,  the child advocate recommended:

- The Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development provide educational resources to all front-line staff on appropriate debriefing and mental health resources for children and youth.

Association for New Canadians agrees

Karen Glavine, a social worker with the St. John's-based Association for New Canadians, is applauding the recommendations in the child advocate's report.

She said she believes increased cultural sensitivity is particularly important in light of the provincial government's plans to increase immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There are better ways to intervene, and we have to make sure we are working towards those goals," said Glavine.

"We need to recognize that our population in Newfoundland and Labrador is growing and changing, and the best way we can serve the people we are helping is to make sure that we have as much cultural responsiveness as possible."

In its new strategy announced in late March, the Liberal government said it aims to boost immigration to the province by roughly 50 per cent in the next five years.

The target is 1,700 immigrants per year by 2022.

"With the push to invite more people to come to here, it's really important that we can respond in a more culturally-sensitive way," said Lake Kavanagh.