P.E.I. government plans 3rd-party review of case involving boy sent to Alberta

·3 min read
Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers has ordered a review of the case.   (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)
Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers has ordered a review of the case. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)

The minister responsible for child protection in P.E.I. is promising "a third-party, external review" of how officials decided to send an Island boy to Calgary to live with a father he barely knew, rather than let him stay with the maternal grandmother who had cared for him for years.

In a statement to CBC News early Wednesday, Brad Trivers said the department will be working with child and youth advocate Marvin Bernstein through the process.

"The department has been in communication with the child and youth advocate with respect to this case and agrees a third party, external review should take place," said the statement.

It added: "Child and Family Services reviews decisions and practices on an ongoing basis. Reviews of this nature are important to refine processes and to look at ways in which we can enhance support for children and families."

The case involving the young boy, who is now eight, was the focus of a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that sided with the grandmother and leveled criticism against the office of the director of child protection.

'Don't deal with children like sticks of furniture'

Back in 2019, the director of child services ordered the boy removed from the care of his grandmother in Charlottetown, placed him with foster parents he didn't know for four weeks, then sent the boy to Alberta to live with his father, who he had only recently met.

The man hadn't known he had a child until P.E.I. officials told him in February of that year. His ex-wife had relocated from Alberta to P.E.I. in 2013 without telling him she was pregnant.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate had been calling for the province to conduct an internal review of how child protection officials handled the case.

"In my experience, that is highly unusual and wouldn't reflect good practice," Bernstein told CBC News in an interview Tuesday.

"Because you don't deal with children like sticks of furniture. They're human beings, and you start moving children around and you're really affecting their life trajectory, in terms of setting up a placement and removing a child from a caretaker who for all intents and purposes seems to be addressing the needs and developing a strong relationship with that child."

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

Child protection officials removed the boy from the maternal grandmother's care while he was at summer camp. He has never returned to P.E.I. to visit his mother's family, including his older half-brother.

"Aside from what you're doing to the foster parent or the grandmother, what are you doing to the child, in terms of that disruption without notice?" Bernstein said.

The province did not say how quickly the review could take place, but said the department is "currently exploring options for an external reviewer."

Wendy McCourt was Prince Edward Island's director of child protection at the time of the events described in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling. She has since retired.

CBC News has tried to reach her for comment about her actions as described in the ruling, but she did not return phone calls.

These decisions are not made in silos, they are made with input from those connected personally and professionally with the child. - P.E.I. Child and Family Services division

Officials with Child and Family Services said they cannot comment on specific cases, when CBC News requested an interview.

But an emailed statement said: "The cases and families that we work with often have multiple levels of complexity and our staff do not take any decisions involving children and families lightly.

"These decisions are not made in silos, they are made with input from those connected personally and professionally with the child(ren) and family and in conjunction with professional clinical judgment that is always grounded in the best interest of the child."

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