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Dad's nightmare spurs family services reform

Winnipeg Free Press - Front Page

January 16, 2001

"Dad's nightmare spurs family services reform"

By Kim Guttormson

FOR Holly and her dad, the nightmare is beginning to fade.  For four years, Mr. A fought false accusations that he sexually abused Holly.

Mr. A, who was the victim of an overly zealous Child and Family Services  worker, paid a huge toll in terms of his health, financial expense and the loss of daily contact with his daughter. A judge said the CFS worker developed tunnel vision in the case.

And even though the case of Mr. A -- who can't be identified to protect Holly, which is not her real name -- brought about substantive policy changes at CFS, what he cares most about is the last 20 months he's had with his daughter.

"It was a nightmare. But here we are, together," he says, adding he has sole custody. "It was worth the fight."

Mr. A's case was the final straw, leading CFS to change a number of policies.

The changes include actually interviewing a parent accused of sexual abuse and drawing a line between the role of supervisors and those who work directly with the families.

Managers and supervisors will no longer provide direct service to clients. That will allow them to stay objective about a case. In Mr. A's case, the woman who wrongly believed he had molested his daughter, and who was also counselling his wife, was the director of abuse services.

Changes to CFS will help, said Louise Malenfant, of Parents Helping Parents, a family advocacy group that helps parents find their way through the legal system.

"It will make it better for the next guy," she said. "What more can you ask for?"

Malenfant, a onetime critic of CFS, now says Manitoba has the most professional investigation of child abuse cases in the country.

Family Services Minister Tim Sale said he feels the agency took "very seriously the concerns that were raised.

"It's resulted in the appropriate changes. I'm pleased with the current system. The agency is trying very hard to be sensitive to the public they serve and the needs of due process throughout all the cases it handles."

Mr. A's case began in the fall of 1995 when his wife left him, taking their daughter, who was almost four at the time.

Mr. A heard about the allegation that he'd abused his daughter through his lawyer. The girl's mother, although she had brought forward the initial allegation, later expressed doubts that abuse had taken place.

Mr. A passed two polygraphs and police said there was no clear disclosure of abuse and no detail, yet a CFS social worker took up the cause against Mr. A.

His visits with his daughter had to be supervised -- which he had to pay for -- costing him about $14,000, on top of his lawyer's fees. His visits were often restricted by his bank balance.

In May 1999, Justice Laurie Allen criticized the social worker, who was a former abuse services director, for how she handled the case, saying she wanted to be "judge, jury and executioner . . . her analysis of the facts of this case demonstrate a form of tunnel vision which does not reflect well on the agency and its reputation."

Allen granted custody of Holly to Mr. A.

Malenfant said the social worker wasn't objective. She counselled the mother in the case, didn't accurately report the mother's state of mind, misrepresented what police told her, told the court she represented CFS when the agency had no opinion on the case and wrote up a detailed allegation of abuse she claimed Holly related, yet the worker never took it to police, Malenfant said.

"It was a hell of a case," Malenfant said.

She and Mr. A would like to see the worker charged with obstruction and perjury for her role. A Crown's opinion decided against charges but they are asking them to revisit it.

According to a provincial Ombudsman's report, CFS commissioned an independent review of the case, making a number of recommendations.

While CFS can't speak specifically about Mr. A's case, in responding to the Ombudsman's office, the agency related changes that have been made.

The Ombudsman's report was just released to Mr. A last month.

"It's a different agency than it was in '95," Mr. A said. "I'm feeling very positive about the changes CFS has made. It's going to help the next guy."


There is a somewhat happy ending to the story

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Posted 2001 02 13
2001 04 30 (added link to follow-up)

Parents Helping Parents

Louise Malenfant

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)

Family Advocate, Parents Helping Parents

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Louise Malenfant passed away in 2006.  She is being missed.


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