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In the end, none of the intervention worked and two deeply troubled parents lost their three children to the state.
“Less intrusive alternatives, including services to promote the integrity of the family, have been tried and have failed to address the child protection concerns or, for all intents and purposes, have been refused by the respondents by their actions or inactions,” stated Justice Cindy G. Cormier said in a decision released Wednesday. The case was heard in the family division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
The Department of Community Services prevailed in its case to acquire permanent care and custody of the couple’s three children, including a three-year-old and five-year-old girl and six-year-old boy.
The family members’ names can’t be named due to a publication ban.
That the parents love their children wasn’t in dispute. But the question was whether they faced a “real chance of physical harm or emotional harm” under their parents care. The answer to that question was spelled out in Cormier’s 47-page decision.
The difficult case can be traced back to late 2017 when Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services of Nova Scotia informed the parents that the children would be taken into care. At the time the mother and three children were living at the Millbrook Healing Centre’s women’s shelter.
The parents received a slew of support from a range of government and Mi’kmaw agencies but the entire family continued to decline, according to the court document.
“At the outset of their court involvement with the respondents the Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services Agency identified services for the family including but not limited to, legal aid services, culturally appropriate foster home placements for all three children, supervised access and transportation to access, counselling for both Mr. M and Ms. M, random drug testing for Mr. M, family support services for both Mr. M and Ms. M, parental capacity assessments for Ms. M and Mr. M, a sign language interpreter for Ms. M through the Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotian’s Mainland Office, support through the Court’s Interpreter Services Coordinator.”
Court heard that the parents, who carried on a sometimes violent on-and-off again relationship, had suffered a history of serious trauma. Mr. M had a drinking and drug problem and was diagnosed with manic-depression after his parents died. He was also diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2006. The mother had been subjected to domestic violence growing up, coped with clinical depression, and in the span of a year dealt with the death of her father and shortly after her best friend committed suicide.
Despite the supports, both bounced from one residence to another. Their scheduled family visits appeared to do more harm to their children than good. According to court records, each of the children continued to deal with psychological problems.
“Specifically, I find that on the balance of probabilities the children are at substantial risk of physical harm caused by the failure of a parent to supervise and protect,” the justice said.
“The children are at substantial risk of emotional harm as the parent fails to recognize the children’s needs and is therefore unavailable to co-operate with the provision of, services or treatment for the children all suffer from either a mental, emotional or developmental condition that, if not remedied, could seriously impair each child’s development.”
In the end, the Department of Community Services succeeded in proving on a balance of probabilities that the children required protective services and that a permanent care order was in each child’s best interests. The argument was based on four main points: the parents’ mental health issues; domestic violence; inadequate parenting skills; the father’s substance abuse and the children’s exposure to it.
Underlying Cormier’s decision was the inherent tragedy of the case.
“There is no question that the children love Ms. M and Mr. M. There is no question Ms. M and Mr. M love them. However, the children require a stable, safe and predictable environment and neither Ms. M, nor Mr. M are able to provide that for the children.”