For Family Court Judge Beryl MacDonald, the question seemed simple. Does she have the authority to order the minister of community services to provide a service the department, by policy, doesn’t offer? Her answer, delivered during a family court hearing this week, was equally simple. She does not.
The legal issue may be simple; the case is anything but. And her defensible judicial answer may conflict with what is the ultimate goal of our child protection legislation: The best interests of the child.
The case involves a troubled Cole Harbour teenager whose grandparents raised him. Two years ago, when they realized they could no longer cope — he has serious psychological problems — they sought help from community services. Instead, the government assumed his guardianship and — because Nova Scotia doesn’t have secure long-term youth facilities — shipped him off to Bayfield, an Ontario institution “for boys experiencing difficulties.”
His grandparents objected and acted as the boy’s advocates. That made them intruders in the government’s and the institution’s father-knows-best care program.
At one point, after the grandmother complained publicly about his treatment, Bayfield refused her a face-to-face visit. Bayfield has occasionally cut off all communications between the child and his grandparents.
These days, phone contact is tightly controlled and monitored. A recent note from Bayfield staff claims one conversation “was beginning to turn negative as it was ending.” This apparently referred to the fact the grandmother “asked about his medication again, and was more assertive that he she did not believe he should just be taking medication whenever he wanted.”
Doctors at Bayfield, who have prescribed Seroquel XR, an antipsychotic medication, allow the boy to take some of his daily dosage “as needed.” The province has authorized a dosage of up to 850 mg per day. According to the website healthcentral.com, “the safety of doses above 800 mg/day has not been evaluated in clinical trial.” Drugs.com says Seroqel XR “should not given to anyone younger than 18 years old.”
The grandparents are just as concerned by what they see as escalating “incidents” of violence where Bayfield staff “restrained” the boy.
My non-legal question is equally simple: Is this boy better off now than he was when he left Nova Scotia? What will he be like in three years when he becomes an adult and Bayfield spits him back out — as it has other Nova Scotia children.
The judge may see this as a narrow legal question. The Minister of Community Services should see it as a larger question. Is what her department doing in the best interest of this — or any other — child?
– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.