Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

False alarm bells sounded

A review of Winnipeg's Child and Family Services after untrue allegations of sexual molestation were facilitated by a social worker resulted in wholesale changes in the way child-abuse cases are investigated

National Post, by Donna Laframboise, January 31, 2001

Louise Malenfant, a Winnipeg social activist, says changes in the way Manitoba investigates allegations of child abuse will reduce the chance of wrongful accusations.

When Manitoba judge Laurie Allen awarded custody of a seven-year-old girl to her father in May, 1999, four years after he was falsely accused of sexually molesting her, the judge did more than orchestrate a father and child reunion. Her scathing 46-page ruling sparked an independent review of Winnipeg's Child and Family Services, the equivalent of the Children's Aid Society elsewhere.

Completed in March, 2000, the contents of that review remained secret until the Manitoba ombudsman's office wrote an eight-page letter last month to the father. That was the first time the report's recommendations have been disclosed.

Obtained by the National Post, the letter, written by Cheryl Ritlbauer, a senior investigator for the provincial ombudsman, reveals that the manner in which child abuse is investigated in Manitoba has undergone a revolution.

Guidelines on how to handle allegations that arise during child custody disputes, job descriptions delineating appropriate social worker behaviour and standards on the proper way to interview children have been established. There is also a new policy mandating that accused persons must be interviewed by social workers rather than presumed guilty.

In her ruling, Judge Allen was highly critical of Winnipeg's Family Services for treating the allegation against Mr. A. (to protect his daughter's privacy, he cannot be identified) as run-of-the-mill, even though it surfaced during a bitter child-custody battle.

"I find the fact that these allegations of abuse arose during the context of a separation to be very significant. I am surprised that Child and Family Services did not consider this context at all."

Judge Allen expressed grave concern that Catherine Hudek, a social worker who held the position of director of abuse services, became an advocate for Ms. T., Mr. A.'s former common-law wife, as opposed to keeping a professional distance from the case.

Ms. Hudek personally provided counselling to Ms. T. and came to believe it was her job to "be on her 'side,' " wrote the judge. She also submitted documents supporting Ms. T. in the custody battle and continued to accompany her to custody hearings even after taking a leave of absence from Family Services.

"Ms. Hudek certainly was not able to see the shades of grey in this situation. She was determined to stop [Mr. A. from seeing his daughter] and it appeared that she would go to any length to see this occur," wrote the judge.

"Ms. Hudek's actions appear to me as if she wanted to be judge, jury and executioner of the relationship between [Mr. A. and his daughter]... Her analysis of the facts of this case demonstrates a form of tunnel vision which does not reflect well on the Agency and its reputation. I place no reliance on any of her evidence."

The ombudsman's letter assures Mr. A. that, in recent months, Family Services has profoundly revamped its policies. Every employee now has a clear job description "that should mitigate against confusion or blurring of roles," the letter reads.

In what Louise Malenfant, a community activist who specializes in cases of false allegations of child abuse and has advocated on Mr. A.'s behalf since 1997, calls a "fabulous development," a team of specially trained social workers will now be responsible for investigating abuse allegations. Ms. Malenfant says this will reduce the possibility that individual social workers -- who may be inexperienced in proper interviewing techniques or untrained in recognizing a false allegation -- will make the wrong call.

Announcing another change, the ombudsman's letter says, "It is now the Agency's practice to interview the alleged abuser as part of the abuse investigation." Ms. Malenfant says Mr. A. was never given a chance to tell his side of the story after the accusations were levelled against him.

Without ever talking to him, government social workers decided Mr. A. was a child molester, referred his name to the provincial Child Abuse Registry, temporarily stopped him from seeing his daughter and insisted he should only be allowed to resume contact with her under the supervision of a third party whose fees amounted to $100 for every hour father and daughter spent together.

Later, when it became clear Ms. T.'s fragile mental health rendered her incapable of caring for her daughter, the social workers attempted to have the child declared a permanent ward of the state -- although her father was fighting for custody of her, had never been charged by police and had been declared no danger to his child by a psychologist.

The policy of interviewing accused persons is one "every father and grandparent who has ever been accused has prayed for," says Ms. Malenfant. "These changes are fantastic. I used to be the most vocal critic of Winnipeg's child welfare system, but I believe it's the best in the country right now. And Judge Allen has done a lot to make that happen."

At the time of the 1999 ruling, Regan Thatcher, Mr. A.'s lawyer, also praised Judge Allen. "It's not uncommon in a trial to see a judge upset with one of the parties," he said. "But it's not often you find a judge, in their reasons, say that one witness is not credible. Usually they say, 'I accept this evidence over that evidence.' But in this case the judge went one extra step."

Copyright 2001 National Post Online National Post Online is a Hollinger / CanWest Publication.

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad. Read More ..

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Read the shocking report by The Auditor General of Ontario Report on the Family Responsibility Office

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.  Read More ..

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..