Mormon Family's Custody Challenged Because of Father, Not Mother's Disability
Ottawa Canada Citizen 8Jun00 D2
By Peter Hum: The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA, CANADA -- An Ottawa Judge is expected to rule soon in the case of the newborn son of a Mormon couple taken from the couple just days after birth by the Ottawa Children's Aid Society. While the child's mother has cerebral palsy, The Children's Aid Society claims they took the child from the couple because the father's behavior places the child at risk.
The healthy baby boy was born May 26th, and taken from the couple only days later after a hospital employee contacted Children's Aid Society with concerns about the father's ability to cope with the newborn. The Children's Aid Society then sent a public health nurse to visit the couple's home, and the nurse said the couple's apartment was poorly kept and unhygienic. The nurse worried that breastmilk collected for the child could become contaminated.
Martha Tweedie, a lawyer for the Children's Aid Society argued yesterday in court that the father also has an anger management problem, exacerbated because the father is "overwhelmed" with caring for his wife, and assisting his father, who also has a disability. "He is not going to be able to shoulder the additional burden," said Tweedie. CAS discovered that the police have been called to the home because of the father's anger management problems. It is asking that the child be placed in the care of his maternal grandmother for the next three months.
But Danielle Dworsky, the lawyer representing the Mormon family, condemned the CAS's treatment of the family, saying that the CAS focused on the mother's disability when it took the five-day-old child from the mother, literally while she was breastfeading in the hospital. "This couple has been treated with such disrespect by the society," she said.
Dworsky claims that the CAS's assertions about the father are exaggerated or fabricated. The father was upset in the hospital because his son's birth was considered high-risk and he had been barred from the operating room. "He did not know whether his wife was going to live or die," she said.
She also argued that the couple, who have been together for three years, are committed to each other and well supported by their fellow Mormon Church members, "I would be concerned about depriving a child of parents who are so committed to each other," Ms. Dworsky said.
Lawyer George MacPherson, representing the mother, claimed that the couple's apartment was sometimes messy because her wheelchair tracked in dirt. He claimed that fruit files that the public health nurse saw in the apartment are gone and that the claim that there was a smell of urine in the apartment was caused by the mother's incontinence. Ms. Dworsky added that a bad smell doesn't place the child at risk, "Incontinence is not incompetence," she said.
The father claims that CAS has an "ulterior motive" in trying to place the child with the maternal grandmother. He says that his mother-in-law has only spoken to him twice in three years, "There's only a few members of her family that like me," the father said. The grandmother claims, "My intentions are solely to provide a safe, neutral home for the baby until they can get the services they so desperately need."
The couple went to CAS for help in obtaining service already, including an attendant care apartment for the grandmother, and they are on the waiting list for the service, which will likely not be available to them until next year. A visitng homemaker, public health nurse and an occupational therapist already provide services to the family, and the Court was told that the couple are receptive and friendly to professional help."So they need help cleaning their home. Give them that help," said Ms. Dworsky.
But Ms. Tweedie argues that "There needs to be services in place that aren't quite there yet." And until those services are in place, the child is at risk.
Justice Jennifer Blishen is scheduled to give her decision Monday.