Foster parents fighting plan to take Metis toddler, place her with siblings
Should a happy toddler stay with the foster parents she’s been living with since birth, or be moved across the country to live with another couple who’s raising her siblings?
And what if the toddler and her foster mother are both Metis, but the other couple is not?
These are just some of the difficult issues involved in an emotional custody battle playing out in B.C., where the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development has decided to uproot a two-year-old girl and place her with her sisters in a new family in Ontario.
Her current foster parents, who can’t be named under a court order, fear that plan will do long-term harm to the little girl they’ve been caring for since she was a newborn.
“Our biggest concern is what her doctors have been saying,” the foster mom told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve all agreed that this will cause trauma for this particular child and that that trauma will extend into her life as she gets older and manifest itself in all kinds of other ways that just could be prevented.”
The foster parents said they could ensure the girl has contact with her sisters in Ontario, whom she has never met, but they also want to make sure she has close ties with her biological mom and dad.
Both sets of parents currently live on Vancouver Island.
“Her parents are right here,” the foster mom said. “They very much want to have a relationship with her. They love her dearly and they want to have contact with her.”
The couple’s lawyer, Jack Hittrich, has launched a constitutional challenge over the case and is arguing this week in B.C. Supreme Court that the little girl should stay in the province until it plays out.
Hittrich said his case revolves around the foster child’s right to have her “best interests” decided in court, instead of by ministry staff.
“The substantive issues have not only not been considered, but it is impossible for the foster parents and this little foster girl to have a proper hearing on her best interests, which is very, very disturbing,” Hittrich said.
The parents, represented by Hittrich, lost another bid in B.C. Supreme Court to adopt the girl last month. The judge found that though the couple proved they are excellent caregivers, the government had acted legally and it wasn’t the court’s task, under the circumstances, to determine whether staying in B.C. would better serve the child.
As such, no witnesses, including doctors, were heard.
The Ministry of Children told CTV News it can’t comment on specific cases, but that kids’ best interests are always the primary consideration when determining permanent placement.
“While the ministry may seek the views of foster parents regarding planning, the director is legally responsible for making placement decisions,” it said in an email statement.
The ministry also acknowledged that the Adoption Act instructs it to give preference to putting First Nations children in First Nations homes, but said it can pursue other options with approval from a committee that includes First Nations representatives.
A family support worker with the Island Metis Family Community Services Society on Vancouver Island filed an affidavit in the previous court case stating that he would continue to work with whatever family the little girl is placed with to ensure her connections with her culture are maintained.
But Keith Henry, president of the B.C. Metis Federation, said the Metis community was never consulted in a meaningful way in the case, and that his organization wants to see the child stay.
“This girl must not be moved,” Henry said. “To put [her] with a non-Metis family is absolutely a non-starter in our community.”
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Mi-Jung Lee