February 27, 2014 5:45 pm
Updated: February 27, 2014 7:59 pm

Legal options for Edmonton mother trying to find family for daughters


Video: An Edmonton woman living with Multiple Sclerosis is making a public plea to find caregivers who can look after her two young daughters, after she no longer has the strength. Francis Silvaggio has her story.

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TORONTO – The story of a single Edmonton mother whose public plea to find a home for her daughters has earned thousands of messages of support, and many offers of adoption from people who are “foster ready” and “willing to consider a long-term placement.”

So what are the legal options available to Sarah Vibert, who lives in a long-term care facility because of multiple sclerosis and a spinal injury that’s confined her to a wheelchair?

Vibert went public because she thought putting her 8 and 9-year-old daughters into the foster care system could mean giving up her guardianship and limiting the amount of time she’d get to spend with them.

Queen’s University family law professor Nicholas Bala said while she wouldn’t necessarily lose all rights, Vibert would lose a lot of control if her daughters entered the foster care system. This would put the final say as to where her children were placed in the hands of a social worker.

It’s not uncommon for parents to find others to care for their children for a period of time, though typically it’s grandparents or family members who are asked first, said Bala.

“Alberta has legislation that the mother could remain a guardian and two people who she finds could be added as guardians, so they would all have some legal rights and responsibilities,” he said, noting the guardianship process varies from province to province.

Sarah Vibert and her two daughters, aged eight and nine.

Global News

“I’m just hoping there’s someone out there looking for two little girls that need a home,” Vibert said Tuesday, adding that ideally she’d like to still see them as often as possible and have a say in matters such as their education.

Bala pointed out it’s not just about the legal rights of the mother, but also the emotional relationship would be something Vibert and her children would want to continue.

He added that “open adoption” is another option, and said the flurry of responses to Vibert’s plea reflects the reality that many Canadians want to adopt and can’t easily find children.

“Now it’s becoming increasingly common…that children might be adopted but would continue to have some contact with the biological parents,” he said. “So this sort of fits in with the changing, broadening nature of families and parent-child relationships in Canada.”

Differences between the choices

A guardian remains legally tied to a child, and has the rights of a parent with a continuing set of obligations, Bala said. This includes things like access to information, and also obligation to pay child support (which he suggested may not be relevant in Vibert’s case).

In the case of adoption, a biological mother would no longer be a legal parent.

“It could be open adoption, so she would have some rights of continuing contact with the children, but no longer have the rights or obligations of a parent,” said Bala.

Then there’s what Bala called a “halfway” option of a long-term placement which includes a temporary set of rights and obligations.

Bala believes there will be an initial period of screening and selection, then “presumably some kind of trial placement–for everybody.”

Alberta Child and Family Services said it’s received a lot of calls from many others wanting to help Vibert’s children, and emphasized its services aren’t limited to foster care. Spokesman Adam Holm said Wednesday the organization would do everything possible to ensure the safety and well-being of children using the “least intrusive approach,” for which Vibert is thankful. Bala suggested the agency could help in the screening of applicants.

Unusual but not unprecedented

Bala said Vibert’s case isn’t unprecedented in looking to non-family members to care for children, but said he couldn’t think of another case that used social media to find parents.

“It’s an interesting instance of the combination of changing social and family structures and the rise of social media,” he said.

There’s also the question of the girls’ father, Vibert’s ex-husband, who she said was caring for their daughters until he left the country last June. She said he left the girls with friends who are no longer able to care for them.

Bala said their father will continue to have a legal status and some residual rights, as well as potential obligations such as child support.

But “the longer he is away from a role in caring for the children, though, the more reluctant a court would be to give him rights of access or custody to the children,” said Bala.

On Thursday, Vibert updated her blog, thanking everyone for their generosity, and adding a “Donate” button in response to questions from readers who want to help out financially. She wrote she planned to put half of any donations into their RESPs and donate the other half to a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping get teenagers off the streets. She also invited donors to specify how to allocate funds by leaving her a message.

Those interested in becoming a caregiver can contact 780-422-3333

Watch below: Global’s Fletcher Kent reports Feb. 26 on how Vibert’s life changed in just 24 hours.

With files from Global News reporters Trish Kozicka and Fletcher Kent

© 2014 Shaw Media

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