Motherisk flyer is distressing to kids in care: Ontario children’s advocate

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

TORONTO – The provincial government is asking schools to take down posters about the Motherisk Commission, after the province’s Children and Youth Advocate warned they could be damaging to kids involved with Children’s Aid Societies.

Irwin Elman spoke out with concerns about the posters on Wednesday.

They publicize the work of the Motherisk Commission, set up by the provincial government last year to analyze legal cases involving flawed hair strand drug and alcohol tests carried out by the Motherisk Drug Laboratory, run by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

The Ministry of Education sent a memo dated March 20 to school boards along with the poster, or “e-flyer,” asking for it to be distributed widely to staff, parents and students.

READ MORE: Hundreds of Ontario adoptions on hold while commission reviews Motherisk cases

The poster says, “Were you taken from your parent by the Children’s Aid Society?”

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Elman said school administrations aren’t equipped to deal with the questions the flyer and memo has sparked among students who were removed from their homes.

“Children’s Aid Societies used hair strand tests to see if parents were using drugs or alcohol,” the flyer continues. “We now know that these tests were unreliable. Do you want to know if this testing was relied on in your case? If yes, we may be able to help and it’s completely confidential.”

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On Wednesday afternoon, the Ministry of the Attorney General released a statement saying schools were being asked to take the posters down.

READ MORE: Review calls Motherisk drug and alcohol testing program ‘inadequate and unreliable’

“We understand that some students may have been negatively affected by these posters, and may require additional support, which is why the Ministry of Education has also asked school boards to alert their mental health leads and guidance staff to be available to support students,” the statement says.

The Ministry of Education distributed the flyer to school boards on behalf of the Motherisk Commission. A spokesman for the commission said it was intended only for secondary schools.

The commissioner asked Wednesday for the flyer to be withdrawn from elementary schools, but the Ontario government ultimately decided to withdraw it from all schools, Peter Rehak said.

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Elman had said some students were upset to receive the flyer or the memo – and he was too.

“Of course I’m upset,” he said. “I have not met anybody who’s not upset as well.”

He’s worried make some children will think they’re going to be returned to a birth parent when they see the poster on a school wall or on social media.

Elman was approached by Adopt 4 Life, a provincial organization for adoptive parents, when one of their students was given the flyer.

“That child was in tears, wondering if she was a ‘crack baby,’ was she taken from her parents because her mom was doing drugs? Which wasn’t the case, it didn’t have anything to do with Motherisk,” he said.

Elman said it’s right to reach out to children who may have been taken from their home based on a flawed test, but it needs to have been done individually and through someone the child trusts – not a flyer.

“There’s a hundred ways to Sunday the damage of that kind of messaging,” Elman said.

The memo says the commission needed to reach out to people on a deadline.

“This information is time sensitive,” it says. “The commission is required to deliver its report at the end of 2017 and will be closing down shortly after.”

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Adopt 4 Life wrote to the Ministry of Education on Wednesday asking for the flyer and the memo to be withdrawn.

“The generalized statement about children being ‘taken from their parent’ ignores the role of adoptive parents in a child’s life, and de-legitimizes the permanency of adoptive families,” their letter says. “Generally, the flyer creates fear in all children that they could be ‘taken away from their parent’ at any time; but in particular, it is a clear trigger to children who have been placed into foster care or adopted in Ontario.”

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