A mother with a mild intellectual disability has lost custody of her 18-month-old son after a Nova Scotia judge found she does not have the capacity to parent the child.
Nova Scotia’s Community Services Department has been caring for the boy since shortly after his birth, and earlier this year sought a permanent care order because of protection concerns.
The 40-year-old mother opposed the order, arguing that she sincerely loves her son and that her mild intellectual disability is not a risk to his safety.
In a written decision, Justice Theresa Forgeron of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Sydney found the child would be at a “substantial risk of harm” in his mother’s care because she cannot adequately supervise and protect him.
Forgeron said a parental capacity assessment found the mother’s mild intellectual disability impairs her parenting abilities, and although she would meet her son’s basic needs, she would have difficulty solving the “novel” problems that will inevitably arise as the child matures.
“I infer that the mother’s limitations with cognitive functioning will continually cause parenting deficits that will place the son at a substantial risk of physical harm,” the Oct. 23 written decision said.
The decision said the woman lacked insight, noting the child’s father has an extensive child protection history involving substance abuse and violence and that the mother had previously refused to dissociate with him.
“The mother does not truly appreciate the risks associated with a dysfunctional and abusive relationship. The mother’s recent vow to sever all ties with the son’s father rings hollow,” it said, adding that the woman also has a 22-year-old son with ongoing addiction issues and a 15-year-old daughter who lives with her father.
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Krista Carr, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, said she could not comment on the case specifically, but said the system has traditionally discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities.
“The automatic assumption of the system is that they couldn’t possibly be an appropriate parent. People with an intellectual disability are human beings, the same as everyone else, and they have the right to be parents,” said Carr in an interview.
Ruth Strubank, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, said more supports are needed for parents with intellectual disabilities – such as home visits with health care workers – rather than discounting them as parents altogether.
“That requires a level (of) education and training for social workers and others,” said Strubank.
Carr agreed, saying that supports are provided to parents with issues such as addiction so that children can stay in the home, but people with intellectual disabilities are often not helped in the same way.
“It’s about recognizing the individual’s right to be a parent and providing the support that’s necessary to ensure that they get the support they need to be a good parent. There’s no evidence to prove that a person with an intellectual disability can’t be a parent.”
The judge noted the mother allowed a young homeless person that she had just met to stay overnight in her home, and later realized that person was stealing. Forgeron said the mother does not appreciate the risks associated with her older son’s addiction issues, and “makes poor choices in friends.”
“The mother is a naive and vulnerable person … Her friendships are often conflictual and at times abusive,” it said, noting she told a doctor she was seriously assaulted once by two friends.
It also said the woman does not have the capacity to parent on her own, and would require a supportive network to safely parent the child, which she does not have. It said the mother argued the maternal grandmother would help care for the child, but the court said the 78-year-old woman could not offer the required support.
“The maternal grandmother does not appreciate the extent of the mother’s challenges, often brushing off concerns that were raised by counsel. (She) stated that she would be there to babysit and occasionally direct, but would otherwise allow the mother to parent the son,” it said.
“Second, the maternal grandmother has her own limitations arising from age and health concerns.”
Forgeron also denied the woman ongoing visits, saying that “access would impede adoption and permanency planning.”
© 2017 The Canadian Press