[This is the eighth post in a series highlighting a public dialogue held at the University of Alberta on October 23rd, 2008, titled The Modern Pursuit of Human Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life. The dialogue was sponsored by the What Sorts Network, in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Alberta Association for Community Living. This series will bring forward the videos made of this event twice a week, roughly every Wednesday and Saturday. For further context, please see the introductory post in the series, which can be found here; we’ll string together all posts in this series when we have most / all of them up, or you can search by the category “Modern Pursuit” to get those already posted.]
Here we move onto the “dialogue” part of the public dialogue, with the first of a series of questions raised by the stories we’ve heard from Sam, Wendy, and Colleen. We start with questions about connecting with others and what happens when doctors and others are confronted by vulnerable people whose trust has been violated by those in a position of authority. This one is in two parts, with discussion of child welfare, parental struggle, and connecting with others coming through in this part, adding an important part to Colleen’s story that was left out first time round coming out in Part 1 below. A transcript follows the video.
The second part of the question gets answered in Part 2.
Rob Wilson: Hi, I’m Rob Wilson, and thanks a lot for those perspectives. I guess I have a question for each of you. Colleen, I would just like to hear a little bit more about whether you’ve met other people who have been in a similar situation either through AACL or through other personal connections or whether you feel like your situation is very unusual, very almost unique, whether you feel like there’s a community of people you feel a part of in light of those experiences? That’s I guess the first question. And I guess the question on the other side, and maybe it’s a question for all of you as well is, what are the kinds of reactions you get when you confront people who have basically exploited your vulnerabilities in the situations you’re in, that have betrayed the trust that you’ve invested in them, and they’re in the positions of authority, they’re in positions of, um, and they have some kind of obligation that they’ve clearly abrogated, and you definitely feel more than let down. How do they react? What’s that scenario like there? You must have many stories that are like that, I’m sure.
Colleen Campbell: I feel that being a part of AACL has really kept me strong through the whole ordeal. And just the fact of, now that she’s, my daughter is 15 years old and she’s a teenager, and I’m going to have struggles, but you know what, they’re typical teenage struggles, and it just the fact of… yeah, I do feel like being part of a family with AACL, I really do.
Anne Hughson: (whispered) Explain what joining the family leadership, just so other people with kids with diabilities… (?)
Colleen: Yeah, I drew. Like, since this happened, last year I was in the leadership series and I really enjoyed it and that’s where I met Randy and Sam. So, I’ve heard their stories before and I really, like this is one more insight I’ve heard from the very beginning, it’s nice to hear it from the very beginning and hear the rest of it too. That’s where I met them, and I do feel in part that there are a lot of people out there but that have similar things happen to them.
Anne: You’ve met some of those parents, too.
Colleen: Yes I have met some of those parents. Quite a bit, actually. And I’ve stayed in contact with them, too. And it’s also through my daughter and her, the kids that she meets, she stays close to them, too.
Anne: I think one of the things that meeting Colleen has been one example of a number of mothers and fathers, but particularly mothers we’ve met over the last 10 years as part of a longer term project that I’ve been engaged in with AACL and through AACL met Colleen, and yes there is a very high percentage of children perhaps over 68 to 65 percent of children in child welfare have one or more disabilities. Many of those children have been taken away from parents who may have struggled themselves with poverty, with disability, with other complicating conditions socially. And in fact that the welfare system is very unsupportive of returning those children back to their families. In effect, I think many of us would argue that the systemic oppression and devaluation has really created through the foster care system the new institution for children with disabilities. And so I think it’s a very big and serious concern. And the point that Dick makes about the sort of hidden decision making and the struggle that parents go through many parents like Colleen fight very chard in the court systems and with social workers to get their children back and are never believed. They are always being told to prove that they’re good parents. They go through all the steps and it’s still not enough. And they’re actually told quite often in the system, quite clearly “better you should fail and get over it, give your children away and stop thinking about being a parent.”
Wendy Macdonald: Colleen, do you want to share, you worked through part of this. What were you doing for work?
Colleen: I was working in child care, at day care centres all over the city.
Wendy: I just think that’s a really important part of all of this.
Anne: Yeah, we forgot to say that part! There are so many ironies, in fact in Colleen’s story. About how she was not allowed to parent but she looked after many other people’s children.
Colleen: And the comments I got from the parents, ’cause I was very open into my situation and parents were like “You got your kid taken away? Why? You take care of our kids.” And they were quite happy with me taking care of their children. They didn’t have any comments, any questions, any concerns while I was doing this. And just even the fact that now I’m trying to open a day home, I have a private day home, but I’m trying to go with an agency. Yes, there’s road-blocks because of child welfare involvement. You have to do a child welfare check and on the child welfare check it has the whole involvement, but when I start explaining it to them the reasons why, they say, ok, we are going to approve you, because I’m open with it, I have nothing to hide.
Dick Sobsey: The one other thing that I would add to that is that many foster care parents are excellent. But on the other hand, the child welfare system and child foster care system does not have a particularly good record in terms of if you look at the abuse or neglect in foster care homes. It’s considerably higher than it is for kids in natural families. In a way, not only is the standard artificial, when we start to say “well anybody with a disability we automatically assume cannot take good care of their child,” but we’re also assuming that foster care is a wonderful place for all children to be, and the truth is that in many cases it’s not.