Ayn van Dyk: one year on
A year ago today (16th June), Ayn van Dyk, an autistic nine-year-old girl living in Abbotsford, British Columbia, was seized from her school by the local social services (which operate as part of the somewhat Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Child and Family Development, or MCFD). This followed an incident in which she had briefly gone missing from her father’s back garden four days earlier, and turned up safe and well two hours later. The officials used the excuse that her father, Derek Hoare, a single father separated from his children’s mother, Amie van Dyk (who was still involved in their care and is currently supportive of his position), was overburdened with the care of three children, two of them with autism. Some details of the distressing events that followed can be found in my entry from September 2011 which I linked above. At that time, her father was able to give information about what was going on in the case; since mediation began, he has been told not to share details about what transpires in those sessions.
For a case that was never about abuse or dire neglect, and in which his two other children remain with him, and in which he is supported by his ex-wife, extended family and much of the online autistic community, the delay in resolving this case is staggering and appalling. Presently, barring any progress in his mediation with the provincial MCFD, his case is scheduled to come to court in December 2012, with most of the court hearings expected to take place in January, by which time Ayn will be 11 and will have been apart from her family for more than 18 months. She has had visits with her mother, but these have often been curtailed for spurious reasons, most recently including her mother being unavoidably being delayed in getting to the contact centre due to her car breaking down and the bus being late. Derek has not visited, believing that Ayn would not understand his reappearing and then leaving her again, when he had been a constant in her life for the whole of the preceding nine years. On a couple of occasions her attachment to him has been demonstrated, such as when her emotional state calmed when she was given a picture of him while in a psychiatric unit, and more recently kissing the screen of her mother’s laptop when a picture of him was on it. The fact that he refrained from visiting seems to have counted against him, particularly at the presentation hearing last September, in which there was a possibility of her being returned.
The line that Derek was “overburdened” is often misunderstood to mean the MCFD were pretending to lighten Derek’s load by taking his daughter off him. In fact, what they meant was that he was too overburdened to care for Ayn and his two sons properly. They are interested only in the child, not in the family, which they treat as a nuisance or even an enemy; people with previous experience of their involvement describe their approach as adversarial. There are, of course, cases where a well-meaning parent needs support in caring for a difficult or particularly needy child, or more than one of them, but this does not appear to have been offered here: they simply seized the child without warning. Derek has also put together some sort of proposal for a support package, at the ministry’s suggestion, expecting her to be returned in January, but this did not happen. It has been suggested (including by me) that their real reason for removing Ayn was simple disapproval of the family situation: a male single parent caring for a female disabled child who will, before very long, be approaching puberty.
The saying “justice delayed is justice denied” is often misused, but there is no case it applies to better than this. This situation should have been resolved within a matter of weeks, and in other countries (including the UK) probably would have been. The authorities do not take into account the sense of urgency that the families feel to be reunited: as long as the child’s interests are being taken care of (as her mother has confirmed is currently the case), it is quite acceptable for the proceedings to go on at their present leisurely pace, regardless of the pain each new delay causes to all involved apart from the social workers. If what they want is a female carer for Ayn, they should indicate that so that one can be provided; otherwise, they should state what they want for Ayn and get on with working with Derek and Amie to provide it. There is no excuse for someone to be removed from their home for this long other than in case of abuse or serious neglect; the simple reason it has gone on is a mixture of callousness and inefficiency on the part of the British Columbia social services and judicial system. This case must be resolved, and resolved now.
Image source: Moy Harries.
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