Sarah Vibert and her daughters: reunite them!

Picture of a white woman in a wheelchair, with two young girls facing herThis morning I read a news report and a blog about a single mother who is fighting to keep her two daughters out of the foster care system in Alberta, and find them a home after a temporary arrangement broke down. Sarah Vibert, who lives in Edmonton, has multiple sclerosis and in 2009 suffered a non-traumatic spinal-cord injury that left most of her body paralysed; she has only the limited use of one arm. She is currently in full-time nursing home care and her husband is out of the country and does not contribute maintenance. The girls are eight and nine, and Sarah home-schools them in her care home during the day, but they live with family friends, but those friends can no longer look after them because of family problems of their own. She explains the situation more fully in this blog entry (and the blog has more recent updates, though not “forever family found” as yet).

Sarah is making this appeal because if she does not find a home for them within two weeks, she will be forced to place them with the province’s foster care system, which will mean she relinquishes guardianship over them and, although she may retain some contact, she will be excluded from decisions about their schooling and upbringing. The girls especially do not want to be placed in a foster family and do not want to be separated. The story has generated quite a substantial public reaction, with a number of offers to take the girls in posted in the comments box below the story. I found it because friends on Facebook and Twitter (none of them from Canada) shared it.

She will need quite a lot of support in finding the right family, because she is appealing to total strangers, but surely there is a better solution than simply placing the girls with a permanent family away from their mother, which is to provide a place for all three of them to live together. There are in fact single (often divorced) mothers with spinal cord injuries (and other severe disabilities) who care for their children, with help from hired carers. In 2009, a quadriplegic divorced mother in Chicago, Kaney O’Neill, fought her ex-boyfriend for custody of their son, and won (see earlier entry); in the UK in 1999, Penny Roberts, who became paralysed in a skydiving accident, had to fight the local social services to stop them taking her son away at birth, as they claimed her home would be more like an institution, and he would develop “attachment issues” by being looked after by a string of carers. She won, and looked after him quite successfully.

Sarah Vibert’s daughters are not babies, as Penny Roberts’s son was, but eight and nine years old. With help from carers, she could raise them quite effectively herself. It could even be possible to house them in the nursing home, as they are the same sex and very close, so could (if they do not already) share a room. However, surely a better solution would be to provide them with a house and whatever nurses or carers are required — it would cost not much more than housing Sarah in a nursing home and her daughters in a foster family or children’s home, and would more likely lead to the benefits of raising productive members of society than if they were in the care system without parental guidance.

In the UK, I am quite certain we would be talking about reuniting Sarah and her daughters. It is not a question of whether it is possible: experience has proved that it is. It is a question of whether people are willing.

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