Ayn van Dyk is coming home at last

Picture of Ayn van Dyk, a young white girl with a turqouise T-shirt on, sitting on a pink child-sized seat and playing with a pink kitchen-themed toy.On Tuesday Amie van Dyk, mother of Ayn van Dyk who was seized from her home in Canada by social services after briefly wandering from her father’s home in June 2011 (see previous posts), announced that said social services (the British Columbia Ministry of Child and Family Development, or MCFD) had decided to allow her to go and live with her mother, without any supervision order. She will remain at her foster placement until the end of the school term this month, at Amie’s request, spending the weekends at home, and then go to her mother’s house permanently after that. (I haven’t posted about it so far because I had been busy with work, and because I was waiting for more information.)

Ayn is autistic, and wandering is a known feature of that condition. In the original incident, she had been playing in a treehouse in her father’s back garden, and climbed over a fence into the neighbour’s garden. She had been found, playing happily, a few hours later, but social workers decided that Derek Hoare, her father, was overburdened caring for three children, two of them autistic, as a single father. It has been suggested that her return could have been enabled earlier had Derek visited her in care, but he feared that she would not be able to understand his appearing and then going away again (Ayn’s mother did visit, as she had been visiting since the couple had divorced). In December 2012, Derek announced that a transition home plan had been agreed, in which an autism expert would be employed to draw up some sort of behaviour management plan for Ayn, but the return didn’t happen and Derek’s circumstances changed, and he has disappeared from the Facebook group he set up.

Ayn’s apprehension attracted the attention of the international autism community online, and most of it was supportive of Derek’s position, including his position on visiting. Reports surfaced that Ayn was being cared for in a basement and at times left supervised only by teenagers, and that she had escaped at least twice, had been medicated (as she never previously had been) and that she was in terrible distress for the first few days after removal, eased only when she was given a picture of her father. The foster carers made a video of her kissing a picture of her father on a computer screen (which was posted to the Facebook group). Social workers seemed to change all the time, with each new one setting the case back weeks as they read up on each of their new cases, and in some cases the visiting schedules were disrupted or suspended.

In the end Ayn was returned to her mother by the MCFD when a temporary care order lapsed, without a court order; the case never came to trial. Many of us always suspected that the real reason for their objection to Ayn living with her father was simply that they did not believe a man should be taking care of a disabled girl, particularly one that was reaching puberty, on his own. It also appeared that social workers knew they had made a mistake but did not want to lose face by admitting wrong and returning her at the earliest opportunity. The fact that they agreed (after a year’s delay) to something that Derek had suggested in the first few months and that there was no finding of a need for protection also suggests that the authorities had overreacted to a minor issue, were in the wrong and knew it. That it took this long, and that there was no way of bringing the case before a court quickly, shows that the legal process is flawed, because delays in these cases cause needless distress to families as one milestone after another has to be marked without everybody present.

People on the Facebook group set up to support Derek in June 2011 are suggesting it be renamed “Ayn’s law”, although there is no suggestion as to what that law would consist of (in Alberta there is a law called “Samantha’s law”, after a disabled girl who was taken into foster care at birth because her parents were told they could not be supported to look after her, but foster parents could, and she suffered years of abuse before returning home at age 12, and died not long after). I would suggest that it include a provision to speed up the process so that a parent can force a case to court within weeks, rather than years, as well as mandatory training for social workers in dealing with child safety issues arising from autism (or indeed, disability in general). Children should not be taken from good homes, institutionalised and traumatised, because a parent does not have eyes in the back of his or her head and cannot keep them under lock and key, or has differences of opinion with teachers or social workers.

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