Derek Hoare has already lived through any parent’s nightmare. On July 12, he anxiously waited in his home for over three hours as police grid-searched his neighbourhood. Search and rescue helicopters buzzed overhead looking for his missing daughter.
He had looked away for just a moment as nine-year-old Ayn played in their backyard surrounded by a six-foot-high privacy fence.
A moment was all it took for the girl to climb up her treehouse and jump over the fence.
He frantically searched up and down his street before calling the police. Why did he call so quickly? It’s not like Ayn is a toddler, unaware of the dangers outside her fence.
In essence, though, she is. Ayn has severe autism disorder. Derek compares her naiveté to that of a three-year-old. Though she is verbal, Ayn is non-communicative, unable to hold actual conversations with others. Though she has aggressive tantrums at school and in other locations outside the home, Derek and her two older brothers, one of whom also has autism, find her to be pleasant, loveable and cheerful at home.
Her bond with her father is a close one. He has always been her primary caregiver. Despite the fact that she has two teaching assistants assigned to her at the public school she attends, he is the one that the school calls whenever she gets “out of hand.”
Once she was safely found just a couple of houses down, it was his embrace she wanted most.
Picture the tearful father holding his cherubic blond-haired little imp in his arms: a beautiful ending to a story that could have ended in tragedy.
Except, unfortunately, that wasn’t the end. Into every lovely fairytale an ugly stepmother must fall. In this case, the stepmother — as controlling and demanding as any you’ll read in the Brothers Grimm — was British Columbia’s Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Four days after Ayn’s heart-rending disappearance and return, two social workers knocked on Derek’s door. I suppose they could’ve walked right in. You see Derek’s door locks with a key from the inside, as do all the windows, in order to keep his children safe.
Ayn had escaped before, once by wriggling through a bathroom window that had been left open after her mother — still living with them at the time — had a shower. Derek learned from that lesson and adjusted the latch so that the window could open only a fraction. When his son with autism figured out how to use kitchen utensils to spring the lock on the other windows, Derek replaced all those as well.
Like any parent, Derek learns as he goes along. The stakes are a bit higher for him, of course, but his dedication to keeping his children safe is also higher as a result. Although Ayn and her older brother Lyric are naïve, they are not unintelligent. They are constantly gaining new skills — like Ayn’s trick of jumping over the fence — that he has to learn from as well.
Apparently, though, this latest escapade was about to teach him a lesson that no loving, dedicated parent should have to learn: when it comes to our children, our rights can be completely neglected on the whim of bureaucracy.
The two social workers informed Derek that they believed he had too much to handle as a single dad.
Three children, two with severe autism, is too much for any man to handle on his own. Therefore they proposed to help him by taking one child away.
Sounds just like one of those medieval fairytales now, doesn’t it? Rumpelsiltskin, perhaps?
Instead of offering respite care, more funding for therapies, a home safety study, or anything of that nature, the Ministry of Children and Family Development instead proposed to take his daughter.
Derek, of course, said no.
So they went to Ayn’s school and seized her.
Bad enough, but surely Derek, having done nothing wrong, would be able to get his daughter back relatively unscathed. Apparently not.
Despite the fact that their own studies showed Ayn was suffering from neither neglect nor abuse but was a well-cared-for girl, the ministry kept her. And they did worse than just keep her from her father.
They put her into a psychiatric hospital and reportedly on drugs.
It appears the Ministry of Children and Family Development, who thought they could do a better job handling Ayn then her own father could, couldn’t handle the girl’s tantrums.
Derek hasn’t seen his daughter since.
After 18 days during which she cried for her father non-stop, ministry workers requested that he give them a photo of himself to comfort her. She is currently in a foster home, still on medications, still confused and lost and wanting her daddy.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development says they won’t give her back until she undergoes a six-week psychiatric assessment program. Derek says he hasn’t been given the chance to see his daughter.
And if he does, he says, he will not use that right.
For he believes Ayn, living in this crazy fairytale story, is waiting for him to rescue her. Imagine the princess’ horror if the prince showed up to combat the dragon and bring her home but instead wound up walking away leaving her in the gaping maw of the horrid beast. That is how Ayn would feel if her father visited her and wasn’t able to bring her home, Derek feels.
There is a court date scheduled for September in which he will be able to present his case for having Ayn come home. Of course, at any time the Ministry of Children and Family Development could choose to release her, but Derek and his supporters doubt that will happen now.
Until the presentation hearing, he can only work to make Ayn’s grim fairytale a story that is told to as many people as possible.
If you’d like to read more of her story, join the Facebook group “Help bring little Autistic girl back to her daddy” or read the petition to “Bring Ayn Van Dyk Home” on thepetitionsite.com.
In the meanwhile, hold your children close and whatever you do, don’t take your eyes of them for a moment. If you do, their evil stepmother may send them to find a candy house in the woods.