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Newfoundland woman caught in long wait for child protective files

A Newfoundland woman is anxiously waiting for her file from what was formerly the Department of Child Welfare, to see if contains any evidence of the abuse she says she reported as a child. —
A Newfoundland woman is anxiously waiting for her file from what was formerly the Department of Child Welfare, to see if it contains any evidence of the abuse she says she reported as a child. — 123RF Stock Photo

Chasing a paper trail

Positive messages like “keep hope alive” punctuate the awful revelations spilled out in the woman’s handwriting in a tidy red, leather-like journal.

Lynn Moore
Lynn Moore

“Do you believe me?” she asks this reporter, a stranger to whom she’s loaned this soul-bearing book.

Believing is one thing, but the job of journalists and lawyers is built on provable facts and documentation.

And a little red journal doesn’t constitute the paper trail the courts need.

The woman, a senior citizen, is among those waiting for her government file, its contents unknown until it arrives as requested after she sought the help of Mount Pearl lawyer Lynn Moore.

The Telegram isn’t naming her — at her request, and in case she is granted Jane Doe status by a civil court — if there ever is a case. That status, when granted, places a ban on a victim’s identity.

But that’s a long way off. There’s no statement of claim and nothing to start the case, until — and if — a file materializes from the province upon which to base a claim.

Moore has been vocal about the long wait for clients waiting on child protection files for a year or up to five after they file a request.

“I could be dead by then,” said the woman who is waiting on her file.

The Telegram has previously told the story of a man frustrated by his wait for a file. There’s no requirement for child protection files to be produced within a certain timeframe.

Last fall, Moore spoke to the media about the delays her clients face and said the province should hire additional people to process file access requests made by people who have been the subject of child protection proceedings — formerly Child Welfare.

The woman who contacted The Telegram has been waiting since October 2017. Moore asked for an update in May and was told that the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development can’t provide an update on a timeline until it processes the records.

“So, you are not getting it and we’re not going to tell you when you are getting it,” she said, summing up the response.

“A lot of people want to know what happened to them as children, and in some cases people may have cause of action that is going to expire because government sits on records they need.”

Asked if anything has changed since Moore spoke out about the delays, the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development told The Telegram in an emailed response that “additional resources have been allocated and strategies have been implemented to increase efficiency in an effort to reduce wait times for the release of information to individuals who have requested access to their own records.”

However, when questioned further, a government spokeswoman said it’s too soon to say whether the added resources are making a marked difference.

Moore says it’s not about knocking the people who process the files, but a question of whether the government is providing enough resources for them to do that work in a timely fashion.

“People struggle for years and years to come to grips with what happened to them and to be able to actually talk about, so that once they do decide if they want to take action, it becomes very stressful for them when the process is unreasonably delayed,” said Moore, who explains to clients at the outset what’s involved in the process.

The woman’s red diary describes a hard life that played out as it did for too many children born into tough circumstances decades ago.

Filing a statement of claim requires gathering information and documentation upon which to back up assertions in the case.

One of her clients waited so long, she gave up.

“Frustration levels are definitely high, and deservedly so, and it’s just not fair. It seems cruel that people cannot find out what happened to them when they were children, find out how the government cared for them or didn’t care for them,” Moore said.

“It is a fundamental part of democracy — when the government keeps information on you, you should able to access it. There shouldn’t be different classes of people. Some people get their information in 30 days (via general access to information requests) and others have to wait five years.”

The woman’s red diary describes a hard life that played out as it did for too many children born into tough circumstances decades ago.

The woman’s mother was unwed in 1949 when she gave birth in St. John’s. After a stint at a place called Waterford Hall, she was signed over to child welfare and eventually placed in a St. John’s orphanage and was adopted at about age four.

The journal then details an unfortunate life of emotional abuse and lack of affection from her adoptive parents, alleged sexual abuse by a boarding house tenant, a neighbour and a doctor. None of that can be substantiated without documentation.

The outfall of such a hard, early start — abandonment, possible abuse, a loveless home — led, as it often does, to more unhappy events, including depression, money and relationship struggles. She found out her birth father was married at the time of her conception and spent a miserable Christmas reunion with her birth mother and half-sister after obtaining birth details in the late 1980s.

“Deep within my heart, I know that I deserve justice. My childhood was supposed to be the most important and happiest time of my life. Instead it had become a living hell. Child services did not assure my well-being,” the woman wrote.

Although the woman was adopted, Moore said legislation at the time would have mandated how often a social worker had to visit the home within the first six months before the director of welfare agreed to prepare a certificate for the court saying the home was fit.

One telling passage from the diary could offer a clue if such things could be found in her file, if and when it is located.

And that is the action she claims to have taken herself after she said her adoptive parents did not believe it when she told them of the sexual abuse. She wrote in her diary:

“There were no helpline phones back then. The was no person to intercede on my behalf. I wrote letters to Child Welfare, mailed them myself. Whether they received them, I do not know.”

The woman told The Telegram her adoptive parents accused her of lying, and no one came to the home or asked her any questions.

“The homes years ago, they should have been checked out more thoroughly,” she said.

The woman said she was 10 or 11 when she wrote the letters.

“I just put down Department of Child Welfare, Harvey Road, St. John’s, Newfoundland,” she said.

(The building burned down during the Harvey Road fire of 1992).

If those letters exist, child welfare legislation would have required her allegations to be investigated, as she could have been deemed a neglected child with her case going to the director of child welfare, Moore explained.

But until her file is accessed, there’s no way to know what, if any action was taken, or if the letters were even received.

“And government could turn around and say she is too late because she couldn’t get her records,” Moore said of the lengthy process to get whatever files exist.

When Moore spoke out in October, she said there were 196 requests by victims awaiting responses — some since early 2014.

The average time to complete the requests was 504 days.

barbara.sweet@thetelgram.com


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