Monday, February 23, 2009

Ottawa CAS asked about Publication of Information

The following letter was written to the Ottawa Children's Aid Society

Follow up responses will be published.

France Clost
Communications Officer
Children's Aid Society of Ottawa

France Clost,

It has always been my general understanding that no person is allowed to make public or to publish information which has the effect of identifying a foster parent, a child in foster care, or any member of a foster child's family.

However, recently I read an article titled "Guarding the Snow Angels" in the Ottawa Metro newspaper dated Tuesday, February 17, 2009 which contained the first and last names and a photograph of a foster parent named NAME REMOVED who herself is a former child and youth worker. The article went on to mention that NAME REMOVED was the foster mother of four other foster daughters.

In a Society press release which preceded the publication of this article, it was mentioned that appropriate release forms were signed by those whom the Society had arranged and authorized to be interviewed by the media for publication.

I contacted the author of the article, Tracey Tong of the Metro, and she informed me that she was given permission from the Society, directly through yourself, France Clost, as Communications Officer of the Society to conduct an interview with NAME REMOVED and her adult, 19-year-old foster daughter for publication.

Having learned this, want to inform the Society that I intend on creating a foster care related newsletter and I want to ask the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa, through yourself France Clost, someone who has professional and detailed knowledge of the Society's policies regarding the publication of identifying information of those involved with the Society, what the Society's position is in relation to any person writing articles about Ottawa area foster parents for publication, as long as the people who are publishing articles only identify a foster parent by their first and last name and identifying photographs if available, as long as they do not publish any information which has the effect of identifying any of the non-adult foster children who are being cared for by that foster parent, subject to the restriction that the people who are publishing the articles are to obtain signed permission forms from the foster parents being interviewed which give permission for their identifying information to be published or made public.

Society Response:
I understand the resources at the Society are limited, therefore, in order to save the Society time and expense, you can confirm that the Society approves of the activity mentioned herein by not responding to this letter by 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, February 25, 2009. If we do not hear from the Society in response to this letter, we will understand from the Society's lack of response that the Society has chosen to approve of the activity mentioned herein and the Society agrees with, supports, and approves of our understanding of such.

In the alternative, if the Society does not agree, support, or approve of the activity mentioned herein, please respond to me by 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, February 25, 2009 clarifying anything the Society feels the public should know including the Society's position regarding such matters.

Your time and consideration regarding this matter is greatly appreciated.


Sincerely
John Dunn
Executive Director
The Foster Care Council of Canada
http://www.afterfostercare.ca


Society's Response

John, thank you for your expression of concern as it relates to our compliance with s. 45(8) of the Child and Family Services Act. I can assure you, notwithstanding your kind notice, that the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa is mindful of its' obligations under the Act. As I am sure you are aware, pursuant to s.71 of that Act, any order under Part III expires when the child who is the subject of such an order attains the age of eighteen years. As I am sure you are further aware, any adult (person who attains the age of eighteen years) can expressly consent to the release of information relating to himself or herself if he or she so desires. The prohibition in s. 45(8) of the CFSA specifically relates to a witness or a participant in a hearing or the subject of a proceeding, of which the individuals about whom you appear to have the concern, having attained the age of eighteen and having provided consents to the publication of photographs and names in question, is none. Nevertheless, we again thank you for your obvious interest in these matters.

France Clost
Communications
The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa
La Société de l'aide à l'enfance d'Ottawa
(613) 747-7800 ext. / poste 2033
(613) 851-1584 (cell)
fclost@casott.on.ca
www.casott.on.ca


Dunn's Reply
France Clost

It appears the Society has misunderstood my letter of inquiry. From what was written in the Society's response to my inquiry, it appears the Society thinks I am concerned about the publication of the 19 year old former foster child's identifying information and that of her foster mother in that context.

This does not accurately reflect my concern. My concern is that section 45 (8) of the Child and Family Services Act clearly states within it that no person is to publish or make public information that has the effect of identifying the following people: (underlined relevant parts)

a) a child who is a witness at or a participant in a hearing, or the
subject of a proceeding
b) the child's parent
c) the child's foster parent
d) a member of the child's family

In the Metro article mentioned in my original inquiry the story clearly identifies the foster parent as being the foster parent of four other foster daughters. Those other foster daughters, in order to become foster children in the first place, are each "the subject of a child welfare
proceeding" until they are no longer in foster care due to turning 18, through adoption, or various other means.

Therefore, as I understand it, identifying the foster parent of four children who are each the subject of a proceeding (foster children), not including the 19 year old, former foster daughter, is a contravention of section 45 (8) of the Child and Family Services Act.

This inquiry has been made to the Society for the purpose of clarifying for the media and for the general public who may have an interest in writing articles or doing multi-media presentations or productions regarding child-welfare issues in Ontario, what the Society's position is regarding
any person publishing or making public information which has the effect of identifying a foster parent of foster children who are the subject of a proceeding, as long as the information which has been made public or published does not identify the foster children who are still foster
children under the age of 18.

In order to further clarify the issue of concern to me and to make it easy for the Society to understand the request and properly respond to it, I will ask just one question and provide the relevant legislation referred to.

Relevant Legislation
Prohibition: identifying child
45 (8) No person shall publish or make public information that has the effect of identifying a child who is a witness at or a participant in a hearing or the subject of a proceeding, or the child’s parent or foster parent or a member of the child’s family.



Question:
1. If a person were to interview a foster parent who is the foster parent of foster children who are both the subject of a proceeding and who are foster children under the age of 18, and the foster parent consented in writing to his or her own identifying information being made public or
published, excluding the identifying information of any children who are the subject of a proceeding and now living in foster care under the age of 18, does the person or corporation who make public or publish the identifying information referred to have to worry about prosecution under section 45 (8) for doing so.

Possible Scenario:
A person or corporation interviews a foster parent about the foster care system, any concerns the foster parent has regarding the child-welfare system, agencies, policies, practices, legislation, or anything related, and the foster parent gives written and signed permission for their own identifying information to be published or made public, excluding any residential address, and excluding any identifying information of the foster children living with the foster parent being interviewed.

Thank-you for your answer as this will also be included in a media package (to be first approved by the Society) to assist the media in knowing their rights in connection with covering stories related to child-welfare.

Sincerely
John Dunn
Executive Director
The Foster Care Council of Canada
http://www.afterfostercare.ca


Society's Reply

John, thank you again for your interest in these matters. We trust that any media outlet interested in doing a feature on child welfare issues in the Province of Ontario will ensure that it has received proper independent legal advise in advance of doing so.

France Clost
Communications
The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa
La Société de l'aide à l'enfance d'Ottawa
(613) 747-7800 ext. / poste 2033
(613) 851-1584 (cell)
fclost@casott.on.ca
www.casott.on.ca


Dunn's Reply

France, I also wanted to ask for people who can not afford legal advise and for those who can not get legal aid to obtain legal advice as well. For example, people who publish information on blogs, and websites, as well as Youtube videos etc.

If the Society could provide their position on this subject for them it would be greatly appreciated.

As it stands today, we have seen by example that the Society has permitted the publication of information which has the effect of identifying a foster parent, with the foster parent's permission and that this is an acceptable practice as evidenced by the Society.

We have also seen photos of children who are in foster care on websites and in newspapers which promote the adoption of those children, which is a laudable cause, however it is beginning to cause confusion surrounding section 45 (8) of the CFSA.

I was hoping to get some clarification from the Society, however it appears that you have been instructed not to answer any further, but instead to instruct people to consult legal counsel by the Society. Would I be accurate in stating that you have been instructed not to discuss the matter in any great detail but instead to refer people to consult legal counsel?



Sincerely
John Dunn
Executive Director
The Foster Care Council of Canada
http://www.afterfostercare.ca

The Society had no further reply

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