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Alberta mother says system pitting custody against care for her son with disabilities

A Calgary mother has launched a human rights complaint as she fights for custody of her son who has a disability.

The 11-year-old boy was admitted to a program at Hull Services in 2022, but now the family is being told time is up, and if they don’t remove him from the program, they could lose custody of him.

The mother, whose name Global News is not using in order to protect the privacy of her child, says they’ve been on a rollercoaster of hospital stays, emergency waits and pleas for support.

“We ended up with hospital trip after hospital trip after hospital trip. Every one of those came with a different diagnosis,” she said.

“They couldn’t commit a one-on-one to him at school, so I couldn’t work. It all boils down to: there’s not enough.”

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The mother said her son was recommended to the pre-adolescent treatment program through Hull Services in 2021, but funding for those beds is only accessible by referral through a social worker with Alberta Child and Family Services.

“I was met with: ‘Well, that’s forcing us to take your child. That’s child abandonment.’”

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After a visit to the Child and Family Services minister’s office in 2022, she received an offer for placement. That would allow him to live at home part-time during what would usually be an up-to-18-month program.

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The 11-year-old has been there for two years, but his family says he’s not done yet.

“He’s got a wonderful relationship with his brother and he’s starting to have relationships with other kids,” his mother told Global News.

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“We have a program that is supportive, that is beneficial for him, that we’re seeing progress, that he needs more time with, and now I’m at risk of losing him because he needs more time,” she said.

“I can’t bring him home as things are. I can’t bring him home to continue to do the exact same thing over and over and over again.”

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Earlier this month, she said she was served with a court order for the ministry to get permanent guardianship of her son. She said social workers told her that would be dropped if she withdrew him from the program.

“They’ve informed me he could end up in a group home. They will look for permanency for him, including adopting him out to another family,” the mother said.

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“But if I pull him out now and just have everything go away, we will undo everything we have done.”

The ministry of Children and Family Services said it cannot comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.

However, in a statement, a ministry spokesperson said they work “with the family whenever we can to keep the child or youth safe while they remain in the home, and with ministry and community partners to assist in mitigating intervention concerns.

“A child is only removed from their parent or guardian’s care as a last resort when their safety and well-being are at risk, and the government must receive approval from the courts,” the spokesperson said.

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According to the Alberta NDP, the family’s experience is not an isolated one.

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The Opposition believes treatment should be offered through Alberta Health.

“We’ve heard, from a number of the families, different variations of the same stories, where they have a child with developmental disabilities and cannot find the help they need,” said Diana Batten, NDP critic for Child and Family Services.

Meanwhile, the woman vows to continue to do all she can to fight for both custody and continued care for her son.

“I shouldn’t be in the position I am for doing my job as his mom,” she said.

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