Its findings shattered families, changed lives and ruined reputations, but the impact of Motherisk doesn’t end there. Despite being closed down last spring, the Hospital for Sick Children’s deeply flawed program, testing hair for traces of drug or alcohol abuse, is causing fresh pain.
Due to questionable results produced by Motherisk, adoption cases involving up to 300 Ontario children have been put on hold.
As reported by the Toronto Star’s Alex Ballingall and Laurie Monsebraaten, a special commission is reviewing child custody cases in which evidence from Motherisk was used. While that’s done, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies has halted 200 to 300 adoptions involving kids who ended up in care, at least in part, due to this dubious drug testing.
If the review finds some of those children were improperly removed from their families, they should be returned. Meanwhile, legitimately at-risk kids waiting to go to new homes — and parents eager to receive them — are now stuck in limbo because of this lab’s unacceptable hair-testing.
This should serve as both a vivid indictment of faulty lab processes and a cautionary tale on the importance getting of evidence right. Motherisk failed on both counts.
An independent review, sparked by a Star investigation, concluded last year that process of testing hair at the lab was “inadequate and unreliable.” The damning examination, by retired Court of Appeal judge Susan Lang, found that Motherisk “fell woefully short of internationally recognized forensic standards” and that Sick Kids failed to supply “meaningful oversight.”
This “had serious implications for the fairness of child protection and criminal cases,” Lang concluded.
In the wake of that finding, the provincial government appointed retired provincial court judge Judith Beaman, a family law expert, to work as an independent commissioner looking into cases that may have been tainted by flawed Motherisk hair testing going back to 1990. This process is expected to take two years.
As reported by the Star’s Jacques Gallant, Beaman has been instructed to offer “early advice or guidance” on “high priority cases,” especially matters involving children’s aid societies. Adoptions stuck on hold should be of top concern.
Every effort should be made to either clear the way for a child to permanently move into a new family or return to his or her original home, provided there was no good reason for removing the youngster in the first place.
Given all the stress and disruption already endured by children taken into care and awaiting adoption, it’s tragic that they’ll have to wait even longer before their situation is finally resolved. But there’s no alternative, given the mess left by Motherisk. The ramifications of what’s gone wrong are potentially immense. And this isn’t the place for shortcuts.
It’s necessary to pause and carefully examine the circumstances of each child’s case to ensure that kids truly end up where they belong.
Chalk it up to the continuing and disastrous legacy left by Motherisk. First it was used to help break up families. Now this calamitous program is stalling the formation of new ones.