Just a week after RoadKill Radio’s explosive exposé of how the provincial Ministry of Children and Families damaged the lives of the Bayne family, another BC family ripped apart by the Ministry’s destructive practices came to light Tuesday night on RKR.
Betty-Ann Burnett had been a high school teacher, with a background in family counseling; so it was natural, when she and Allan had their own children that she decided to stay home to raise them. Friends who’d had foster children, after seeing them with their own toddlers, suggested that they should also take foster children into their home.
The Burnett’s first foster-child was the 2-year-old son of a 16-year-old who was pregnant again.
“Then we took a family of four–same mother, four different fathers… In 2001, we were planning to adopt them; the mother of these four was very supportive; she also wanted protection from her brother, who had put her on the street.
“Then she passed away. [One of the children] wrote to her Mom; the social worker found out that the mother had died. We were told not to tell the children. The social worker was going to tell them, because she was ‘a professional’.
“The social worker and the team leader came to our home. ‘I guess you’re wondering why we’re here,’ she said to the children. ‘Your mother passed away.’
“The kids asked, ‘Passed away? What does that mean?’
“She told them, ‘She died.’
“The oldest boy asked, ‘Will there be a funeral? Can we go?’
“The social worker said, ‘No. She’ll be burned.'”
“Very professional!” exclaimed Terry O’Neill. “What tact!”
“[The oldest boy] remembered having his hand burned on a stove; he remembered the pain. He was very upset,” said Mrs. Burnett.
Kari Simpson said, “The Ministry knew she was sick, but they didn’t make any arrangements for the children to see her…”
Mary-Ann Burnett answered, “The children were not allowed to see her. They arranged for the children to be taken to see their grandmother in another province; the children were terrified. They’d never met their grandmother, and they thought they were going to have to stay with her.”
At that point, Kari Simpson, who had by then become involved in the family’s problems, intervened; and instead, the grandmother came to see the children at the Burnett’s home.
“They were talented kids,” Kari recalls. “You had them in a singing group; they used to sing at seniors’ homes… they were also good swimmers and skiers.”
“A new social worker came on the case,” recalled Mary-Ann Burnett. “We had a new one about every six months. The previous one had said because the singing group was called ‘The Burnett Singers’, the foster children, who were part of the group, could use the Burnetts’ name. But the new one said, ‘No. You have to use your legal names.’
“By this time, [the oldest boy, by then 14] was pretty disturbed, and began staying out late. He started smoking marijuana…
“One day, he showed up a school with some marks on his neck. The social worker said, ‘Call the police.’
“Another social worker came on [the case] in December; she hadn’t even met my husband… she spoke to me on two occasions before she took them [the children] and laid charges of assault [against Allan Burnett]…
“The social worker took [T] to the police; she told them he couldn’t write very well [which was not true], so she prepared the police statement for him…
“I was home with the other four children–[V & T] were not there at the time–and the social worker, a child protection officer, and two police came and said, ‘We’re here to arrest your husband for assault.’ The police took the children downstairs. They told me, ‘We’re going to have to remove your husband from the home while we investigate this.’
“I said, ‘No way.’ Then they said, ‘We’re going to have to make emergency accommodation for the children.’ They went to the children and said, ‘We’re going to take you to another place, just for a night or two. Get a change of clothes.’
“[J1] ran away; [J2] went to the police and said, ‘This is wrong. My Dad’s a good man.’
“It was like a circus on our front lawn. [J2] tried to hide behind a tree, but the police found him. Later, I got a call from [J1]: ‘I’m at my friend’s; can I come home?’
“The social worker got a restraining order, saying that [T] can’t stay there. So [when he called] I had to say, ‘I’m sorry; you can’t stay here.’
“My husband was going to court every month. It was always a Ministry delay. After a year, he was acquitted.”
Kari Simpson recalled, “During this time I got a call from [V]–an articulate, concise, brilliant young woman… We had a secret meeting at the school. She said, ‘We want to come home.’
“We got them home; they escaped from the social workers. And when the social workers and the police came for them, I had the media there. The social workers and the police all disappeared.”
Mary-Ann Burnett told RKR, “After that, the children were afraid to go to school.
“The Ministry sent a letter saying that the children [could go to school; they] would not be apprehended. But the social worker went to the school and took them, one at a time.”
The story of that deception sparked a memory for Terry O’Neill: “We did an exposé of the social work school when I was editor of BC Report. They taught the students, ‘In the interest of your client, break the law. The law can be stupid. Do what you have to do; what you think is right.'”
Kari Simpson recalled, “One boy was on his own; we got him a lawyer. This young man ended up being able to stay in your home.”
Mrs. Burnett said, “He was five when he arrived. He was 17 when the Ministry decided he should try ‘independent living’… He thought this would be good, because he’d be able to get his sisters to live with him. These children have not lived together since 2002.
“[A] would phone and say, ‘Mom, I’m not supposed to talk to you. I’m in Port Moody.’ By this time, she was seriously into crack cocaine. [B] is doing well; she’s out of this province.
“How many social workers do you know who have so much time on their hands that… this social worker has been in touch with her–she’s now 21–and has convinced her that she’s her ‘best friend’.
“The social worker called and asked, ‘Could you talk to [J]? He’s not bathing, and we’re worried about mental health issues. I called him and talked to him. He showered and changed his socks.
“I just talked to [J2] at Christmas and his birthday; [T] is currently in jail. I got a letter from him, addressed ‘To Mom and the rest of the family…'”
Terry O’Neill commented, “It’s amazing that despite the malfeasance of the Ministry–there’s no other word for it–there are still bonds… I congratulate you for the wonderful job you did… You haven’t given up on them.”
Kari Simpson said, “This problem is epidemic… these children don’t have voices. So many families have been destroyed, and the parents have given up because ‘What’s the point? No one cares!’
“Well, we care!
“We need to put affidavits on these kids’ files, so when they grow up they can sue the Ministry. Nothing brings an understanding of reality quicker than financial accountability.
“These stories will not be put aside!
“Bruce McNeil, the same director who figures in the Baynes’ story, figures in this story.
“Madame Minister, are you listening? Madame Premier, are you listening? You said during the leadership campaign that your government would put ‘Families First’. This is a chance to make that true.”
RoadKill Radio’s coverage of State vs Family in BC will continue.
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