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Hundreds of Ontario adoptions on hold while commission reviews Motherisk cases

Last Updated Feb 1, 2016 at 2:05 pm PDT

TORONTO – Hundreds of adoptions have been put on hold in Ontario as a provincially appointed commission reviews child protection cases involving flawed drug tests.

The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies said Monday between 200 and 300 cases have been flagged for review because they involved a now discredited program that used hair analysis to test for drug and alcohol use.

Mary Ballantyne, the organization’s CEO, said that includes cases where a child has been placed in an adoptive home but the adoption has not yet been finalized, as well as those where a child was eventually to be placed in an adoptive home.

The process has been paused while an independent commission led by provincial court judge Judith Beaman examines cases affected by inaccurate testing by the Motherisk Drug Laboratory run by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, she said.

It’s unclear how long families will have to wait to find out whether the adoptions can go ahead.

The commission knows “the importance of trying to move forward as quickly as possible with these decisions, knowing that there are families and children who are waiting for the results,” Ballantyne said.

“Families are concerned and wanting to know what impact this might have on their plans as a family, and certainly wanting to be able to move forward with their plans as quickly as possible,” she said.

“It’s very upsetting for families, depending on the family situation,” she said.

Tracy MacCharles, Ontario’s minister of children and youth services, said Monday in a statement that it’s important that these cases affected by Motherisk be expedited and they will be given priority for review.

“We recognize that under regular circumstances the adoption process can be difficult for families and that the flawed testing methodology used by Motherisk has further complicated it for some,” said MacCharles, adding that short-term counselling services are available for anyone who is in immediate need.

Some of the prospective adoptive families affected by the review have been caring for a child for a long time, said Julie Despaties, the founder and executive director of Adopt4Life, a support and advocacy group for adoptive families.

Despaties said she’s heard from roughly a dozen families in the last few days.

“They are struggling with finding out that there’s reviews and not knowing where that will put their family situation,” she said.

Children’s aid societies were directed last April to stop using the Motherisk hair-testing program, which had already been used in thousands of child protection and criminal cases, and Sick Kids Hospital shut down the program after apologizing for the problems.

The program came under scrutiny after Ontario’s highest court set aside a criminal conviction in October 2014 on the basis of differing expert opinions about a particular hair-testing method previously used by Motherisk.

Just over a month later, the Ontario government ordered a retired appeal court justice to review the program.

Commissioner Susan Lang found Motherisk fell short of international forensic standards for use in child protection and criminal proceedings, and said the lab “frequently misinterpreted” the test results.

Lang’s report found more than 9,000 people tested positive through Motherisk between 2005 and 2015, but Beaman’s review will look back 25 years, to 1990.

The review is set to begin later this month and expected to span two years.