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CityNews Exclusive: The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic
Monday June 16, 2008
Colleen Leduc already had a lot going against her. The Barrie woman was holding down a job while struggling to raise her autistic 11-year-old daughter. She couldn't afford to give the child the intensive therapy she needed, and was forced to send her to a public school in the area.
So she was completely unprepared for what happened to her and the youngster, an almost unbelievable tale of red tape involving a strange claim from a teaching assistant, a bizarre decision by a school board, a visit from the Children's Aid Society (CAS) and most improbably of all, the incorrect pronouncements of a psychic.
Leduc's weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away.
The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard - the principal, vice-principal and her daughter's teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they'd received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse - and that the CAS had been notified.
How did they come by such startling knowledge? Leduc was incredulous as they poured out their story.
"The teacher looked and me and said: 'We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"
Victoria, who is non-verbal, had also been exhibiting sexualized behaviour in class, actions which are known to be typical of autistic behavior. (See other typical actions here) That lead authorities to suspect she had a bladder infection that may have somehow been related to the 'attack.'
Leduc was shaken by the idea. "It's actually your worst nightmare your child being violated," she admits. "So for them to even suggest that, and that be my worst nightmare, it was horrific."
But things got worse when school officials used the "evidence" and accepted the completely unsubstantiated word of the seer by reporting the case to Children's Aid, which promptly opened a file on the family.
"They reported me to Children's Aid," Leduc declares, still disbelieving. "Based on a psychic!"
The mom, who is divorced and has a new fiancé, adamantly denied the charges, noting her daughter was never exposed to anyone of that age. And fortunately she had proof. The mother was long dissatisfied with the treatment her daughter had received at the school, after they had allegedly lost her on several occasions.
As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her.
So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter, and was aghast that the situation had gone this far. But under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed, must report it immediately - and the CAS has an obligation to follow up.
And so a case worker came to the Leduc home to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct, only to admit there wasn't a shred of evidence that anything had ever happened at all. They labelled Leduc a "diligent" mother doing the best she could for her child under difficult circumstances, closed the file and left, calling the report "ridiculous."
"It is highly unusual, I will admit, to have a case called in based upon what a psychic might say," concedes Sue Dale of the Simcoe County CAS.
And what does the admittedly red-faced school board have to say about all this? "I don't have the information yet, but when we proceed with our own investigation we'll know more about that," is all Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, the Simcoe County Superintendent, was willing to allow.
And what does the local board have to say about all this? "I don't have the information yet, but when we proceed with our own investigation we'll know more about that," is all Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, the Simcoe County Superintendent, was willing to allow.
But that wasn't the end of the story.
While the board agrees it may have overreacted, accepted a rather dubious source and misinterpreted the signs of the so-called abuse, Leduc is now more convinced than ever that her daughter isn't safe at the campus and that she needs more intensive therapy.
As a result, she's refused to send Victoria back to class - or to the educational assistant who allegedly started the entire chain of events in the first place.
As a result of her stress and the need to stay home with her daughter, Leduc is now unable to work, has no place to send her child for the rest of the year, isn't sure where she'll go when school begins in September and is seeking legal advice.
Her goal: get the board to pay for the IBI therapy she believes her child should have had in the first place. She wants them to foot the bill for the expensive treatment - it can cost more than $50,000 annually - at least for the rest of the semester.
But school officials have refused.
Asked if she feels whether her entire support system has been yanked away, her answer is succinct and simple. "Yep," she nods.
And you don't need a psychic to know what that answer means.