News Local

Psychic's charge of abuse leaves Barrie mom fuming

By Raymond Bowe, Barrie Examiner

Demands apology from school board

The mother of an autistic girl says the public school board was "completely unprofessional" to formulate a theory that her daughter was being sexually abused based on a psychic's perception.

Barrie resident Colleen Leduc wants an apology from the Simcoe County District School Board, which called in the Children's Aid Society (CAS) to investigate. According to the board, the case is still under investigation, although Leduc says it was closed.

Leduc immediately pulled her 11-year-old daughter, Victoria Nolet, out of Terry Fox Elementary School in north-end Barrie.

"I have trust issues now," Leduc said. "What are they going to concoct next week?"

Victoria has severe autism and is nonverbal.

Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, a school board superintendent whose portfolio includes special education, said the school was just following protocol, adding the board is bound by the same legislation (Child and Family Services Act) as the CAS when it comes to suspected neglect or sexual abuse.

"It is clear in all cases that this (information) must be reported," Zaretsky said.

The local CAS won't comment on specific investigations, but said the legislation stipulates that all cases of suspected abuse be reported "if there are reasonable grounds."

"The schools are our eyes and ears in the community," said Mary Ballantyne, executive director of the Simcoe County chapter. "They are with children more than anyone else in the community and are the first to spot a child who may be in need of our protection."

About 80 per cent of the CAS's calls reporting abuse and neglect come from schools, she added.

But Leduc said information gleaned from a psychic shouldn't be the impetus for the board to launch a CAS investigation.

"First of all, what were they doing taking a psychic's word? Then they correlated that with (Victoria's) behaviour to design a theory," Leduc said.

The board stands by its decision, despite where the initial information came from.

"It has not been board practice to use psychic readings," Zaretsky said.

On May 30, Leduc picked Victoria up from school, where she's enrolled in an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) class with several boys around the same age. When Leduc returned home, there was an urgent call asking her to return to the Livingstone Street East school.

Frightened, Leduc rushed back to the school. She and Victoria entered a room where they were met by the principal, the vice-principal and the teacher. Leduc said they advised her that Victoria's educational assistant (EA) had visited a psychic, who said a youngster whose name started with "V" was being sexually abused by a man between 23 and 26 years old. Leduc was also handed a list of recent behaviours exhibited by her daughter.

School principal Brian Tremain -- who referred phone calls seeking comment to the board -- advised Leduc that the CAS had been contacted.

"That's when I got sick to my stomach," she said. "I was shocked the whole meeting."

Leduc left the meeting and broke down.

"I couldn't stop crying," she said. "(What I was being told) is the worst nightmare for a parent of a child with autism. I was in a frenzy. I couldn't believe they would make these allegations."

There's no evidence to support the claims, Leduc said.

Leduc added some of the behaviour her daughter displays is normal for young girls with autism, including putting her hands down her pants and gyrating against staff members.

"All of these are very, very ... common in a child with autism, especially when they're going into adolescence," Leduc said. "She really has no inhibitions."

Leduc said there are boys in Victoria's class who exhibit similar behaviour, but when she asked if the CAS had been notified about those potential cases, she was told they had not.

Bradford resident Nancy Morrison, who runs an autism advocacy group that includes more than 650 people, said a child with autism will go through the same developmental phases as any other youngster.

"A lot of our children are very open and don't understand the nuances of (their sexuality) coming out," Morrison said. "They're not as inhibited, and this behaviour is typical of any 11-year-old, except that it may happen behind closed doors."

Leduc says the school's heart may have been in the right place, but not its brain.

"I'm all for the protection of children, but you should talk to their parents first. And it has to be reasonable," she said. "They don't realize what they're doing to our family. They were very uneducated and completely unprofessional."

The situation has aggravated Leduc on many levels.

"A, I don't believe in psychics. B, (Victoria) is not around people who are those ages (mentioned by the psychic)," she said. "C, she has GPS with a listen-in device. And D, it's an insult to me as a parent because I'm so diligent with her and who she's around."

Whether or not the EA will be reprimanded remains unanswered, pending a conclusion to the CAS investigation.

"There will be no investigation while the CAS case is still open," Zaretsky said, adding the board reviews its responses and practices for any case involving the agency.

Ballantyne said some reports of abuse turn out to be unfounded, "but most aren't."

Leduc had a good relationship with the EA, but hasn't spoken to her since everything unfolded. But has no malice for her, either.

"I really don't blame the EA," she

said. "Maybe she believes in psychics. What you do on your own time is up to you. But to bring it to the powers that be, they were the ones that took it to the next level."

With Victoria out of school, the stress level at home has been compounded.

"These children strive on structured days," Leduc said, adding her daughter is now more prone to emotional meltdowns, stimming (repetitive behaviour), as well as sleep and feeding issues.

Leduc, who's on stress leave while she gets her daughter's life in order, met with school officials yesterday afternoon, but said the meeting was "a lot of fluff, about how we have to work together. I just sat and listened."

No apology was offered, she added.

"The board has been very difficult to work with," Leduc said. "Very uncooperative, very evasive. I think they require more education about dealing with an autistic child."

Discussions are ongoing between Leduc and the board, and Zaretsky said the board's focus is to get Victoria back in class.

But where Victoria attends school next year is undecided, Leduc said, adding her daughter will undergo an assessment -- costing Leduc about $1,100 -- this week to determine her educational needs.

Regardless of the CAS's final determination, Leduc's case will always be on file.

"That's disturbing," said Leduc, who's seeking legal advice. "I'm very upset about that."

Files are kept for two reasons, Ballantyne said.

"If a case is dismissed, in case of doubt later, the file is kept to prove the case was closed," she said. "Or, sometimes a case seemed unfounded at the time, but months later, if there's another complaint about that same family, over time a pattern can start to form and we have that on record."

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