Free-Range Kids

Motherisk Hair-Testing Program Was Junk Science, and Ontario Wrongly Separated Families Because of It

"I never in my life wanted to crawl out of my own body. That is how I felt. I couldn't sleep or eat. I had no idea where my daughter was."

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Kids
Zaikina / Dreamstime

If you think back to the Satanic panic of the late 1980s, when court after court listened to self-described experts claiming that their intensive, impeccable research proved kids were being ritually abused by animal-sacrificing, blood-drinking, orgy-organizing day care workers, you know that expert testimony sometimes isn't. In fact, sometimes it's completely, outrageously wrong.

That turns out to be tragically true again, this time in Canada, where from 1990 until 2015, family courts trusted the results of drug testing done on strands of hair by the Motherisk test lab. Ontario authorities were taking the kids away from mothers based on Motherisk's "hair-testing," which supposedly revealed the mothers were alcoholics or drug abusers.

This was junk science. Last Monday, a two-year review of all the child welfare cases involving hair tests found 56 where it had an a "substantial impact, such as being used to pull children from their parents' care." The CBC reports:

Provincial court judge Judith Beaman led the independent commission, which said parents were often powerless in the face of tests imposed by children's aids societies.

In seven of the 56 cases, families achieved a legal remedy. In four of those seven, children have been returned home.

One of the four whose children were returned is a woman that the Motherisk test suggested was having at least 18 drinks a day. CBC News can't use her real name due to a publication ban.

The mother says she took the test try and disprove claims made by her ex-husband, even though she had doubts about the testing process itself, which was based on hair sampling.

With the result of the hair testing, her child was taken away.

"'I never in my life wanted to crawl out of my own body. That is how I felt. I couldn't sleep or eat. I had no idea where my daughter was."

After fighting for 6-½ years, she was able to get her child back.

As a result of the flawed testing, siblings were separated as well. "Extended families and communities were damaged or lost," Beaman wrote. In some cases, the children were later adopted. For those families, little recourse exists:

"Even where an appeal or challenge is possible, the court may decide that it is not in the child's best interest to alter their living or access arrangements. This means that even where the discredited Motherisk testing substantially affected the outcome of cases, the families will likely have difficulty bringing about a change in the children's situation."

The Motherisk saga has shown that the child protection and court systems must be more careful in how they use expert evidence, and that more supports are needed for families and communities, she said.

That includes taking a skeptical look at what constitutes "scientific" evidence. The commission discovered that Motherisk's results were "unreliable and inadequate opinions from scientists who operated without any forensic training or oversight." For its part, Motherisk disingenously argues its tests were meant for "clinical" use only—not as legal evidence.

Had the Canadian authorities been a little less eager to believe the worst about the parents they were judging, they might have dug up a case that a consortium of Canadian news media later discovered: a 1993 murder trial in Colorado where the Motherisk tests were thrown out as "not competent evidence." Instead, child welfare agencies in five Canadian provinces continued trusting the lab for over a decade.

In the future, the Motherisk Commission concluded, both the state and its ironclad belief in "scientific proof" need curbing. Beaman's 32 recommendations include:

  • Changes to legislation and rules on the use of expert evidence.
  • Strengthening parent representation during child protection proceedings.
  • More education for judges.

An over-arching recommendation could be this: When a mother is telling you one thing and a so-called expert is telling you another, don't automatically discount the mom.

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  1. We really should throw out the science baby with the junk science bathwater.

    1. Sorry for you, but the science baby was aborted as a choice.

    2. Don’t put all you eggs in one basket, SIV.

      Also, thank God for the hatchery!

    3. Re: SIV,

      We really should throw out the science baby with the junk science bathwater.

      Or practice better science, instead of operating on the assumption that because a certain area is managed by scientists, why it must be rigorously scientific, or the “97% agree” mentality.

  2. Canada should spend a little less time on this, and a little more time on pronouns.

    1. Xe can have both!

  3. And where is the good journalism question “How much money did that company donate, and to which candidates?

    1. Always follow the money when reporting on government.

      1. Also a good idea when reporting on “science”

  4. “Even where an appeal or challenge is possible, the court may decide that it is not in the child’s best interest to alter their living or access arrangements.”

    Justice to the parents means that they are entitled to have custody over their minor children unless they (parents) are declared unfit in a proper trial – and apparently trials with this test weren’t proper trials.

    Ergo, once the mistaken declaration of unfitness is overturned, parents’ natural rights should reassert themselves.

    1. Which is why Chile Protection Services 9in all its various guises and names) needs to be ash-canned. The idea that Government is somehow capable of deciding what parents are fit would be laughable if the results weren’t so tragic.

      When parents abuse a child, that is tragic, but it is an isolated tragedy. When government buttinskies destroy a family based on bias, stupidity, or error the tragedy involves ME. As a sovereign citizen, the government is acting in MY NAME.

      All the government stooges involved in this mess should be publicly flogged.

    2. Justice to the parents means that they are entitled to have custody over their minor children unless they (parents) are declared unfit in a proper trial

      But what if the children were removed at an early age & have gotten used to their new families? Remove them again, just because their original parent’s aren’t unfit? Heck, most people are not unfit to be parents! Children are not chattels or playthings.

      1. not chattel or playthings, indeed. They are by nature in the rightful charge and control of their biological parents. Taking them elsewhere by force is wrong. And just as when anything ELSE is taken by force unlawfully, when discovered it MUST be returned to its rightful home. There IS such a thing, and a very IMPORTANT thing, as one’s heritage and biological lineage.

        Now, the government eedjits that ran the show and made the wrong decisions to rip children away from their parents unlawfully need to be removed from those positions of false authority. Not to mention the junk scienteists running the “laboratory” making the false accusations. As the article clearly states, these “lab tests” were not to be considered substantive proof… th courts and incompetents running them failed to safeguard the rights of both parents and children in these cases. THEY need to be removed from their posistioins of power, never to gain such power again.

      2. Having spent my share of time in the dependency system and having worked with and known innumerable adoptive families (including mine), I can state with complete assurance that no matter how well a child may have adjusted to their “new family”, the child virtually always wants his or her natural parents. Blood matters.

    3. The parents’ rights are subservient to the childrens’ rights. That’s how come the state can remove the children in the first place… their right to live without abuse and neglect is superior to the parents’ right to raise their kids as they see fit.

  5. Every single case where a child was wrongfully taken away should result in some high-level bureaucrats going to prison for a very long time. This is the banality of evil.

    1. Putting people in prison for errors in good faith is the evil of banality.

    2. “Every single case where a child was wrongfully taken away should result in some high-level bureaucrats going to prison for a very long time.”

      Because THAT’S how you recruit highly-capable people to do important, but difficult jobs! Put harsh punishments for failure! (Plus pay them very little money for doing it right most of the time, of course.)

  6. Make the testers take the test, sww how that goes. I wonder if the victims of this frankenstein test were primarily low income.

  7. But if we save just one child’s life, don’t we have to try?

  8. Well, it’s not called “Motherisk” for nothing.

    Seriously, what X said.

  9. “That includes taking a skeptical look at what constitutes “scientific” evidence.”

    This is really the wrong direction to go Skenazy. The issue isn’t that we have wrong science. The issue is that we think we can make some scientific call about child custody.

    Motherisk is a symptom of the problem. Something else will take its place. The issue here is the policies surrounding these decisions. Treat the disease, not just one of its symptoms.

    1. Expert witnesses – e.g., on scientific subjects – have special privileges not allowed to ordinary witnesses – particularly, the right to give hearsay testimony and opinion testimony.

      If someone hasn’t established their credentials as an expert, they should be treated like a normal witness, meaning not offering opinions and not testifying to what others have seen (as a general rule).

      Thus courts have to screen out the fake experts from the real ones – not an easy task for humanities-educated judges who went to law school because they promised there wouldn’t be any math. But the task must be attempted.

      1. Not entirely correct. Ordinary witnesses are required to be percipient, i.e., testifying from their own observations of events in question. Expert witnesses are not (and should not be) percipient; they are to testify as to their opinions based on the established or agreed-upon facts of the case. The rationale for using the expert, in essence, is that the expert possesses knowledge or information not generally available to the public as a whole.

        Expert credentials are established in court, from case to case. Yes, some experts get qualified almost automatically, but qualifying someone as an expert and getting convincing testimony out of the expert are two different things. That’s why God invented cross-examination.

        1. There are additional requirements for being qualified as an expert witness on scientific subjects. (Daubert v. Dow Chemical).
          The problem is that the opposing party’s attorney needs to know what questions to ask, and they major in science, either. (Lawyers who majored in science go into patent work, it pays way better because only people with undergraduate work in real science or engineering AND a law degree can be patent attorneys.

    2. Given how unreliable all of Forensic non-science is, we should probably burn the whole thing down. Allowing the police to create their own bullshit parallel science was never going to end well, but it was expected they would do whatever they can to increase their scalp count.

      1. I used to actually be one of the regular plebs that believed in forensics. And then I read that review of FBI cases, where in over 1,000 instances 95% of the time the FBI either misstated, overstated or flat-out lied about the DNA evidence. That shook me free of any such illusions.

        Indeed, it appears the entire field needs to be scrapped.

        1. Same here. The state has done a really great job of propagandizing forensic science as ‘science’ even while it’s nothing of the sort and has never been verified to be even ballpark accurate.

          It’s basically the state saying that the state is an expert at a science that it made up even while it never really allowed independent verification of those methods. In real science we call those types of people ‘climatologists’.

          ^_-

  10. Never going to learn. They’re going to take away kids from parents if the kids (or some school nurse or psychologist) may think that child is transgender, and the parents don’t want to undergo gender reassignment procedures that can have lifelong impacts on the child’s development.

  11. Remember, it takes a village!!!1!

    An all-powerful, omnipresent village with high definition cameras and the cooperation of ‘professionals’ that will back its play.

  12. “”The commission discovered that Motherisk’s results were “unreliable and inadequate opinions from scientists who operated without any forensic training or oversight.”””

    Haynes moved from Mississippi to Canada?

    1. Cannassippi, or Missinada.

  13. ” I used a Hewlett-Packard 5719a dual column gas chromatograph with flame analyzation detectors”

    Case closed.

    (We all know the quote from My Cousin Vinny)

    1. “What’s a yout?”

  14. One of the four whose children were returned is a woman that the Motherisk test suggested was having at least 18 drinks a day.

    I thought that was normal for Canadians.

    1. Drinks of what?

  15. The lab tested the hair and found it similar to wool, making them all a mothe risk.

  16. The commission discovered that Motherisk’s results were “unreliable and inadequate opinions from scientists who operated without any forensic training or oversight.” For its part, Motherisk disingenously argues its tests were meant for “clinical” use only?not as legal evidence.

    Oh, so only patients’ health & lives were supposed to depend on the results. OK, then.

  17. I noticed something that it appears that I’m all alone on. The “alcoholic” mother who lost her child appears to have lost custody to her ex husband, the father.

    So it looks like a bitter custody dispute where she was attempting to take the child away from the father just as much as he was trying to deny her. And in this rare instance, the father won out.

    We still don’t know if the test was completely wrong in her case, just that it was a crap test from the jump. But it does highlight just how far the scales are tilted if you have to go all the way to “has 6 drinks a day” to have a shot at primary custody as the father.

    I saw this first hand with an, uh, cousin-in-law. She was a homeless drug addict and convicted felon who flopped on various couches with her 4 year old daughter. But she had custody. Daddy just got 2 weekends a month and a bill for child support.

    (I don’t want to oversell it though. I don’t think he ever fulfilled either of those.)

    1. No doubt you will be shocked, shocked(!) to learn that many dependency cases not involving actual abuse or neglect are in fact family law cases in disguise, meaning the state becomes an unwitting accomplice in custodial interference.

      But it’s all good because it’s “For The Children!”

  18. Human beings still fallible, water still wet. Film at 11.

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