Vol. 23 Alberta Report / Western Report, 03-04-1996 pp 30. 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

By Rebecca B. Hudson 

When Lisa Neave brought her 25-month old daughter, Karliana, to a Nanaimo, B.C., hospital for treatment of a choking disorder eight months ago, she had no idea the visit would lead to authorities apprehending the girl and her two other children and then charge her with child abuse. Now that authorities are finally admitting they erred, she wants to know how so many officials could have been so wrong so often.  

The Neaves adopted Karhana, a Guatemalan orphan with medical problems, in 1994. She thrived at their Nanaimo home and, according to pediatrician Sue Miller, her adoption probably saved her life. 

The family's nightmare began last June when Karliana was transferred (with her mother) to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, for testing and treatment of the choking disorder. The day before the transfer, Dr. Miller had taught Mrs. Neave a "jaw-thrust manoeuvre"
that would clear Karliana's airway when she was choking. The manoeuvre involved raising the child's jaw with a hand at her neck. 

After the transfer, mother and daughter were placed in a room with the mother of another sick child. She saw Mrs. Neave's hand at the child's neck during choking episodes and reported her for child abuse. L.J. Hlady, director of the hospital's Child Protection Unit
(CPU), called a social worker and summoned Mrs. Neave for questioning. 

The mother explained that she had been following Dr. Miller's instructions and begged Dr. Hlady to call to confirm this. Dr. Hlady did The Neaves: not, because, as she later explained in family court, it was not her job to do a thorough investigation. Instead, the CPU director produced a probable diagnosis: Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MSP), "an unusual form of child abuse in which parents fabricate illness for their child." 

The next morning, June 15, the Neaves say they were ushered into a meeting with social worker Helen Wong and Dr. Hlady, who speculated that Mrs. Neave was responsible for all of Karliana's illnesses. Ms. Wong allegedly reassured the protesting family that she would meet them again the following week after she had sorted out the problem. Nonetheless, she returned that evening and announced that she was apprehending Karliana. 

The Neaves were permitted to hug Karliana briefly and then forced to leave. They emerged -into the parking lot to meet Mrs. Neave's frantic father, who reported that Ministry of Social Services officials were trying to apprehend Karliana's two older brothers (one adopted, one natural) as well.  

The grandparents were eventually granted foster-parent status for all three children. Mrs. Neave was allowed to visit them under supervision 

Mrs. Neave volunteered to undergo a polygraph test two weeks after the apprehension. Instead, in the words of psychiatrist Joe Noon, she was subjected to a five-hour "traumatic and psychologically terrorizing" RCMP interrogation in which the polygraph was used
merely as a prop. Soon Mrs. Neave could no longer remember the colour of her own eyes. She broke down and said that once, when trying to help Karliana, she had pushed too hard and hurt her. Because of "the emotional disintegration produced by the interrogator," says Dr. Noon, the results were "essentially uninterpretable." 

Between June and December, Mrs Neave underwent and passed two psychiatric assessments, but each was rejected by a Family Court judge or the ministry. 

The children were then allowed to return home, but still in state custody, with Mr. Neave acting as Mrs. Neave's supervisor. Still fighting to clear her name, Mrs. Neave then learned she had been charged with two counts of assault, stemming from the hospital incident. 

The tide changed in her favor in late January, when an assessment by Dr. Noon found the Nanaimo mother's only psychological problem was caused by apprehension of her children and the RCMP interrogation. 

In the wake of that report, the ministry finally relented. A hearing was scheduled for February 27, to have all ministry orders against Mrs. Neave set aside. As well, the criminal case has been put on hold. 

Despite more than $10,000 in donations from the community, the Neaves are saddled with heavy legal bills and might have to sell Mr. Neave' s fishing business. Understandably, they are also preparing to sue the ministry. The Neave's lawyer asserts, "Had there been a thorough investigation in the beginning none of this would have happened.

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