Derek Hoare had taken his eyes off his nine-year-old autistic daughter, Ayn Van Dyk, for just a moment.
Then she was gone.
Ayn had been playing in the backyard of his Mt. Lehman Road home, which was surrounded by a six-foot fence.
But somehow she had disappeared. Derek sprinted up the street for several minutes, then turned around and ran in the other direction.
After 10 frantic minutes, he called the police.
More than three hours later, Ayn was found two houses over in a neighbour’s pool. She was safe and sound.
It was a fairy tale ending, told by various media covering the story. And for a moment, it was.
When the police brought Ayn back, she ran to her father and threw her arms around his shoulders as he breathed tearful relief.
But four days later, representatives from the Ministry of Children and Family Development came to his house with orders to take Ayn away.
“Basically, what they’re saying is I’m a single dad and I have two autistic kids and my other son and it’s too much for me to handle. So, they’re going to take one of my kids away to lighten my load,” said Derek on Tuesday, after learning he wouldn’t even be able to see his daughter until a hearing determines access rights.
Because of her 24-hour care requirements, she won’t go into a foster home, but will be placed in a psychiatric facility for evaluation.
Derek is concerned she will be sedated and drugged for her autism, which he has always opposed, despite doctor advice to the contrary.
“They’re probably holding her down and sedating her,” he said, his voice choking. “This is a nightmare.”
A single father on social assistance, Derek said he has custody of his three children with the approval of ex-wife Amie Van Dyk.
On a Facebook page created to bring awareness to Derek’s cause, Amie Van Dyk wrote, “He has been a loving and dedicated father. He has had to ordeal an enormous amount of challenges as a parent, the likes of which most people would not believe … I will do anything I can to support you to bring our daughter home where she belongs.”
Derek said he has found support from nearly everybody who has worked with Ayn, including her principal at Ross Elementary, and a family outreach worker who visits his home twice a week. Neither of them are allowed to write a letter supporting him, but a former school nurse has.
Derek believes she was removed based on her actions in school, which he described as “volatile and aggressive.” But he said Ayn acts well-behaved and secure at home under his care.
Although Ayn has escaped from his care four times, it was never for more than a few minutes and he never had to call the police.
Derek said he locks all the windows and doors in his house from the inside and needs a key to get out.
He believes she escaped by climbing her treehouse and jumping over the fence to get into the neighbour’s yard.
Now, he has to wait until a July 12 hearing, which will only determine his level of access, not custody.
He’s not even sure he should visit if he’s allowed.
“If I go there and see her and I have to walk away from her, she has to watch me walk away. I want to see my daughter but if she sees me she’ll be begging and crying to come home.”
His lawyer told him it could take up to a year to get her back, if at all.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development does not publicly comment on individual cases.
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Derek says parents don’t get enough help or understanding from the government for autistic children.
“It’s a medical condition,” he said, adding parents shouldn’t have to lose their children because they’re faced with medical challenges.
Often, parents of children with autism will have a behaviour consultant who designs specific activity programming for that child, and a behaviour interventionist who goes into the home and carries out the consultant’s plan, said Michelle Hoogland, a program manager of Autism Consulting in Abbotsford. However, these private sector professionals can be unaffordable for low-income parents.
The ministry provides families with up to $22,000 per year for each child with ASD under six. It then provides up to $6,000 per year for each child aged six to 18 for autism intervention services and therapies, in addition to programs inside the public education system.