We spoke with several people who described surveillance as a significant barrier to building relationships and families. In some cases the people we spoke with felt they had little control over their own lives, and looked forward to a time when they would be out from under guardianship orders so they would be able to pursue their dreams of family life. Some people described supportive living situations that sought to control sexuality and all romantic relationships, rather than foster and facilitate healthy interactions. We also heard from people who were forced to complete multiple parenting and family workshops in order to prove their capability to parent, and yet still remained under consistent surveillance from Child and Family Services (CFS) for little reason beyond having been identified as having a disability. The stories below describe the impact of consistent surveillance on building and maintaining relationships and families.
Abbigail is a 21-year-old woman diagnosed with FAS and ADHD. A friend of her family is her legal guardian until she turns 26, when she will become her own guardian. Abbigail’s family includes her mom, dad, and two older sisters; however, she is not very close to her sisters, who have their own families. She lives in a mid-size city in Alberta with her fiancé, who also is disabled. As a part of her day program, she works at a bottle recycling depot. Abbigail spent most of her childhood in foster care and says her early life lacked stability, as she often changed foster families and schools. Abbigail had sex education classes in the 5th grade, and the classes were separated by gender, so she did not find it very useful. Later, she attended sex education classes in the 8th grade, and this time girls attended the classes together with boys, which she found more helpful. She had her first sexual relationship when she was in high school. Abbigail has been using multiple birth control methods since she was 14-years-old (Depo Provera, birth control pills, and a contraceptive patch), but this was not her choice; it was and still is a decision made by her guardian. She has been living with her boyfriend for the last 5 months, and they are planning to get married next year. It seems that Abbigail is struggling to obtain control over her life, and she speaks of her guardian with ambiguity. Abbigail is hoping to have a child with her current partner once she is released from her guardianship and can cease using birth control. Because of different people and agencies interfering in her personal life, she sees motherhood as a way of claiming adulthood, and is hoping that having a child will make her more responsible.
Daryl is a 23-year-old man with learning disabilities (affects reading, writing, spelling) and ADHD. He lives together with his supportive roommate in a seven-person dwelling in a large city, and identifies as Christian. Daryl currently works for a survey company asking people about their quality of life on PDD, and is involved with a theatre group. It was a struggle for Daryl to get into options during high school, like welding, because he was completely segregated. His sexual education only lasted one week, and it did not mention disability or building and maintaining relationships. Daryl’s parents talked with him about sex, but they did not teach him to recognize the social cues essential for dating. He moved into transitional living when he was 16, because his mom was manipulating and verbally abusing him. Transitional living aimed to teach Daryl how to be independent, although curfew and a no-sex rule restricted his sexual independence. Daryl experimented with a homosexual relationship after he moved out of supported living, which he realized was not for him. Daryl’s dating life is currently restricted by the text-based design of dating sites, his religion, and a lack of financial supports to help him to pay for dates. Daryl is very open with his disabilities, and some women at bars infantilize him because of this. His openness has also led to employment discrimination in hiring and wage equality.
Monica is a 37-year-old woman who has intellectual disabilities. She lives in a rural area in Alberta on a school property with her husband, who has disabilities, and their 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, who both also have learning disabilities. Religion has played an important role in her life since she was young, and she attends Baptist church. She attended school in regular classrooms until grade 10, and had some accommodations in terms of pace. She took sex education classes and found them quite useful. Monica’s parents were very open to talking about sex in order to keep her informed about birth control and pregnancy, and they were also quite supportive of her having children. She met her husband on a blind date when she was 17 years old; he was her first boyfriend, and first sexual partner. In the past, Child and Family Services apprehended their children for six months, mainly because of their living conditions. Monica and her husband completed parenting tests and attended family workshops in order to demonstrate that they are capable of taking care of the children. Throughout this process they learned about parenting skills, available services, and supports. They regained custody of their children after six months by demonstrating the parenting and household management skills they learned, with the support of Monica’s family. Since this experience, Monica, her husband, and their children have been living a stable life.