Truro mother of special needs woman meets with premier to push for change

Harry Sullivan
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Brenda Hardiman wants to see policies changed after daughter faced criminal charges

Brenda Hardiman of Truro doesn't think the justice system is the right way to help her 25-year-old daughter Nichele Benn, who has physical and intellectual disabilities.

By Harry Sullivan 

TC Media

TRURO - A face-to-face meeting with Premier Stephen McNeil did not result in the outcome that Brenda Hardiman had hoped for regarding her daughter and other special needs individuals.

"Nobody led me to believe that I should be expecting anything but we were kind of hoping for a little bit more direction of where he might go with things," Hardiman said, following her meeting with the premier on Friday.

"It was a little bit disappointing in the outcome."

Hardiman's 26-year-old daughter Nichele Benn has intellectual disabilities that have left her with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Those disabilities sometimes also lead to behavioural issues and Benn is currently facing assault and aggravated assault charges for alleged incidents that occurred at the adult support and rehabilitation facility where she lives in Lower Sackville.

Hardiman, of Bible Hill, has been fighting to have the system changed so that special needs individuals such as her daughter do not have to face criminal charges or penalties for behavioural issues they cannot control.

A number of local chapters of People First - including Yarmouth, Kings and Hants - held demonstrations Jan. 5 in support of Benn.

Her meeting with McNeil was to try to impress upon him the need to make legislative changes to protect such individuals from being dealt with through the criminal justice system.

"I was impressed with his empathy, he seemed to be very concerned with Nichele's situation. But from an action perspective, I didn't get a lot of that," Hardiman said.

"The premier did not commit to anything specific regarding undertakings other than the Department of Community Services will get back in touch with me regarding Nichele's housing."

Hardiman would like to see her daughter returned to a more community-minded living setting, instead of being housed in an institution where staff get to determine whether they want to press criminal charges when an individual experiences a behavioural outburst.

"We hope Nichele's living situation will change and she will return to living in the community," she said. "Nichele still has to face her current charges and we continue to believe that this is fundamentally wrong for her and that she does not belong in the criminal justice system."

Hardiman said she understands the premier cannot become directly involved in attempting to change policy within a given department based on a specific case. But she said she asked him to consider looking at how other provinces are dealing with the issue so that overall changes might be considered for Nova Scotia's system.

"I was hoping that he might look at it from a global perspective. That this is a bigger picture, it's not just Nichele, and maybe check with other provinces to see how they deal with this," she said. "Other provinces are more successful in the way that they manage people with special needs, so our province can learn from others' mistakes and successes."

But while things didn't turn out quite as she had wished, Hardiman said she will continue to push for change.

"We're still hoping this government is going to take a stronger position in this and shake up the departments of community service, justice and health and see what they can do to improve where they are lacking and caring for people with special needs," she said. "But we haven't seen a whole lot of that

Organizations: Community Services

Geographic location: Lower Sackville, Bible Hill, Nova Scotia

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  • Lenore Arnone
    January 22, 2014 - 10:49

    Our grandson had a chromosone analysis done & discovered he had Kleinfelter Syndrome.He is treated by Dr. Paduch in New York. Outbursts, learning disabilities were evident. Our hearts go out to you. Please contact us if you wish to talk further. Grandson, 17 years, doing well now.

  • joe
    January 20, 2014 - 09:45

    I agree with the mother to a point. I agree that the justice system is not the place to deal with her daughter, but at the same time the people caring for her has to have a workplace where getting assaulted ia not okay. Even with the mentality of a twelve year old they can learn through repetition that assaulting people is not acceptable byp having punishments following every assault. Eventually they get the message that when they behave a certain way they lose things that make them happy. But if this mother thinks it's okay for her daughter to continue to assault the people who try to care for her, then perhaps she should look after her daughter at home herself. But then again maybe that's why she put her daughter in the home in the first place, because she was tired of being assaulted.

    • Sylvia
      January 20, 2014 - 12:39

      I do agree with Joe's comments to a point. I work with many children who have brain injury or disabilities of varying degrees. Saying a person has the mentality of a 12 year old is vague. Does that mean her cognitive ability is like that of a 12 year old? So does she test at a reading ability of a 12 year old. Is her reasoning ability that of a 12 year old? etc. Also, equated into this is a multitude of other factors: Sequential auditory processing diminishes when under stress( being in an argument) which further reduces already compromised judgement, reasoning ability and impulse control. If she has injury to a part of the brain that controls emotionality this can impact behaviour. If she has sensory distortions this can exacerbate behaviour. Getting into the person's face, being overly loud or grabbing limbs can intensify the situation. I certainly do not excuse her behaviour however, I wonder how well trained the individuals are in dealing with clients as they are escalating. Across the board I see many institutions which are woefully inadequate in dealing with behavioural concerns due to lack of understanding and appropriate ways to intervene and restrain safely. Yes, absolutely the care givers should not have to experience abuse from one of their clients. However, I suspect that many of these situations could be reduced in intensity or completely eliminated with the proper approach. Over time and with the right interactions the individual may be taught to respond in a nonaggressive manner but this is typically not something they can learn on their own by repetitive experience. She is NOT a neuro typical 12 year old. If you look at individuals with FAS or Fetal alcohol damage their ability to understand cause and effect can be greatly limited due to the damage to specific parts of the brain. This is a very complex situation where all parties need to be protected and treated with dignity. Much more training needs to be offered to the caregivers to ensure everyone's safety. I empathize with the Mom. She is in a desperate situation. If her daughter does go to jail my concern is, "Will she be even less functional and be more dangerous when released?"