Monday, August 03, 2009

A little boy, failed by the system and forgotten by the rest of us

It’s fitting, in a grimly symbolic way. 
Just when attention might be paid to the little boy who fared so badly in the government’s care, a swirl of bigger news stories pushed him into the shadows.
We don’t know his name. The little boy has a right to privacy. Not much else.
The representative for Children and Youth set out his story — how he went from a healthy baby boy to a three-year-old who had suffered devastating injuries that left him with cerebral palsy. He’s blind in one eye, can’t walk yet and faces a life of struggle.
The boy was born on July 9, 2006. His mom was 20; his dad 24. They were from the same First Nations community and had rough childhoods themselves.
But they loved their baby and were capable of nurturing him. They moved back into the boy’s grandparents’ home on an unidentified reserve to care for him.
It was not a great place for an infant. On July 28, someone called the ministry of children and families and said it was not a safe home for a child. Alcohol abuse, neglect, even physical abuse were possible.
The ministry responded admirably. Social workers checked the files and made immediate home visits. They checked on the baby boy, who was doing well. They explained to the parents why the grandparents’ home was not safe.
The mother understood. She said they were going to live with another relative as an interim measure.
There was a 200-person waiting list for reserve housing. To deal with the concerns, she needed help from the ministry of income assistance to get off-reserve housing.
And the mother applied for the help. The income assistance ministry told her to come back after the mandatory three-week wait, if she had found a place. She was denied interim financial assistance.
In September, the ministry received a report the family was back in the grandparents’ home and, apparently, other concerns were raised. The investigating social worker decided the risk was serious enough that the boy should be taken from his parents.
An RCMP officer and social workers from the ministry and the aboriginal agency that provided services found the mother walking her two-month-old son in a stroller.
She had been living in the grandparents’ home for a week because they had no money to live anywhere else, the young mother said. She had been in the hospital for several days and the boy’s father had been caring for him.
And the workers took the baby away.
He was placed in a foster home that day. (A relative who provided foster care offered to take him. That offer was apparently never followed up on.) The parents suggested two other relatives who could care for the child. The ministry says it couldn’t reach them; the family says they were never called.
The ministry came up with a risk-reduction plan that would allow the child to be returned to his parents, once housing was secured and support was provided. But it didn’t do the required plan of care for the child. This is tangled and difficult work, of course. The social worker referred the parents to family counselling. They didn’t go.
The first foster home placement was on a 30-day contract. When it ended on Oct. 2, the baby was moved to another foster home.
In early November, the boy’s mother requested the ministry return her child because she had found shared housing. It wasn’t safe enough, workers decided.
Meanwhile, the child’s second foster mother became ill. So on Dec. 12, he was moved to a third foster home.
It’s worth pausing to think about this. The baby was barely five months old and had been with his parents and in three different foster homes. All good intentions aside, as a parent or grandparent, how do you think a child you loved would handle those changes? How long would he cry for a missing blanket or a person he had come to associate with comfort?
On Dec. 18, the baby boy had a successful supervised visit with his parents. Two days later, it all went wrong. The foster home reported he was unwell. At B.C. Children’s Hospital, doctors said his injuries were consistent with having been shaken. Criminal charges were laid against a caregiver in the foster home and then later stayed.
After almost a month in hospital, the baby was sent to his fourth foster home in January 2007.
In July, he was returned to his parents and started receiving support because of his massive disabilities. He has been making progress in their care since then, but is struggling with permanent, severe disabilities.
Next: What did we learn from this family’s tragedy?


Advocacy BC said...

Paul, thank you for keeping this child and family's tragic experiences in the light, these uncomfortable, heartbreaking stories disappear too fast.

Below is the media release the BCASW put out about the Representative's latest report, we wish that the BC government would listen. As they finalize the Sept. 1st budget, concerned citizens can let their MLA's know that they want BC's most vulnerable children & Families to take front & centre. MCFD is already making cuts and planning more to services that should be there to support the growing numbers of impoverished children and families.

Housing First for BC’s Impoverished Children and Families

BC Association of Social Workers

“A ‘place of your own’ is crucial to every family feeling protected and secure, and provides shelter, safety, privacy, an identity and a place to care for each other.”

From Housing, Help and Hope: A Better Path for Struggling Families
Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children & Youth

The Representative’s latest report highlights the pressures that marginalized and vulnerable families face in their struggle to find affordable housing to care for their children. She states, “whenever the government or its agents step into the lives of families, they must do so for the right reasons and with the right tools.”

This report details the traumatic removal of an infant from his young parents, his placement into multiple foster homes within a short span of time and reports on the tragic consequences of a multi-directional systemic meltdown and a lack of supports, resources and anti-poverty measures that would have supported the child to remain where he belonged - with his family as a healthy, nurtured and valued member of his community.

The BCASW supports the Representative’s key findings and recommendations and urges MCFD to move quickly towards action and implementation.

A reactive, crisis-driven child welfare and social service system that defaults to removing children from vulnerable families rather than working together to find creative solutions to poverty, social exclusion and marginalization creates more problems, tragedy and poorer outcomes.

Investment in human and social infrastructure and capital is the most enlightened way forward at this precarious time in BC’s child welfare and social service systems. Children in the care of MCFD have a right to be treated with the highest duty of care that a society can offer its most vulnerable and fragile citizens. The government of British Columbia must improve its commitment to the safety, protection and enhancement of the lives of all of BC’s children. Their lives and well-being depend on it.

Tracey Young, MSW, RSW
Chair ~ Child Welfare & Family Committee - BCASW

Anonymous said...

I find it apalling that the Provincial government can come up with funding to house pampered atheletes, many from outside this country, for a two week sports event but turns its back on a British Columbia family needing accomodation at a fraction of the cost with dire results.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Paul for writing about this senseless tragedy.

Why does this keep happening in BC? I want a better society and a government that cares about kids and provides welfare (and at a much higher rate) to those who need it, like this young family.