Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Government failed girl found in home with her dead mother

Anyone paying attention - especially people being paid to do just that - could have seen things were going to end badly for the 15-year-old girl with Down's syndrome and her mom.
And things did end badly. The girl spent days alone in a dirty trailer with her mother's decomposing body last fall. She was filthy, emaciated and covered in an angry rash when found - and frightened.
When neighbours came to her rescue, she couldn't hear them. Her hearing aids had stopped working at some point in the past. No one had noticed. She had lived in needless silence.
B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond reported on the case this week. It is grim reading.
The desperate family's downward spiral occurred over years. There was ample evidence of deteriorating conditions for both mother and daughter. For almost four years, the Ministry of Children and Families had been warned the child was being abused and neglected. Investigations were incomplete and inadequate, failing to take the modest steps needed to get at the truth of the family's collapse.
As all this happened, the government was supposed to be providing children with special needs and their families help with assessment, planning and services. That didn't happen either.
Lord knows the child needed support. She was sickly and weak, needed leg braces and hearing aids and glasses. At 15, she had the intellectual functioning of a pre-schooler.
She was also a warm and loving child, lo9ved in turn by her mother.
In a family with money and savvy, she might have fared well.
But her mother was poor. When her car broke down, she had to give up the two jobs she was working. She was on income assistance – a life of poverty - and sometimes collected cans and bottles to get by. She couldn't afford a phone.
And she battled her own issues with illness, physical and mental, and, apparently, with alcohol.
Families of children with special needs are supposed to be getting support to make sure services are there. But the government shuffled responsibility to Community Living BC from the children's ministry in 2005, then decided that was a bad idea and shuffled them back in 2009. Supports were inadequate, caseloads overwhelming and children fell through gaping cracks.
And all children are supposed to be protected from harm by the ministry of children and families. That's impossible, of course. But in this case, the report found, there were complaints about the home and warning signs of obvious risk. At the least, this family needed support; it's likely the child should have been apprehended.
Instead, things got worse and worse.
Turpel-Lafond also found this case was not just an aberration, or the result of individual failures. "Is this a unique circumstance, a cruel anomaly?" she said. "Tragically, it is not."
One of the government workers responsible for supporting the child had a caseload of 200 families. There is simply no way to do the work properly under those conditions.
The government cut off the mother's income assistance in the month of her death, although it knew she was supporting a disabled child, without visiting the home or warning the children's ministry.
In short, the systems that were supposed to protect children and support those with special needs were structured to fail.
Children's Minister Mary McNeil promised action on the report's recommendations. But the public has heard that before. Only three years ago, Turpel-Lafond outlined the problems with supports for children with special needs. Nothing happened.
There's one simple test of the government's commitment. The report called on the government to assess the services, resources and support required for children with special needs, the province's current commitment and the actions that would be taken to close the gap.
Until that's done and released, it would be foolish to accept yet more promises of improvement.
Footnote: The ministry's initial position was that the case did not involve a "serious injury" so it did not have to report it to the representative. An internal ministry review found "all of the required standards were complied with" in its dealings with the family.
Which confirms that the problems are built into the current system.


DPL said...

The woman was overwhelmed and even with concerns raised by family members, somebody in the ministry ignored. The ministry will now tell us, that they will do better. But won't. Not enough staff in the field, and not enough direction from the top. BC Government doesn't get overly concerned about so many things. Their lack of real concern sickens many of us.The case worker was, no doubt over worked with so many cases. The new Minister seems to show concern, the last on Polak would simply dance around and hope the publicity would go away. Being ill, disabled or any combination that might cost some money and you fall out of the system.

Anonymous said...

For the past eight years I have been a front line worker. I can tell you that there are those who take the extra time….who will continue to call and to follow up until we get the actual answers we need to confirm that things really are all right. Sometimes you need to come in early or stay late in order to make contact with your case files . Then there are those who say “not my job” or “I tried” and will not do anything outside of a very token effort

Whenever these tragedies occur we always ignore the fact that it is almost always the same workers involved. They are the ones who are also usually the last in the office and the first to leave. The same one who constantly are plagued with personal calls at work and usually spending their days often trying to manger their own personal lives from the office. But nobody does anything and nobody ever says anything. Anyone who works in the Ministry knows who the good staff are and those who should be sent out the door, but again nobody seems to really care.

It would have been refreshing if Turpel Lafond had actually investigated the workers involved and had conversations with their co-workers and both present and now retired supervisors. But of course, nobody really wants to do that. Why ? I have no idea.

I can say this. Until we stop ignoring those who lack a work ethic and professionalism who drag down their co-workers, this Ministry will continue to struggle. Report after report comes out but apparently scrutinizing those who actually were required to make some real effort and not play lip service continue to get ignored. Does anyone really care ? I honestly don’t think so.

DPL said...

The Globe and Mail did a article on the child today, Thursday. They finish by saying the girl still gets upset when she sees flies. Way to go BC Liberals. GO find some money for PR events for Mz.Christy