Friday, August 05, 2005

More answers in the sad case of Sherry Charlie

VICTORIA - Two weeks after releasing a five-page summary of its review of the death of 19-month-old Sherry Charlie, the government changed course and made the full report public.
And the full version revealed significant omissions in the summary.
Sherry was battered to death almost three years ago, days after being placed in the care of relatives under a new ministry policy. The man who beat her, the father in the Port Alberni home, had a long and violent criminal record. He was on probation for assaulting his spouse. The children’s ministry had already investigated concerns about the well-being of other children in the home.
Sherry wasn't properly protected.
There's no shattering differences between the summary and the full report on most of the facts.
But the ministry's summary left out significant context about how this came to happen, and what needs to be done prevent similar cases.
The summary reported that Usma Nuu Chah Nulth Community Services, acting on the authority of the ministry, placed Sherry in the home of her uncle, the man convicted of manslaughter in her death. (The ministry believes - rightly - that placing a child with family is generally preferable to foster care with non-relatives.)
The agency had not done a criminal record check. It had done only one reference check. It had contacted the ministry to find out if there were any previous concerns about the home. There were, but the ministry didn't tell the agency about them.
The whole process was new to all concerned. The government had just proclaimed the sections of a six-year-old act that set up a separate, less involved procedure for placing children with family and friends as an alternative to foster care. Sherry was the first child the Nuu Chah Nulth Agency placed under the new policy.
The summary acknowledged problems. "The newness of the policy, the lack of training and the lack of clarity on the requirements contributed to some confusion in the agency," it said.
But the report adds useful detail. The six-page policy was faxed to the agency that summer, with no follow-up or training, and the language suggested the guidelines were optional.
And it adds context about the change. "It was introduced in 2002 as an element of MCFD's new strategic shift, placing more onus on communities (families, informal support networks) to care for children, to reduce the number of children in foster care by a specific percentage and, in the opinion of the review to reduce costs," the report says.
Children and Families Minister Stan Hagen disagrees with the report. Placing Sherry in foster care would have been less costly, he notes, since the federal government would have paid.
But the finding is consistent with other, similar concerns about the ministry's direction, and it is relevant. It should have been disclosed.
Just as the report's observations about the wider issues that led to the case should have been disclosed. The report notes sherry was from Ahousat, a small island community about 40 minutes from Port Alberni by boat.
"The resources available to social workers in small, isolated communities are often woefully inadequate; there are often waiting lists for alcohol and drug treatment programs, day care facilities are inadequate, family support programs do not address underlying social problems," says the full report. "The lack of resources and the isolation result in agencies having difficulty supervising the progress or lack of progress a family is making."
To me, that's important enough to make the summary.
Hagen has, to his credit, acted to deal with the obvious perceived conflict involved in having ministry staff summarize reports that may be critical of their actions. Future reports will simply be released in full, subject to editing for privacy issues.
But the three-year delay, the reluctant disclosure and the missing information are all troubling.
Things are going to go wrong sometimes in this ministry.
What the public, the children and families served, and the people on the front lines all deserve is quick, full disclosure, and fast action to fix any problems.
Footnote: Sherry's brother remained in the home for five months after her death on Sept. 4. The summary said "between September, 2002, and January, 2003, the agency and ministry received information that the coroner was suspicious about the explanation for the child’s death." The full report shows the ministry was told Sherry's death was suspicious on Sept. 17.


ricky said...

This is a sad case.

"Matthew's Story is very sad and will upset many readers, as it upsets me. The Honourable Judge Thomas J. Gove, Commissioner, November 1995.

To think that Gordon Campbell had so much to say in those days. He is amazingly quiet today.

Anonymous said...

you have a typo-- i'm from ahousat, and it is roughly a 40 minute boat ride from Tofino, just thought i would let you know.

Anonymous said...

I am currently writing a grad paper on the Vauderuil and Charlie deaths and find striking resemblance to the failures in communication, clarity in policy, lack of training, and cost cutting. the gove report was to stop this problem but in order to implement it meant money, something the liberal government was not prepared to spend. The liberal deevolved from the gove report and cut training, qualified SW and moved aboriginal children to places where services would not be recived. After completing this paper, i find that cost cutting and deregulation are directly causal to the death of the Charlie girl and problems will continue once aboriginal authorities are shown not to be in place and staffed by seconded social workers.

Anonymous said...

"...failures in communication, clarity in policy, lack of training, and cost cutting"

- -

Fine for you to say. I still remain unconvinced that the same type of racist motivation preexistent in the deaths of native people did not exist in this case. To be more forthwith, why was not the necessary information shared and given to the native indian bands family and child services? Is it beyond the imaginative reach of most people to perhaps speculate that a firm non-belief in the inherent inalienable right of native peoples to handle their own affairs and look after their children was prevalent in the patriarchial and patrimonial stewardship of the government?
Given the current climate in which the present government finds itself, its certainly not too hard to imagine. I mean with Stan Hagen as Tourism Minister now, how is he supposed to succeed in that position when he has so dismally failed in his past?
When broadcaster CTV revealed files of dead children whose deaths haven't been investigated... British Columbia's Minister of Children and Family Development at the time, Stan Hagen, had no comment. So then soon after they changed their tune I suppose, thanks to help from the media.

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Anonymous said...

my thoughts on it is that thing's weren't tken so seriously and that noibody wants to take the blame, but everyones is eager to blame. bottom line is that there still needs to be improvemenet around child protection, alot less blaming. wasting time when there are still kids in need of protection. still happening today...

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