Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Brandon died, and his mother deserves answers

VICTORIA - One phone conversation with Dayna Humphrey demolishes all the government's evasions on child death reviews.
Humphrey's son died more than two years ago, weeks after he was placed in a Surrey foster home. Like any mother, she wanted to know what happened, how her cheerful two-year-old could have ended up slumped in a too large wheelchair, restraint straps pressing on his neck, no longer breathing.
No one would tell her. The ministry of children and families didn't return calls. She waited seven months for a coroner's report. It was a one-page judgment, that said the cause of Brandon's death was undetermined, didn't even mention that he was in a foster home or government care and made no recommendations.
Humphrey thought placing Brandon briefly in the government's care was the best choice.
He was born three months early, weighing less than two pounds, and suffered from deafness, cerebral palsy and other problems.
Humphrey's marriage had ended. She had two other children, and needed to find work. The 24-hour care that Brandon needed, the challenge of physiotherapy and learning sign language, were too much, and she couldn't get assistance. So she placed Brandon in care for three months to get her life organized for the challenges ahead.
And then he was dead.
Humphrey tried for almost a year to get answers. "I've been slapped down at every step," she says, in a quiet voice. Finally, she gave up.
Then came the admission that files on 713 child deaths had been forgotten in a Victoria warehouse.
"I woke up at 6:30, like I do every morning, to get ready for work and turned on the news and there it was, right in front of me," says Humphrey. "I was devastated. I'm angry. I'm hurt."
She wondered whether proper reviews into those deaths would have yielded lessons that would have saved Brandon's life.
And then she wondered if other children might die, because no one was learning from Brandon's death.
Dayna Humphrey is the perfect rebuttal to the government's claims about child death reviews.
She shows that the reviews are essential, and that since the Liberals eliminated the Children's Commission meaningful reports have ceased. And she proves that there is now no way for families to get the answers they deserve.
Solicitor General John Les has claimed that the forgotten files weren't really forgotten, because the coroner did an initial report.
But the report on Brandon's death shows how inadequate those reviews are when it comes to children's deaths.
A child is in a foster home, left unattended in a wheelchair that doesn't fit him, and dies. And the result is a one-page report with no recommendations. It doesn't look at why a proper wheelchair wasn't available; why he was left alone; whether the number of children in the home was a factor; or even whether support would have allowed Brandon to stay at home.
Les maintains that a child death review team in the Coroner's Office has done detailed reviews on 526 children's deaths over the last three years, including Brandon's.
But only two have been released. Chief Coroner Terry Smith says he has neither the budget nor the legal authority needed to do the reviews.
And while Les says individual death reviews may be released, the coroner says that won't happen.
Questions about Brandon's death have been raised in the legislature every day this week. But Les said he hasn't asked for a copy of the child death review.
He has no answers for Brandon's mother.
When the Children's Commission, she would have got those answers. And British Columbians would have been confident that the death was properly reviewed, and lessons learned.
"That's exactly what it is I'm looking for - an independent third party that can look at these," Humphrey says. "I want to know that somebody out there is looking for my son's voice."
"All the children and all the parents deserve that much."
Footnote: Les continued to say in the legislature this week that the coroner would be releasing both individual reviews, and reports that looked at trends in deaths and specific issues. The coroner's office say that it has no plans to issue individual reports. Parents won't get answers there.


Anonymous said...

I watched Brandon's mom on TV last night -- how truly heartbreaking!

The MCFD Estimates are finally up for debate--put off to the last possible moment so that not too many questions could be asked before the House adjurns. So I hope the media will be out in force and will be asking the remaining questions when Mr Dix runs out of time.

The first question is how many parents have been forced to put their kids in foster care simply because government has cut supports for kids with special needs and families in crisis?

How many families of kids with special needs are on waitlists for respite, for example?

How many families taking care of challening adults waiting for help from the Ministry?

What exactly did the risk assessment report say about the ADDITIONAL risks posed to kids with special needs and kids with special needs in care, by handing their case files over to CLBC on July 1, even though the new organization did not yet have any of its most BASIC organizational and administrative systems up and running.

How long do families in crisis have to wait before they can find safe short-term and/or long-term placements for kids/teens/adults with special needs?

(I heard from one distraught mom whom I know today, who's now at her wits' after battling CLBC for weeks to find a safe place for an autistic teen in complete breakdown/crisis) How many more are out there like her?

How many adults have died or are being abused and neglected in foster care and/or group homes since MCFD and CLBC have been trying to cut costs, since they've basically asked caregivers to police themselves, and since CLBC has been put in charge of oversignt on July 1 (but still with no oversight systems to do the job and no plans to have those finalized for months/years?!!

Please start demanding some answers!

Anonymous said...

The ex ombudsman stated on the CBC today that she had repeatedly tried to get the government to listen to her. They never answered her letters.
She stated the coroner simply doesn't have the funding to do the child reviews. Did they listen? Of course not, they were saving money. Besides Gordo doesn't listen to anything he doesn't want to hear. One wonders if a child of one of the Liberal MLAs family or relation had an unfortunate death would they still thump the desk as the two ministers try to blame others.
I hope Dix wipes the floor with good old Stan, who should be relieved of his job, salary and perks. and sat as far away from power as possible. Actually Dix has been doing a good job thumping Stan and Stan needs to be thumped as he is so inept.

Anonymous said...

I am truly horrified!!! Not only concerning the circumstances of Brandon's death ... but knowing his other parent... imagine turning on the evening news and having your deceased son's picture flash in front of you!!! How could this happen to a man who was so very devoted to his young son. How cruel!! He was not even notified or consulted.

Anonymous said...

The ministry published a "fact sheet" which said "The number of children-in-care is down 16 per cent - from 11,000 in 2001 to 9,000 in 2005."
The incidence of deaths of children in care would therefore increase if the number of deaths did not also decrease by 16 per cent over that period. The number of deaths were 9 in 2001, 9 in 2002, 12 in 2003 and 14 in 2004; that's definitely not a 16% reduction, it is an increase in both absolute numbers and in the incidence (deaths per thousand children-in-care).

It would appear that more children are dying in care than ever before. Now that the pay raise issue did not bail them out of the media...I hope and pray that they get what they deserve on this one. The death of one child is a tragedy, these deaths are a travesty.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but it's not enough to just blame Mr. Hagen for this disaster.

Hundreds, if not thousands of parents and advocates have written thousands of letters over the past five years to Mr. Campbell, to Mr. Hagen's predecessors at MCFD (Gordon Hogg & Christy Clark)and to every one of the MLAs sitting in our Legislature, warning of the consequences of their horrific agenda of cuts and endless restructuring.

We have met repeatedly with the Minister, the Deputy Ministers, the Assistant Deputy Ministers, the Board and CEO of CLBC, etc, etc. We have met repeatedly with all the MLAs and laid out the problems for them.

I will never forget the cruel reply I received to one of my first such letters in the fall of 2001, when they were actually talking about 35 - 50% budget cuts for MCFD, from one Liberal MLA who essentially said sorry, but that these families will just have to suffer a little pain so that we can build a strong economy.

Behold the flip side of BC's Golden Decade!

RossK said...

Just so you all know.... when cornered on this one during what was supposed to be an fluff piece (no Cluffie this a.m.ha!) on the CBC morning drive show, Mr. Campbell, as cool as a cucumber, stated that all these deaths have been 'investigated' they just haven't been 'reviewed' yet.