Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

BC, Saskatchewan agencies 'failed' First Nations toddler: report

Three child welfare agencies, including British Columbia's, failed to keep one young First Nations girl safe from a grandfather with a history of addiction and criminal convictions. That's the conclusion of a report released this morning by B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth.

"Out of Sight: How One Aboriginal Child's Best Interests Were Lost Between Two Provinces" details the events leading up to the apprehension of a three-and-a-half year old girl from her maternal grandfather's house near Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan, in 2008.

Just 26-and-a-half pounds when RCMP apprehended her, and suffering from bruises, scratches, and an untreated collarbone fracture, doctors determined the toddler showed signs of starvation, abuse, and neglect. Her maternal grandfather and his partner were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life in February 2012 and sentenced to three years in prison.

The young girl had been on the B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development's radar since birth in 2004. Her mother was a documented IV drug user, who had fled her father's home in Saskatchewan years earlier for B.C. because of a poor home life. By the time the child was sent to live with her grandfather, she had been moved by the ministry nine times.

She was finally removed from her grandfather's house 18 months later. Now eight years old, she still lives in foster care.

But rather than focusing on the crimes against her, the report focuses on government accountability, accusing the ministry, the Saskatchewan government, and the First Nations Child and Family Services in Saskatchewan of not doing their due diligence.

In a press conference earlier this morning, Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond said the ministry relied on a "faulty" housing report and criminal background check for the grandfather from First Nations Child and Family Services. The ministry also did not follow up after the agency refused to monitor the child's care.

"The agency wrote to the ministry in B.C. that it would do nothing after the placement of the child, and that all the responsibility would be the sole responsibility of the Ministry for Children and Family Development in B.C.," she told reporters.

No one from the ministry accompanied the child to Saskatchewan or visited the grandfather's home prior to or after the child was placed there. Turpel Lafond says ministry officials indicated there might have been budgeting issues, but she says there is at least one case of two ministry social workers accompanying a child to a placement in China at much greater cost.

Turpel Lafond says the grandfather and another child -- up to eight children had been placed in his care before his arrest -- hitchhiked to B.C. from Saskatchewan to pick up the child. He then demanded to be reimbursed by the ministry for two return plane tickets. The ministry gave him the money, which he reportedly used to buy codeine pills.

It is unknown how the grandfather and two children returned to Saskatchewan. However it is known the mother, from whose care the child was being removed, accompanied them.

"The First Nations agency in general exhibited shockingly poor levels of record keeping and professionalism in this case, which leads me to have great concern for its work in other cases involving vulnerable children," said Turpel Lafond, "and great concern of whether the B.C. director of child welfare may rely on work of that agency in inter-provincial transfers or other cases."

But ultimate authority for child welfare in Saskatchewan falls to the province's Ministry for Social Services. The Representative has met with members of the B.C. and Saskatchewan ministries, and both have early copies of her report a couple of months ago.

Turpel LaFond noted she could not find a single province that keeps track of children who leave or enter their province for foster placements, even though it's required under the Provincial/Territorial Protocol on Children and Families Moving Between Provinces. Neither does the protocol make any mention of first nations families, although it is currently under review.

She called on the federal government, which directly funds First Nations Child and Family Services, to take a more direct role in ensuring First Nations children are protected.

"The federal government takes the position that it simply funds (First Nations agencies). The quality of their work is dependent on the provinces," she said.

"I think it's very difficult that you say that you simply fund service, but if nobody's actually doing the service, there's a safety gap for the child. Who will provide the assurance that it's really happening? And when we know it isn't happening, what steps are taken?"

Minister for Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux is scheduled to address the report in a teleconference with reporters today at 12:30 p.m.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus