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Mother Compelled to Watch Abuse
February 9, 2006 permalink
Scandal has compelled the government of British Columbia to conduct an inquiry into the death of Sherry Charlie in foster care. In today's testimony the girl's mother describes watching as her child suffered abuse at the hands of her foster parent. This same anguish is shared by thousands of other parents who never get an opportunity to testify.
Mother says she sensed Sherry Charlie's fear when they visited uncle's home
PORT ALBERNI, B.C. (CP) - The mother of a toddler who was beaten to death by an uncle told a coroner's inquest Wednesday she could tell her daughter was afraid when she was near the man.
Juliana Frank said she sensed fear in both her children when she went to visit the house where her daughter would die on Sept. 4, 2002. Sherry Charlie and her older brother Jamie appeared afraid of their uncle Ryan Dexter George, she said. But when she told the aboriginal children's agency that placed the children in the home about her fears, they refused to move them, said Frank.
She said the agency, Usma, told her that if they moved the children from George's home they would end up being separated.
"I did not want them going to a stranger's house," she testified.
Jurors wiped their eyes and loud sobbing could be heard in the courtroom as Frank, 24, described her daughter's fears.
"I knew she was afraid because she would never look at Ryan when I was around. I just saw the fear in her eyes," Frank said.
George pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2004 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He originally said Sherry died when her brother pushed her down the stairs.
Sherry died 22 days after government agencies placed her in George's home in Port Alberni, located about 200 kilometres northwest of Victoria.
George had a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for violence, but aboriginal and provincial child welfare agencies approved the move without fully completing background checks.
Frank said she had concerns about George, but allowed her children to live at the home because her aunt Claudette Lucas, George's partner, was a gentle person and Usma said the move to the George home was the best way to keep the children together.
"I knew he was short-tempered and angry and that's why, in the beginning, I didn't agree with my daughter going there," Frank said. "I told Usma that."
She said she didn't recall signing a document in August 2002, that sent her children to the George and Lucas home.
Frank said she never knew why she ended up losing her children, although she admitted to an alcohol problem. When she was drinking, Frank said her children were always with her mother or a family babysitter.
Frank said there were allegations of neglect and that her children were not being fed properly, but "none of that was true."
The father of her children, she said, was hardly ever home during their six-year relationship. "I was practically a single mom," said Frank. "I wasn't getting any help from him."
Trevor Charlie, the children's father, was scheduled to testify Thursday. George is also scheduled to testify.
Sherry was 19 months old when she was beaten to death. Her death has sparked an examination of British Columbia's child protection system, including probes into how government and aboriginal children's agencies allowed Sherry to be placed in the home of a relative with an extensive criminal record.
Family members made an emotional plea Wednesday for the toddler's short life not to be in vain.
"Sherry was a sweet little girl," said Darlene Dick, her great aunt. "She was lovable. She was always smiling. She was always glad to see us. She knew who we were."
Dick said Sherry, who knew her as a grandmother, was a frequent visitor at her home in the remote Vancouver Island village of Ahousaht, located on the Island's rugged west coast near the tourist town of Tofino and accessible only by boat or float plane.
She said the inquest has been emotionally trying for all the families involved, but it's been especially difficult in the aboriginal community because it has touched so many lives.
"I'm glad that this is happening today so that it won't happen to any other child," Dick said outside the inquest. "It's affected all of our community."
Trevor Charlie sat in the courtroom as Frank testified. The two are no longer a couple, and Frank is expecting another child next month.
"On behalf of the family we want to say that this is important what's going on here," said Guy Louie, speaking on behalf of the Charlie family.
"We didn't want our little one's death to be in vain and we don't want it to happen to any other child, or have any other parents or grandparents or family to go through what our family is going through here," he said, surrounded by about 10 family members.
"We're hoping that our families can come together and heal together."
So far, the inquest has resulted in tough questions for the RCMP, which waited more than four months to launch a criminal investigation despite having a preliminary autopsy report that found Sherry suffered serious injuries.
Sherry's death has been the focus of intense political scrutiny since last July when the B.C. government released a long-awaited review of the case that cited poor communication and lax procedures between child welfare agencies.
The original government review resulted in at least six other reviews of the handling of Sherry's case.
Solicitor General John Les said budget cuts and government incompetence resulted in the failure to properly review the deaths of 713 children.
Source: Canadian Press