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Two More Mistakes Buried

September 25, 2007 permalink

A journalist has found two more babies who died in foster care in British Columbia on August 11 and August 16. While a host of trifling mistakes are adequate to cast suspicion on a mother, three deaths in foster care are not suspicious.



B.C. probes three child deaths

Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating three cases where children have died within days of being apprehended or placed in the government's care on Vancouver Island.

In addition to previously publicized cases in Duncan and Nanaimo, the Times Colonist has learned of a third death in Greater Victoria last month where a child died a short time after being voluntarily put in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Coroner Barb McLintock confirmed the male infant was found dead in his bed Aug. 11 on the West Shore. No name has been released and RCMP do not consider the death suspicious.

"We did an autopsy and, as is very often the case with these infant deaths, we did not get ... a really clear cause of death," McLintock said.

The case was followed five days later by the death of an 11-month-old aboriginal boy in Duncan. The boy had been apprehended by the Children's Ministry a few days earlier and placed with a relative. Again, RCMP said the death was not suspicious.

Then, three weeks later, a four-month-old aboriginal girl, Caroline Touchie, died at Nanaimo on Sept. 11 just five days after being apprehended and placed in foster care. Police have said there is no criminal investigation.

McLintock said yesterday that all three deaths have been referred to B.C. Children's Hospital for further investigation by pediatric pathologists, including one who specializes in studying the brains of babies and young children who have died.

"It's very complicated testing and we're so lucky to have it," she said.

Until the pathology reports are finished in four to six months, McLintock cautioned against reading too much into the cluster of child deaths.

"At this point, there's absolutely nothing to make us believe there's any specific significance to it," she said. "We see this so often in this job ... Things sort of sometimes run in clumps, and sometimes it's really relevant, like when we had all those forestry deaths that led to inquests. And sometimes it's just one of those statistical things that happens. It's way too early for us yet to say which it might be in this case."

McLintock said any decision on whether the coroners service will report on the deaths individually or as a group will likely be made by the service's child death unit. The unit looks at the deaths of all children under 19 in B.C., and sometimes conducts "cluster reviews" as a way to prevent other child deaths.

Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond also reviews all reports on the deaths or critical injuries of children in the government's care or known to the Children's Ministry in the previous 12 months, and could issue her own report.

Finally, the Children's Ministry conducts internal reviews of child deaths -- sometimes called director's or deputy director's reviews -- in cases where it had recent involvement.

Marilyn Hedlund, director of child welfare, said in a prepared statement this week that the ministry is prohibited from commenting on specific cases to protect the privacy of children and their families.

The ministry does, however, pay particular attention in cases where there are a number of deaths over a short period of time, ministry spokeswoman Barb Wright said yesterday.

"We're very concerned and we take it very seriously and we do look to see if there is any commonality."

The ministry's website reports 98 deaths of children involved with the ministry last year, including 13 in care and 85 who had received ministry services in the 12 months prior to their deaths.

The number of fatalities represented an increase of 25 from the previous year and marked the highest total since 2001, though similar numbers were reported in the mid- to late-1990s.

The ministry deals with 50,000 children a year, many of whom have serious or terminal illnesses, Wright said.

"Let's never forget that, by the very nature of these children being known to the ministry, they are vulnerable -- that's why we have them."

Source: Times Colonist (Victoria)