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child 00046 (male)

November 1, 2007 permalink

A British Columbia foster boy identified only by his number, 46, presented evidence in the inquest into the death of Savannah Hall. According to his testimony his foster mother hit him over the head, give him cold showers, starved him for four days, bit him and washed his mouth out with soap. He kept quiet out of justified fear of the foster mom, who later used deadly force against another child.

His silence illustrates an important truth. When children complain about abuse, it is mild abuse. Victims of severe abuse have to remain silent.



Foster child complained about treatment in care

Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, October 31, 2007

PRINCE GEORGE -- A jury at a coroner's inquest heard shocking allegations Tuesday from a former foster child who said he was struck over the head with a wooden spoon so hard it broke, he was put in cold showers fully clothed as punishment and sometimes went without food for four days in a local foster home.

The allegations were in a statement by the child, identified only as Child 46 to protect his identity, which was read into the record by coroner's counsel Chris Godwin.

The child had complained about his treatment in the foster home of Patricia Keene, who also looked after three-year-old Savannah Hall, who was rushed to hospital on Jan. 24, 2001, and died two days later after being transferred to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver.

The inquest into Savannah's death has heard how the boy's complaint was received by a social worker and an investigation was ordered Nov. 28, 2000, but it wasn't carried out until Savannah became gravely ill.

Usually an investigation would be launched within a day for a serious allegation and should be completed within 30 days, but the standard of the Ministry of Children and Family Development wasn't met in this case.

Former ministry social worker Katrina Ludwig testified she was assigned to investigate the allegation of abuse and neglect, but she sent an e-mail to her supervisor on Dec. 4, 2000, saying she was too busy.

Another social worker wasn't assigned to investigate the boy's complaint until Jan. 25, 2001, and the boy was interviewed the next day. The inquest was told the boy had put a blanket over his head while he was being interviewed.

The boy, then in Grade 7, said he and his sister were both mistreated in the Keene foster home. He said Pat Keene would hit him on the head, hands and feet with a wooden spoon if he didn't do his chores.

"She hit me so hard on the head, it [the spoon] broke," the boy recalled, adding his sister was also hit with the spoon.

He said he would be put in a downstairs bedroom that had no windows and a bed with no blankets .

Pat Keene also gave the boy and his sister cold showers as punishment, he said, recalling he was sometimes pushed in the shower fully clothed.

He also had his mouth washed out with soap if he didn't speak loudly enough to be heard, according to the statement read in court.

He said he once bit Pat Keene while she was putting soap in his mouth and she bit him back, advising him she could bite twice as hard.

He said he didn't want to tell anyone because he thought his foster mother would get angry at him.

Coroner Scott Fleming warned the jury of five women to use caution in assessing the statement of a child, who did not attend court to be cross-examined.

The inquest also heard the testimony of Robert Watts, the regional director of child welfare in the northern region, who outlined a series of changes to the ministry made after Savannah's death.

He said there used to be one director of child welfare for B.C., based in Victoria, but now directors are assigned to regions to oversee child protection.

Peter Grant, the lawyer representing Savannah's birth mother, Corinna Hall, at the inquest, asked Watts whether the investigation of Child 46 would "fall through the cracks today" as it did in 2000.

Watts said ministry staffing levels had improved in the north since 2001, and there are more team leaders to supervise smaller groups of front-line social workers.

"I think the system we have now is better than we had before," he said, but added under further questioning that he couldn't give an absolute guarantee the system would protect all children.

Watts agreed with Grant that the ministry is the guardian of children in foster care, who deserve protection.

"We are the guardians of these children and we owe them a very high standard of care," he testified.

The inquest is expected to hear the testimony of the foster mother today.

Earlier Tuesday, a doctor who examined Savannah Hall at B.C. Children's Hospital before the child died, testified she was concerned about bruising on the child and the fact that there was massive brain swelling.

"I was concerned about the location of some of the bruises," Dr. Jean Hlady, one of the province's top experts in child abuse, recalled.

Hlady said she examined the girl on Jan. 25, 2001, a day after she had been admitted to the emergency department of the hospital in Prince George.

After the child was transferred to Children's Hospital in Vancouver, Hlady interviewed the foster mother, who reported the child had had a mild cold, had fallen twice the day she was admitted to hospital, and wasn't feeling well, so was put in bed early.

Hlady recalled the child was initially admitted to hospital with massive brain swelling, was comatose, had a very low temperature and a low salt level.

"The history I was given didn't add up," the doctor recalled.

The child was determined to be brain-dead and life support was discontinued on Jan. 26, 2001, and the child was declared dead when her heart stopped, Hlady said.

(The girl's birth mother, who was in court for the testimony, wiped tears from her eyes as the doctor described the end of the girl's life.)

Hlady said she was still puzzled by the case to this day.

The inquest, now in its second week, is trying to determine the facts surrounding the little girl's death and has heard that the ministry had received a series of allegations about mistreatment of foster children in the home.

The inquest jury is expected to make recommendations to try to prevent a similar death.

Source: The Vancouver Sun