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Alberta Death in Foster Care

February 6, 2009 permalink

Yet another death in Alberta foster care has come to light, this time a thirteen-month-old boy who died November 26, 2005. As usual, names are suppressed, the foster mom is identified only in silhouette. Our archives show the child as Caleb Jerome Merchant.



February 4, 2009

Foster mom hopes fatality inquiry three years after boy's death will finally clear her name


Foster parent 'Sarah' has never been accused of any wrongdoing, but had to fight to regain custody of her own adopted son. Andrew Hanon/SUN MEDIA

News of another child dying in foster care last month filled Sarah with a sickening sense of deja vu.

The parallels between a four-year-old girl's death on Jan. 13 and the slaying of a 13-month-old boy in Sarah's care just over three years ago hit too close to home for Sarah, who's still struggling to piece her own life back together.

On Nov. 24, 2005, Sarah (whose real name can't be used because it's against the law) received a hysterical phone call at work that would forever change her life.

Her common-law husband was on the other end of the line, talking gibberish.

"He was making no sense," Sarah recalled yesterday. Eventually she gleaned from him that their foster son, a relative of hers who had been placed in their home by Children's Services three months earlier, was badly hurt and being taken to hospital.

Two days later, the boy was taken off life-support and died.

Sarah's husband was charged with second-degree murder, but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five years.

According to Sarah, he's out of prison and living in a half-way house.

"I've had no contact with him," she said. "I never will again. He's never said what really happened that day and I've never had closure."

The horror of the weeks following the boy's slaying came flooding back last month when she read the news of the girl's death.

In that case, the 24-year-old foster mother was charged with second-degree murder. The child was her niece.

The girl and five other siblings - all younger than seven - were recently placed in the aunt and her boyfriend's care by a children's authority.

But the most chilling similarity between the two cases are the allegations that social workers failed to respond to pleas for help.

The 24-year-old's mother - the victim's grandmother - told Sun Media last week that the young woman was not prepared to take on the responsibility of six foster children.

"I told (child services) from the very beginning she couldn't handle six kids," the grandmother told Sun Media. "We expressed our concerns from the very beginning."

The grandmother said calls for help went unheeded.

Sarah was already caring for her foster son's two siblings (one of whom she had adopted), when she got a call from Children's Services telling her to come to a nearby office and pick up the boy.

"They never came to our house to check it out or anything," she said.

It took another five or six weeks before any social worker did any followup, she claims.

Sarah says she told the social worker that the boy was lethargic and seemed developmentally delayed. When she asked for help with him, she was told it was coming.

The help never came. She says she kept calling Children's Services, but never heard back.

Two months later, the boy was dead, the foster father under arrest and the two other children in the home were taken away.

Faced with a death in care, Children's Services workers went from AWOL to smothering, she said.

Even though Sarah wasn't even home when the boy died and has never been accused of any wrongdoing, she says she had to fight for months to get her adopted son back.

"I'll never be allowed to work with kids again," she says.

"I feel like I'm being held responsible for everything that happened."

Sarah hopes a fatality inquiry - which is required by law whenever a child dies in foster care - will finally clear her name.

It's expected to be completed this spring.

Last June, in the wake of yet another case of a child dying in a foster home, Children and Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk promised better screening of potential foster parents.

In that incident, the foster mother was convicted of manslaughter after her three-year-old foster son died of massive cranial trauma in January 2007.

Sarah agrees that better screening is critical, but charges that there are plenty of other problems, such as foster parents being left to fend for themselves.

And until the system is overhauled, she fears more children will be put in harm's way.

Source: Edmonton Sun