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Amanda Duggan was babysitting when her client baby had a seizure. Without any criminal charges ever being filed, her own children were removed for over a year on suspicion of shaken baby. Fixcas missed this item in 2009, we added it three years later.
Family torn apart by child abuse accusation seeks answers
A babysitter who was accused of injuring a child in her care, and who was separated from her own two children for more than a year as a result, is telling a harrowing story of how she was treated by the child protection system.
The case involving Amanda Duggan of Bay Bulls, a small community on Newfoundland's southern shore, has opposition parties in Newfoundland and Labrador demanding an investigation into how the accusation of child abuse was handled by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services.
Duggan's troubles began in February 2008, when she was babysitting a 13-month-old girl in her home.
"I sat her on the floor and I went to go and mix her a bottle," Duggan told CBC News. "All of a sudden I heard a thump, and I looked back and here was the child and she was just in a seizure, she was just shaking."
Duggan called 911 and the child was taken to the Janeway Children's Hospital in St. John's, where the girl was assessed as being in critical condition.
"The next day, I got up and got ready and went out to the hospital again, and all of a sudden the RCMP come and say 'We want to take a statement from you,' and I said 'Fine.' I didn't really know what was going on. I just followed whatever they told me to do."
A short time later, Duggan was being investigated by police and social workers of causing abusive head trauma, commonly known as shaken baby syndrome.
"I didn't know what was going on. I was in shock. They said that I caused an abusive head trauma to a child I was caring for."
In a letter written to child protection officials, the pediatrician on call at the hospital said the child had trauma severe enough to cause "subdural hematoma," "retinal hemorrhages," and "brain injury."
Separated from her own children
Police and child protection officials both began investigations, and for the next 16 months, Duggan wasn't allowed to be alone with her own two children, a four-year-old boy and a 22-month-old girl.
"They said that they had to do their investigation before I could be home with my children."
Duggan and her husband Jamie agreed to move out of the house so their children could remain at home, cared for by their grandparents.
They were allowed visits, but only under the supervision of social workers.
Jamie Duggan, fighting tears during an interview with CBC News, said it was torturous trying to deal with social workers who sometimes showed up late for the specified times in which he and his wife were allowed to be with their kids.
"I said to one lady [a social worker] 'Well, you're half an hour late.' She said 'Yeah, do you want me to leave now again?' I said, 'No ma'am, I don't.'"
Amanda Duggan asked for the police file on the allegations against her, but the RCMP kept it confidential. She was never charged with a crime.
She went to family court repeatedly to get more access to her children and to get access to medical information on her file.
"I was babysitting for 19 years. When we went to court, I went in with 22 letters of support from different families."
Her longtime family doctor also wrote letters saying she had no concerns about Duggan's abilities as a caregiver.
But the months stretched to a year, then longer, and Duggan still knew little about the case against her.
"All that we knew is that, 'OK, Mrs. Duggan, you've been accused of abusive head trauma to this child.' There was never no medical information passed over to our lawyer stating what caused them to reason this."
Crucial information withheld
Child protection officials finally handed over their file on the case to Duggan's lawyer in the spring of this year, 15 months after the incident.
Buried in the documents was a piece of medical information that the Duggans' lawyer found startling, and that had been kept from the Duggans for months.
The initial medical opinion was that the child's injury happened after she was dropped off at the Duggan's house.
But notes in the child protection file months later indicate that medical opinion had changed, and that the injury could have been sustained up to four days before and not necessarily while she was in Duggan's care.
After police decided not to charge Duggan, it was about another six months before social workers moved to close the case.
"It shouldn't have taken this long to come to where they finally came to in the end," Duggan said.
'Horror story,' says opposition
Liberal leader Yvonne Jones is familiar with the case.
"I think the Duggan story is an absolute horror story," she said.
Jones wants a full investigation into how the case was handled.
"There was no reason to lay charges found. Yet, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services continued to insist that these children be separated from their parents."
Lorraine Michael, the leader of the New Democratic Party in the province, agrees. She said the Duggan family could have been reunited sooner, if it wasn't for the long delays in the investigation.
"This woman and her family have been through hell," Michael told CBC News.
She said Duggan's rights were violated when medical information on the possible time frame of the child's injuries was withheld from her.
"I think she had the right to see that information, and I think they had the obligation to show it to her. That's why I think there are many levels to how they [Child, Youth and Family services] could be investigated themselves."
Minister of Child Youth and Family Services Joan Burke said her department is looking at ways of streamlining and co-ordinating information-sharing with parties involved in child protection cases.
The injured child's parents, Lynette Carey and Don White, issued a statement to CBC News saying their daughter is the ultimate victim in this case.
They said she has made significant gains after 20 months of rehabilitation.
"We have remained silent while focusing on our daughter's rehabilitation. We have been assured by the team of more than eight doctors … that the medical consensus is that [our daughter] suffered an abusive head trauma."