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Accused Foster Mother Named

June 1, 2010 permalink

The CBC has named the accused foster mother in the Morinville girl case. She is Christine Ann Laverdiere. Enclosed is an opinion piece from the Edmonton Journal.



Foster mom charged in murder

Government secrecy veils 21-month-old child's death

How I wish I could show you her sweet little face. The big fat pinch-able cheeks, the mischievous dimples, the soft tuft of brown hair. If I could show you what a dear cherub she was, you might weep for her sad little life, cut short at 21 months.

She died this March of undisclosed causes, her death in Morinville ruled a homicide.

But I can't show you her smile. I can't tell you her name. Once again, the Orwellian lunacy of the province's Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act prevents me from publishing any information that might serve to identify a child who came to the attention of the ministry of Children and Youth Services.

On Monday, the RCMP laid a murder charge. But they refused to reveal the name, age, or gender of the person charged, on the grounds that doing so would violate the act. But that was an over-reaction.

In truth, it was the child's 34-year-old foster mother, Christine Laverdiere, who was charged Monday with second-degree murder, three months after the girl's death.

Of course, we print the names of alleged murderers and rapists and child molesters all the time. We don't protect their privacy. Yet it does seem different to name a foster parent, an ordinary citizen who effectively volunteered to take on the difficult responsibility of caring for a high-needs child, for a minimal honorarium.

But by the same token, that's exactly why we need to identify the accused in this case -- because she was the woman entrusted to protect and care for this vulnerable little girl, when her own mother couldn't.

This is the fourth time in the last five years that a foster parent in the Edmonton region has been charged with killing a foster child. All of the dead children were aboriginal.

(One case ended in a manslaughter plea, one case has yet to come to court, and one ended in a manslaughter conviction, which is now under appeal.)

It's a deeply disturbing pattern. Four native foster children dead, all allegedly at the hands of their government-appointed caregivers.

The common denominator? In all three previous cases, the foster parents were under huge stress, caring for more high-needs children than they could handle.

We don't yet know if that was true in the Morinville incident. Sources close to the case tell me that there were three young children in the home: a three-year-old and an 18-month-old, in addition to the 21-month-old who was killed.

No one at Alberta Child and Youth Services would confirm that number on Monday. Trevor Coulombe, who speaks for the department, would only say that the home was at, but not over, its licensed capacity.

But any parent could tell you that looking after three toddlers is no picnic. And anyone who knows anything about child welfare can tell you that kids who come into care are often more challenging to care for than the norm, whether because of fetal alcohol syndrome, or because of the emotional upheaval and turmoil they've already experienced.

Did this foster family have the training and support necessary to look after all the children in their care? That's just one of the questions here that cries out for an answer.

When the state apprehends children from their biological parents and places them in care, it assumes a heavy responsibility. If we take kids from their parents on the grounds that the family home is unfit or unsafe, we must be sure we're putting them someplace fitter and safer.

If our government can't guarantee the safety, the lives, of the kids in foster care, it's failing at the most spectacular and fundamental level.


Whatever happened in Morinville -- and we won't know all the facts until the court case and subsequent fatality inquiry are complete -- it was no isolated incident. We have a right to know why children in care keeping dying, why their foster parents keep getting arrested. And we can't know if the government keeps the most basic information secret.

For example, the foster mother charged in this case didn't work directly for the government. Her foster home was working through a private agency. But the province won't confirm the name of the agency on the specious grounds that doing so would somehow identify the dead child. How, then, can we begin to find out whether the agency in question was doing a good enough job of screening its foster parents, of providing them with adequate training and support services?

On Monday, Yvonne Fritz, Alberta's sweet-tempered minister of children's services, expressed her dismay at this latest death and arrest with all sincerity.

"This is tragic. We care deeply," she told me.

But it's not enough to be sad and sorry, not when children are dying, not when the province just cut $27 million from its child protection budget. Fritz says a major blue-ribbon external review of Alberta's child intervention system will be complete in eight to 10 weeks. But without the money and the political will to make sweeping, effective changes to our dysfunctional child welfare system, more children will die, and more accused foster parents will see their own lives shattered, whether they're guilty or innocent.

It's time to stop the secrecy. Time to open the child welfare system up to public scrutiny, time to stop the province from dodging its responsibility by hiding behind the censorship of the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. We need the truth. We need the facts. We need justice, both for the victims and for those accused of terrible crimes. We can't solve our child welfare crisis with silence and shadows. Into the darkness, it's time to shine a little light.

Source: Edmonton Journal