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Saskatchewan Foster Death

February 21, 2014 permalink

Two enclosed articles tell the story of a Saskatchewan parent relieved of her children by social services. In an effort to be fair, the reporter devoted half of the story to the parents, the other half to boilerplate assurances from Natalie Huber, executive director of child and family services for the Ministry of Social Services. Example: "Huber said reunifying families is their goal at Social Services." Huber also pointed to a signed agreement with the family, the kind of agreement that was not the voluntary act of the parents, as the rest of the story makes clear.

The second article continues with the news that one of the children seized, Ritchie McKenzie Black, age 10 months, has died in foster care.



Women upset about treatment of children in foster care

Although the foster care system is in place to protect children, one mother feels she has been treated unfairly.

Janelle McKenzie, a mother of four, feels her two children were unfairly taken from her after a caseworker visit that happened about seven months ago.

Even though she has had problems with substance abuse in the past, McKenzie said her addiction was not a problem when the caseworker made a visit to her home.

“My regular case worker had a backup worker come to check up on the kids,” McKenzie said. “I said to her, ‘My kids are napping, I’m on the methadone. When my kids nap, I nap with them.’ I said, ‘You are cutting in on my naptime -- can you please leave and come back a different time?’”

The caseworker told McKenzie the visit would only take a couple minutes, which turned into close to 15 minutes. Since she was tired when the caseworker was visiting, she started to nod off a bit.

“I’m not going to deny my methadone wasn’t too high because it was too high,” McKenzie said.

Her doctor was monitoring her methadone, taking her dose down each week by five millilitres.

After the visit, the caseworker came back half an hour later to take McKenzie’s children, who were three years old and three months old at the time.

“They said, ‘Don’t give us a hard time because if you do the cops will be involved,’” she said.

“I said, ‘OK, I want you to write down my kids have Pampers, milk, groceries, my house is clean. I made sure the worker wrote that all down before she took my children (so they knew my children) had everything they needed and more.”

Since her children were being well taken care of, McKenzie is unsure why foster care chose to take them away.

“I should have talked to my regular worker -- I don’t know why the back-up worker took my kids,” McKenzie said. “The nurses were having thoughts that the baby wasn’t being fed properly and being neglected.”

McKenzie said their claims were false, as she was making sure her baby, Richie, had enough milk.

“We were getting free milk for the baby because I am HIV-positive,” McKenzie said. “I get free milk for my baby for a year until he gets on homo milk. There was no reason I wouldn’t strive to feed my baby.”

According to McKenzie, the caseworker told her drugs had nothing to do with why her children were taken away. Rather they were removed because her methadone dose was too high and the baby lost a pound.

“He lost a pound in foster care and nothing happened to them,” she said. “He lost a pound in the hospital. Right there, that can tell you I wasn’t neglecting my son.

“Even our methadone co-ordinator, she was so upset,” McKenzie added. “She said, ‘I don’t know why they took your kids, you were doing so good. Your randoms are so clean.’”

Natalie Huber, executive director of child and family services for the Ministry of Social Services, said the ministry is required to tell parents why their children have been taken away.

“We are required by law to inform the parent and if we found a child in need of protection and the child is coming into care, we would serve them with an apprehension notice,” Huber said. “Wherever possible we will be engaging with families in signing a section nine agreement, which is a voluntary agreement for children to come into care.

“The family signs that agreement with us. It is basically an agreement saying we will provide care and support for the child while we work on the plan with the family to reunify the child back home,” she added. “We work closely with the parents and they are notified when a child comes into care.”

After the children were taken away, McKenzie admits she and the children’s father both fell into a deep depression and started using more drugs, but while she had her children she was only using the doctor-prescribed amount of methadone.

Not only did they lose their children, but since they were living in a low rental housing unit, the family also lost their home and belongings.

According to Huber, children will only be removed from a home if the child is at risk.

“If we receive a concern from any of the general public and it is related to neglect due to addictions or the parent’s inability to care for the child due to addictions, then we would hear that concern and conduct an investigation,” Huber said.

“If we receive a report around a concern someone might have around a person’s drinking or drug use, something that is related to addictions, we would look at the impact that their addiction is having on the child.

“For example if it is due to their drinking is causing them to neglect the child or treat the child in a way they shouldn’t be treated so they are placed in situations they are unsafe, those are things we would be looking at,” she added. “Our primary concern is around the safety of children.”

Usually, they try to keep the children at home and work with the parents if they do not feel the children are in danger.

“We do have a number of concerns that will come to our attention where families are involved with drugs or alcohol and in most circumstances we would go out, we would meet with the family, try to understand what the concerns are, but again what we are assessing is a level of safety and the risk to the child,” Huber said.

“Where we can keep the child safely at home and provide interventions, treatment supports for mom and dad, we will try it at every cost that we can to keep the child at home safely. When we can’t assure the child’s safety is when we will bring them into care however.”

Since her children were put into foster care, McKenzie feels they have been more neglected and not treated well by the foster family.

“The foster parents took in my baby (to the hospital) at six months old,” McKenzie said. “When they took him in, he was fighting for his life. He was fighting just to breathe … They didn’t know if he was going to get any better, that is how sick he was.”

McKenzie and the children’s father were not informed the baby was in the hospital until he had to be transferred to Saskatoon three days later, which upset them both.

“When we arrived, my baby was hooked up to so many machines,” McKenzie said. “He had to have help breathing, tags on his chest, intravenous on head, arm and ankle.”

The parents were told Richie had pneumonia at first, but after about a month in the hospital, they decided to do an MRI after he had a 45-minute seizure.

“The doctor came and talked to us,” McKenzie said. “He said he had bleeding between the brain and skull.”

Richie had been in the hospital for about a month and a half.

“By the time they did the MRI it was like a bruise almost healed,” McKenzie said. “I asked them if they could find the time frame it happened and they said it happened a month and a half ago. I said ‘OK, he was in foster care then right?’ And the doctor said right.”

Although she would have loved to stay with her child, McKenzie was forced to leave him to be picked up by the foster parents.

All the nurses were impressed with her care and concern for her child while she was at the hospital, McKenzie said.

“I got support letters from the nurses and they said, ‘Wow you are so good with him. We never thought he was going to get better and since you have been here he has gotten so much better.’”

Since then, during one of her visits with her children her three-year-old showed up with a bruise about the size of the palm of a hand on his butt that was a very dark purple.

“We asked them what happened to his butt, why is the bruise so big and they said he fell on a baseboard,” McKenzie said. “How can a baseboard doing that much damage? It was almost the size of your palm.”

Other incidents have been noted as well. McKenzie said the baby has had terrible diaper rash and his bum isn’t kept clean and the three-year-old recently had a cut above his eye.

McKenzie doesn’t understand why the foster family is not being disciplined for her children being injured under their care.

“Nothing happened to them,” she said. “My children are still in that foster home.”

She has told the social workers that she wants her children out of that foster home. Social Services said they would look into it.

Huber said foster parents are required to report any serious injury of a child in their care to the ministry.

“They are required to notify us immediately and as for policy, we complete an assessment to determine the cause of injury, whether or not the child is safe and ensure if medical treatment is already received or if they need to receive, we would work closely with the foster parents in that regard,” Huber said.

“If the concerns are such that we have concerns about the quality of care in the foster home or that we are concerned about the child’s safety in that foster home, we may make a decision to move the child pending an investigation.”

The investigation would depend on a number of factors, including interviews with the foster parents, others with information about the foster home and interviews with the children in their care.

“If police are involved, it may require involvement with them as well,” Huber said. “It is really dependent on a number of factors. We try to complete the investigation within a 30-day timeframe.”

Huber said reunifying families is their goal at Social Services.

“What we like to focus on is the safe return of the child home if they do have to come into care,” Huber said. “The ministry works closely with parents. Certainly we are working very closely with parents when the plan is to reunify the child back home.

“When the case plan is to return the child back home, we would certainly be taking into consideration the parents’ wishes around the care plans for the child and we would take into consideration their requests but our decisions are based on the best interests of the child,” she added. “Obviously if the child is connected with the caregiver and they are doing well in the home, they are placed close to their school, those are considerations to make sure the child is in a situation where they are not disrupted.”

Although McKenzie wants her children removed from the foster home, she is currently working on getting them back.

“We are going to get our children back right away,” McKenzie said. “All we have to do is outpatient treatment at Addictions Services. I don’t understand why we have to do this outpatient treatment when it has nothing to do with drugs why our children were taken away. I don’t understand why we have to do these steps if it has nothing to do with drugs.”

In terms of parents with concerns about foster homes, Huber said they try to work with the parents.

“We will try to work closely with parents to address what their concerns are and take it into consideration,” Huber said. “Our primary focus is on the actions or inactions of the parent and how it contributes to any kind of maltreatment, abuse or neglect of the child.

“We deal with so many various concerns and reports that come to our attention, so our ultimate responsibility to try to assess safety and risk based on the parent’s ability, capacity and willingness to create a safe, quality or caring environment for the child.”

Source: Prince Albert Daily Herald

Family devastated after child’s death in foster care

Last week, Janelle McKenzie, a mother who had her two young children taken away from her and put in foster care, was concerned for her children’s safety and health while in the foster care system.

Over the weekend, the McKenzie and her family were told their 10-month old baby died in foster care.

The news came as a shock to the family, who spent time with the baby last Wednesday.

“I had all of my children together on Wednesday and he was really beautiful,” McKenzie said. “He was such a nice baby and didn’t hardly ever cry.”

When McKenzie spoke to the Daily Herald last week, she said she didn’t know why her kids were taken away about six to seven months ago, since they were healthy, happy and in a good home.

“They took my baby away because he lost a pound and my methadone was too high,” McKenzie said. “My methadone co-ordinator knew that all I needed was time. I didn’t deny my methadone was too high because it was.”

She said her addiction was under control, so it didn’t make sense why her foster care case worker would decide to take her children away.

Since her children were taken away, life has been rough for McKenzie and her partner Winston Black.

“We went from having everything one day to having nothing the next day,” McKenzie said. “It was really hard to accept.”

She also felt her children were not being properly taken care of in the foster home, after the baby had to be admitted to the hospital at six months old.

“He was in the hospital for a month and a half,” McKenzie said. “When he was in the hospital, they did an MRI and it showed he had bleeding between the brain and the skull.”

When she told Social Services she didn’t want her children in that home anymore, they told her they would see what they could do.

On Saturday, McKenzie received a call that her baby was once again in the hospital.

“This time, his lungs kept filling up with blood,” McKenzie said. “The doctor said his lungs were filling up so fast he couldn’t breathe. It kept getting worse.”

“I want to know where all the blood came from,” Black added.

The family wants answers and they are waiting for the results of an autopsy to tell them what killed their baby.

“I don’t understand why he is gone -- he was such a happy baby,” McKenzie said, trying to hold back tears. “I don’t understand. I just want my baby back. I just want him back.”

“I just miss him so much and I don’t want him to be gone,” she added. “I really think if he would have been home with us, he wouldn’t be gone today.”

Although McKenzie was on methadone when she was pregnant with the baby, studies have shown the drug is considered safe for pregnant women, so that should not have had an effect on the baby’s health.

McKenzie believes the foster home where her children were was too crowded and said they had several young children, other adults and some animals at the house.

“That would be a lot for two people,” she said. “How much time do you have?”

Since the baby’s death, McKenzie and Black have had their three-year-old boy with them.

“He keeps asking where his brother is,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know how to tell him. They were so close.”

When a child dies in foster care, the Ministry of Social Services said, an internal review process will take place.

“Upon notification that the child has died in foster care, we actually begin our review process,” said Natalie Huber, the executive director of child and family services for the Ministry of Social Services. “We have an internal review process here. We have a team of quality assurance analysts who go out and conduct a child death review on the circumstances that led to a child’s death and the services that were provided to the child leading up to their death.”

It is a very comprehensive review, Huber said, and the biological parents of the child are immediately notified.

“We also refer to, wherever possible, advise the family in person to offer our condolences and whatever supports we can to the family,” Huber said. “It might be some counselling supports, supports in the community that might be available as well. We make sure we try to engage with families as soon as possible or immediately following the notification of death.”

During the review process, Social Services would meet with the foster parents, biological parents, the child’s case worker and other individuals who have worked with either the foster family or biological family.

“It is really looking at the circumstances that lead to the child’s death and the circumstances that we were providing to both the family and the child during their time of involvement with the Ministry of Social Services,” Huber said. “The purpose of our review is really to determine if there is any concerns around the services we were providing and if there are some learnings we can take away from the very tragic event to help improve our services going forward.

“We do that very comprehensive review that includes findings and recommendations that inform our ministry in a broader sense, around changes to perhaps our policy, could be changes to informed training or just changes overall to our practice,” Huber said. “We would assess the circumstances that lead to child’s death.”

Outside of the review, Huber said, they would want to immediately understand the circumstances that lead to the child’s death.

“If there were concerns related to the care that the child was provided then a formal investigation may be required of the foster home and the children -- could be the sibling or other children -- in the home could be removed from the home to conduct that investigation or finalization of that investigation,” Huber said.

Since Social Services also want to know why a child in care has died, an autopsy is ordered and performed by the Chief Coroner’s office.

“That is done by an independent office and the chief medical examiner would conduct an autopsy and determine the cause of death and notify the ministry,” Huber said. “That is part of review process is to gather any information coming from the chief medical examiner following their review. They do a review more medical in nature just to determine the cause of death.”

In cases where there are concerns of a criminal nature, the police will also become involved.

“They may be conducting an investigation and information may be coming to us as well that would be complied and pulled into our review process as well,” Huber said.

Unless there were concerns around the care children are receiving in a foster home, other children in that home will remain there.

“Each case is really assessed based on the individual circumstances but we wouldn’t typically just remove a sibling group from the home due to that particular incident occurring,” Huber said.

Social Services also offers support to both the foster family and the biological family when a child dies in care.

“We would want to work with the foster parents and ensure we are providing them with the necessary supports,” Huber said. “We would want to make sure if they need some time to grieve or respite or babysitting services to allow them to attend to their own personal needs, we would want to provide for that as well.

“At the same time as we are supporting the biological family and providing the necessary supports there at the same time we are working really closely with the foster families to support them and provide whatever they might need to work through and to support them through this very difficult situation,” she added.

McKenzie is glad she had visits with her baby, but wishes things would have turned out differently.

“It was so beautiful to have my children together for that last day,” she said. “If I knew that was going to be the last day I would have done things so much differently.”

Source: Prince Albert Daily Herald