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Foster Danger

May 26, 2014 permalink

In Alberta Dr David Rudkin took the unusual step of telling a newspaper about abuse to a foster child. The newspaper took the even more unusual step of publishing a story on the incident. A two-year-old girl suffered burns to her face in a foster home, but was sent back to the same home.



Doctor concerned burned foster child at risk

A veteran Strathmore emergency room doctor fears a vulnerable foster child may be in peril after she was returned to a foster home where she suffered serious burns to her face five months ago.

Dr. David Rudkin told the Herald the two-year-old severely developmentally impaired aboriginal girl suffered first-and second-degree burns that he believes were the result of either abuse or extreme neglect.

A former medical examiner and 30-year physician, Rudkin, 55, said he decided to speak out because he doesn't believe there has been an adequate investigation, and child welfare officials have returned the child to the foster home where he believes other foster children could also be at risk.

"It's obvious no one is interested in doing anything," he said in an interview. "I think this is another catastrophe waiting to happen."

But Human Services spokeswoman Kathy Telfer said the ministry is aware of the incident and believes it was investigated thoroughly by Child Intervention Services and the RCMP.

"All parties involved in the investigations indicated that the injuries were accidental," she said. "We have also been working closely with the home and following up with the child frequently."

Rudkin said he saw the child "looking distressed and in pain" when she was brought to emergency in January the morning after suffering the burns.

The male foster parent accompanying her said the foster mother was bathing the child in the bath tub with a shower spray nozzle when one of the other children in the home turned the tap to hot, Rudkin said.

"The burn pattern was suspicious or peculiar in that it was strictly confined to her face and did not go to her scalp, ears or neck," he said.

"It would have been a significant amount of time there was hot water sprayed on this kid's face to cause this peculiar burn pattern ... It just didn't make sense this would have been a hot water burn."

Rudkin said it was also concerning that the foster parents waited 12 to 15 hours to bring the child to emergency.

"I think this kid would have been screaming in agony and they would have acted on it, but they didn't," he said.

After the child was transferred to Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, Rudkin said he followed up to see if anyone there had raised concerns about the nature of the injury. When he found out they had not, he contacted RCMP and Alberta child welfare officials to raise the alarm.

Rudkin said when he called back later to find out what was being done, he found the case had been closed.

The RCMP constable assigned to the case told him she visited the home and talked to the foster parents but didn't find anything worrisome or suspicious, Rudkin added.

The doctor said he was astonished he was not interviewed by police or child welfare investigators.

When he attempted to advocate for the child, Rudkin said he was referred to a series of child welfare officials who were "surly and defensive" and who said they couldn't talk about the case because of privacy concerns.

He said at the bare minimum, the children should be removed from the foster home pending a proper investigation by child welfare officials and police.

"I see kids with all sorts of injury all the time. I am trained as a family physician and I have been doing this for close to 30 years," he said. "Usually I can see the mechanism of the injury. It's pretty clear. This one? There's no way it could have happened like that. I just don't believe it."

But Telfer said RCMP investigated the home and later that day indicated they would not be pursuing charges as they felt the explanation was credible.

Telfer noted a child abuse team at the Alberta Children's Hospital also worked closely on the investigation. "We take any report of alleged abuse or mistreatment of a foster child seriously and we will take whatever action is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our children in care," she said. "We strive to have one of the most stringent screening processes for foster parents in the country."

Rudkin took his concerns to the Alberta Child and Youth Advocate, but that office only looks into systemic issues arising from serious injuries, and a spokesman said it didn't find any in its review of the file.

"We expect the decisions made by those responsible for her care will ensure her safety and her interests are the primary considerations," said the advocate's spokesman, Tim Chander.

"We have assigned an advocate to ensure this child's interests are being considered by decision-makers."

The situation arose after Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar launched an overhaul of the child welfare system to address concerns raised by an Calgary Herald-Edmonton Journal investigation last fall. The series revealed that child welfare workers frequently failed to follow basic policies and procedures in a range of areas from proper safety inspections of foster homes, completing criminal record checks on foster parents and other care providers and ensuring foster children received proper medical attention.

The newspaper investigation also found repeated instances of caseworkers failing to follow policy that required they have frequent face-toface meetings with foster parents and foster children. In some cases, children were not seen or foster parents visited for months.

But Telfer said workers now have regular contact with foster children and foster parents, and all foster homes undergo a home assessment before being approved and are reviewed annually.

"We monitor the safety and wellbeing of foster children after they are placed in a foster home," Telfer added.

Source: Calgary Herald