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Foster Deaths in Newfoundland

August 20, 2014 permalink

The CBC has found that during the last five years 26 children died in Newfoundland while under provincial care. That is a high rate for a province with only 514 thousand people. Here is a copy of the disclosure (pdf) to the CBC. The Child/Youth Death Review Protocol is provided in the clear, but in reports relating to actual deaths everything of significance is redacted. Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate, Carol Chafe, was unaware of most of the deaths.



26 children died while under province's protection since 2009

Child and youth advocate pushing for legislative change to be notified of deaths

Documents obtained by CBC News under Access to Information have revealed that more than two dozen children under the province's protection have died since the formation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Child, Youth and Family Services department in 2009.

According to the documents, 26 children and youth under the age of 18 have died while under the province's care — a number that has Carol Chafe, Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate, concerned.

Chafe said she knew about six of the deaths, but only learned of the other 20 when approached by CBC News.

Case type
In care - 3
Protective Intervention - 18
Youth Services - 3
Youth Corrections - 2

Cause of death
Medical event/condition - 8
Accidental - 12
Suicide - 6

"I was aware of some of the deaths but not all of them, but now that you have made that known to me, I have made a formal request for information on all of those cases," she said.

Of the 26 youth who died, three of the cases were children in foster care, 18 were receiving some form of protective intervention, three were involved with youth services, and the remaining two were with youth corrections.

Eight of the deaths were cited as being caused by a medical event or condition, 12 were accidental, and the remaining six were labelled as suicides.

CBC News requested an interview with Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services Sandy Collins. His communications director said he is unavailable for an interview until later in the week.

Chafe said she will look into each of the case files in order to determine if a further investigation on her part is warranted.

'An absolute farce'

Few details about the nature of the deaths is revealed in the 10 case files released by the Child, Youth and Family Services department. Much of the information provided is blacked out, with government stating the information is redacted to protect the children and families involved.

Dale Kirby
Liberal MHA Dale Kirby says the provincial government is protecting itself by not automatically providing information of deaths of children and youth under the government's care to the child and youth advocate.

Liberal opposition member Dale Kirby says the government is protecting itself by hiding this information from the child and youth advocate.

"That government would release this, it's an absolute farce," said Kirby. "Government is very clearly in this instance protecting itself."

Kirby said he isn't suggesting government make personal and private information open to the public, but said government is "hiding behind black ink."

He added these kinds of incidents should be disclosed to the child and youth advocate automatically, rather than needing to be sought out.

"Why is the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador hiding from the child and youth advocate? That makes absolutely no sense, and that was not what was supposed to happen when that office was set up," said Kirby.

Pushing for legislative change

Chafe said the province isn't required to notify her about the death or critical incident involving a child or youth under the department's care, a rule she wants changed so she's aware of the incidents rather than finding out through the media.

"I think all the deaths should be reported to me, and/or any critical incidents of children and youth receiving government services, because then I can determine if there's something I need to look into further," she said.

"It doesn't necessarily mean when it does occur that it is something wrong that occurred, but as the representative for children and youth, I am the one that should have a look at that as an independent body to determine if it requires further investigation, or if there was something done that could be changed and prevented from happening again, which is the whole point when I do investigations."

Chafe said she hopes the revelation of the 26 deaths will help speed up the legislative change she's looking for.

Source: CBC


Caught in a Lie

Bill Miller, father of the late Chancey Miller, who died after she was taken by child protectors in Newfoundland, draws attention to statements by Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson. The enclosed article published on October 30, 2012 quotes her:

In an e-mail to CBC News late Tuesday afternoon, Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson said no children have died because they were in care since the department was created in 2009.

She indicated that two children who were in care did die as a result of health and/or medical issues.



A year after daughter's death, family awaits answers

Parents of 3-year-old girl feel shut out by government officials in quest for more information

The parents of a three-year-old girl who died while under the care of the province say they are still not getting all the answers they deserve about her death.

Chancey Miller was in the care of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services when she died last September.

After a year of asking questions, the Millers still don't know exactly what happened to their little girl.

Chancey Miller
Chancey Miller is pictured in an undated family photo.

"She can never come back home," Maryann Miller, Chancey’s mother, told CBC News.

"They took away my last days with my daughter. Even if it was her last days. I just don't know. Would she have been fine with me? I don't know."

Chancey was born with a heart problem. When she was just two months old, she travelled with her father to Halifax to get a pacemaker to help her heart beat properly.

Last year, provincial officials decided to take Chancey into temporary care. The family acknowledges there were problems, but they were hopeful of getting her back.

The child was put in a group home in August. Around the same time, tests showed further problems with her heart.

"They really didn't give me any answers," Maryann Miller said.

"They did all kinds of blood work, then they said she had to go to Toronto to get another pacemaker, and we'd be up there for six weeks and then I'd come back home with her."

But that didn't happen. Two weeks after surgery, doctors said Chancey was well enough to be discharged but not well enough to go home with her mother.

Chancey was placed in a foster home outside of Toronto and Maryann says she was told she had to go home without her daughter.

Maryann Miller
Maryann Miller is still looking for answers after her daughter Chancey died last year.

"Her last words [were], ‘Mom, I'll be so happy when I see you again,’ " Miller said.

But, Maryann never did see her little girl again.

"Two workers came [to] my house and brought me a box of tissues and they told me Chancey died, actually, from an infection from an operation," she said.

For Maryann, that didn't make sense. She had weekly calls with the hospital. There was no mention of an infection.

"They were saying she was fine," Miller said.

But she wasn't fine. Documents obtained by CBC News show that the day before Chancey died, the foster mother rushed her to the hospital. She was having abdominal cramps and throwing up.

The doctors said she'd be OK, and sent her back to the foster home.

Around 7:20 a.m. the next morning, the foster mother found Chancey dead in her crib.

Search for answers

Now the Millers want answers.

They want to know why Chancey was released from the hospital given her heart problems.

Bill Miller
Bill Miller

They want to know why they weren't told their daughter had been brought to the hospital.

And they want to know why they weren't given the opportunity to be with their little girl when she took her last breath.

"They won't give me the information on a child that does not need protection anymore," father Bill Miller said.

"She is dead. She don't need no protection anymore. She don't need protection from anybody. Not me, not her, not you, not anybody. But yet, I can't get the information about her. Why she died, how she died."

Complete disclosure

Brian Wentzell is the family's lawyer. He's helping them find the answers they're searching for.

"There should be an automatic, at the cost of Child, Youth and Family Services, the complete disclosure to the family of all medical files related to this child or any child in a situation such as this," Wentzell said.

The lawyer says all files in the department should be disclosed to the family. They should then be given an opportunity to ask questions — and get answers.

The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services declined CBC News interview requests, saying it is policy not to comment on individual cases.

In an e-mail to CBC News late Tuesday afternoon, Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson said no children have died because they were in care since the department was created in 2009.

She indicated that two children who were in care did die as a result of health and/or medical issues.

In general, Johnson said, if departmental officials identify the possibility that something they did or didn’t do led directly to the harm of a child, further steps would be taken to investigate the situation.

If the department then determines it should have acted differently, the minister noted, the parent or parents would be notified.

Serious health condition

Chancey had a serious health condition and, according to the coroner's report, that's ultimately what killed her.

But Wentzell says an inquiry is the only way to make sure, if something was done wrong, it doesn't happen again.

Maryann Miller knows getting answers won't bring her daughter back, but it will help her deal with the loss of losing her child and the guilt of not being there to say goodbye.

"I love her," she said. "I'll be so happy when I see her."

Source: CBC

The heavily redacted report released to the CBC shows five deaths in 2010, seven in 2011 and seven in 2012.

Addendum: In September the province upped the number of dead children to 35. How many more still to come?



Incoming premier to review child death reporting

Incoming premier Paul Davis says he’s not convinced a new law is required to inform the child and youth advocate whenever children receiving protective care die.

But Davis says he’ll review any request from Carol Chafe to change how such deaths are reported.

“I’m not sure legislation is necessary, but I’d want to consider all the facts before I make that decision,” he said Thursday in an interview.

Since June, Chafe has called for new legislation to ensure she’s promptly told of any death or critical incident involving children and youth so she can follow up.

Chafe has relied in the past on media reports or complaints to learn of such incidents. She is now writing to Davis to press for new legislation to compel government departments to notify her.

Liberal and NDP opposition parties support the move, as did Steve Kent and John Ottenheimer, both of whom ran against Davis for the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservatives.

Davis won at a convention Sept. 13 and will be sworn in as premier today.

Chafe said in an interview she was unaware of most of the 35 deaths since 2009 that the province confirmed through an access to information request. She is reviewing those files on top of six other investigations, including four deaths, now underway.

The 35 cases involved children and youth, from infants to the age of 21, receiving various government services. Their deaths were blamed on medical issues, accidental causes or suicide.

Sandy Collins, the minister of child, youth and family services, said of 33 deaths reported as part of the access request, all but three clients lived with their families. Those three were in provincial custody, but died in hospital of medical conditions, not in foster homes, he explained.

Two more deaths since early August involved another child who was living with parents, and a youth who had signed a voluntary agreement for help with housing and life skills shortly before dying, the department confirmed Thursday.

Chafe said those are the only two deaths she has learned of directly from the government since she took the job in 2010.

The province has revamped its child welfare laws, protocols and training while adding more staff in recent years.

But Chafe has repeatedly pointed out communication breakdowns, lax documentation and policy breaches that have let down vulnerable children who needed help.

The heavily redacted documents released as part of the access to information request hint at more of the same.

Partially blacked out records refer to missing risk assessments and failure to comply with mandated management systems.

A lack of national data makes it tough to assess how the rate of deaths under protective care in Newfoundland and Labrador compares to other provinces.

No one is keeping track across the country, said Nico Trocme, director of McGill University’s School of Social Work in Montreal. Moreover, provinces and territories have not agreed on a single method for recording deaths, he said.

“A number of us have been encouraging provinces to do that, but there really isn’t a structure in place.”

Trocme said it’s vital that all child deaths involving government services be systematically assessed by an independent panel of pediatric and other experts.

Davis said Newfoundland and Labrador’s new child death review committee will look into cases provided by the chief medical examiner involving children younger than 19. The panel includes the examiner as well as pediatric and social work specialists.

But some cases may escape its scrutiny, said the department of Child, Youth and Family Services. That’s because the chief medical examiner reviews deaths of children who die while in the custody of a manager under the Children and Youth Care and Protection Act — but not necessarily those receiving government services who died while living with a parent or guardian.

Andrew Parsons, the Liberal critic for child, youth and family services, said Chafe needs new legislation to alert her to deaths as well as critical incidents such as sexual abuse.

“We see anything that’s going to strengthen her ability to do her job as the advocate for children and youth as a must. Yet the premier doesn’t see it as necessary,” he said. “It’s reprehensible, really.”

Source: Telegram (St John's)

The news from Newfoundland prompted the CBC's Jill Dempsey to interview Ontario's child advocate Irwin Elman. He can find out no more about child fatalities than what he reads in the press and social media. Local copy of interview (mp3)



Children Dying

CBC News learned this week that since 2009, 26 children in Newfoundland have died while in the care of social services. Here in Ontario, that number is much higher. Guest host Jill Dempsey spoke with Irwin Elman. He is Ontario's Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.

Source: CBC/Metromorning

report on dead Newfoundland child
child's epitaph