Two B.C. foster children seized from squalor

Updated Thu. Jun. 15 2006 11:40 PM ET News Staff

An overwhelming stench of urine and feces, a filthy litter box inches from the refrigerator, and rotting food everywhere -- definitely not a place you would want to call home, let alone a foster home.

The landlord of this filthy Victoria, B.C. home opened the doors to CTV to expose the unhygienic conditions, in an attempt to garner enough attention to have the two foster children living in the squalor removed.

The story prompted the B.C. government to launch a full investigation into the deplorable incident, which the landlord calls a "black eye for British Columbia."

And this isn't the first time the province's child protection system has been criticized. In April, retired B.C. judge Ted Hughes filed a report calling the system an unstable mess.

The dreadful foster home discovery is only one of many complaints about the way the province protects its most vulnerable.

"I have been a landlord for 40 years and a realtor for 21, and I have seen everything -- but I have not seen this. It was so shocking, I couldn't absorb it," landlord Ray Headrick told CTV on Thursday.

After CTV Vancouver aired footage from the foster home's conditions, child welfare officials removed the two children Wednesday night.

Headrick said he first noticed the stench a month and a half ago, but figured the B.C. Ministry of Children and Families would take action. He made several visits to Ministry offices, he said, to alert social workers of the situation.

However, the conditions became so horrendous, that maintenance workers were unable to enter the rental unit.

"We needed to replace some windows and I talked my way in, and when my installer was gagging and refusing to put the windows in the house, I just had to do something," Headrick said.

He said it wasn't his first choice to contact the media. But after several visits to the Ministry that him got nowhere, Headrick became frustrated with the process and concerned for the children's well-being.

"I just told them and threatened them that I would call the media, and they sort of stonewalled me, so I did," he said.

After the story aired on CTV, child welfare officials released a statement saying "conditions of the foster home are not acceptable, however...this is the first and only complaint ever registered by the landlord regarding this residence."

It went on to say that the home was being visited on a regular basis by Ministry officials.

When CTV caught up with the foster mother, she said she was unable to cope with the responsibilities any longer and that the conditions were not suitable for children.

Asked if she believed she was providing a well-kept home for her foster children, Gaetane Jarvinen told CTV Vancouver: "No, it's not, I agree with you. That's what I'm saying, I cannot keep up anymore."

Until very recently, Jarvinen had four foster children. Health concerns had her planning to retire sometime this summer.

Child welfare officials said that the two children seized Wednesday night are safe and relatively clean despite the conditions in the home.

Investigation promised

Stan Hagen, B.C.'s minister of children and family development, has promised an investigation.

"There's no question this is a bad situation. It should not have happened, we want to get to the bottom of how it happened, so it can't happen again."

Hagen told CTV Vancouver that he specifically wants to know how a government-approved social worker who inspected the home the night before the pictures of the home were taken decided to leave the children in the home.

"Can you fathom anybody leaving the kids in the house . . . for even five more minutes?" asked CTV Vancouver reporter Jim Beatty.


"No, I can't," said Hagen, adding: "My children would never be left in that environment for 10 seconds."

News of the appalling home for abused children marks another strike against British Columbia's already tarred child protection reputation. In April, the B.C. government admitted that 715 child deaths had not been reviewed properly.

"Let's face it, if you hadn't gone in there yesterday, Jim, the children would still be in that home," NDP critic Adrian Dix told CTV Vancouver.

Dix said while it's clear the latest discovered case involves questionable judgment calls by a foster worker, the Ministry also continues to suffer from budget cuts, overstressed foster parents and social workers.

"We talk about millions of dollars of cuts and everything else. When it comes down to it, though, this is where the rubber meets the road. And for the children involved, it's just awful. "

In response to recent criticism, the Liberals introduced legislation to establish a new, independent children's watchdog.

With reports from CTV Vancouver's Jim Beatty and Kate Corcoran

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