Provincial care under fire as 15-month-old foster child hospitalized
By Jason Fekete, Stephane Massinon and Deborah Tetley, Calgary Herald; With a file from The Edmonton journal
Southern Alberta RCMP are investigating after an 15-month-old boy was sent to a Calgary hospital this week with serious injuries suffered while in provincial foster care in the Strathmore area--marking the third serious incident in barely two years and prompting calls for a public inquiry.
Children and Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk confirmed the case Thursday in the legislature, but only after questioning by the NDP, which had been tipped off about the matter.
Policesources told the Herald the incident occurred Monday night.
"I do understand that we have a tragic event,"Tarchuk later told reporters. "We have a small boy that was in our care that was taken to hospital with serious injuries and police are investigating."
The minister wouldn't say how many children were in the foster home when the boy was hurt or discuss the extent of his injuries.
However, NDP MLA Rachel Notley, who raised the issue in question period, said she was told by a source familiar with the investigation that too many foster children were in the residence and the boy was hurt after being shaken.
"It is time for us to look into how we are treating our children in care and get it right because we can't afford to have kids who are in our care dying and being seriously injured," Notley said. "It's outrageous."
She believes the child is from the Tsuu T'ina reserve on the southwest edge of Calgary, but couldn't confirm it. A Tsuu T'ina spokesman declined to comment on the case citing privacy concerns.
The toddler's father, who lives in Calgary, said he hasn't seen his son since he and the boy's mother broke up one year ago.
He had not been notified of the alleged assault, he said.
The boy is in the intensive-care unit at Alberta Children's Hospital.
The father said he learned a few months ago that the boy, and his two-and-a-half-year-old sister, were placed in foster care near Strathmore after being taken from their mother following an investigation at her home on the reserve.
"(The province)was trying to work out permanent guardianship for the kids," he said. "I couldn't take them right now, financially."
It's the third time in just more than two years that a child in provincial care has been either killed or seriously injured, something Notley called "unforgivable."
The province's deplorable record demands an independent public inquiry into Alberta's foster care system, she said.
"They're studying (foster care) while people are dying," Notley charged.
RCMP spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes confirmed RCMP are investigating a case involving an injured child in southern Alberta, but said it would be"inappropriate" to disclose more details for the time being.
Tsuu T'ina Police Service Chief Stan Grier said he knew nothing about the case.
The latest incident is certain to raise more questions about Alberta's foster care system.
In January, a four-year-old Metis girl in the care of children's services was found dead from a head injury in an Edmonton home, sparking concern about why the child and her five siblings were given to a 24-year-old aunt and her common-law boyfriend.
The aunt has since been charged with second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life.
In January 2007, a three-year-old boy in foster care in Edmonton died after suffering severe head trauma. The 32-year-old single mother was charged in the incident.
The Alberta government pledged last June it would change the way it assesses and approves would-be foster parents, following a panel's special review of the system.
Tarchuk said at the time the government would immediately implement the committee's recommendations, promising to create an interim classification for the first six months of a foster home's operation and reassess the home at the end of that probationary period.
The province also agreed to draft consistent standards for evaluating would-be homes, and tighten its policies on placing more than two children in Level 1 foster homes, and four children with better-trained Level 2 foster parents.
On Thursday, Tarchuk rejected NDP calls for a provincial inquiry, noting the government has reviewed the system and is implementing the recommendations.
"They will all be implemented by the end of spring 2009," the minister said, explaining the province will also launch a special case review that's initiated by serious incidents.
Ronni Abraham, director of services for the Boys and Girls Club, which is one of eight social agencies in Calgary that offers training and support for foster families, said while she is not familiar with this specific incident, she supports calls for an inquiry.
"Bring it on," she said. "Anything that will make the system as perfect as it can be."
The province's foster care system has 2,300 foster homes hosting 4,600 people, according to government officials.
Recent Alberta foster care deaths -
2007--a three-year-old boy dies of head injuries and his edmonton foster mother is found guilty of manslaughter. -
2005--a 13-month-old baby boy is shaken to death by his 38-year-old foster father, who pleads guilty to manslaughter and is sentenced to five years. he is now on parole. -
1999--a two-year-old girl from the samson reserve at hobbema dies after being pushed in a red deer foster home. the foster mother pleads guilty to manslaughter and is jailed for two years.
Source: Canwest Archives
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