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Inquest needed into shocking death of 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson


In the wake of Katelynn Sampson’s horrific death in August 2008, Ontario passed legislation to ensure guardians in child custody cases provide police record checks, clearance from Children’s Aid, and show they are able to care for the child.

Local Children’s Aid Societies have strengthened procedures.

But Ontario Child Advocate Irwin Elman says an inquest is still needed to understand exactly what went wrong and what more can be done to prevent such tragedies.

“Where did we as a province fail Katelynn and this family?” Elman said Wednesday.

“Child welfare was involved more than I initially thought, more than I knew,” he said. “But I continue to believe there are other pieces to our safety net that didn’t work here. The school, the community, any of the people who touched Katelynn’s life and her mother’s life.”

The Coroner’s office has not yet made a decision on an inquest.

Katelynn died after prolonged abuse while in the care of her unemployed, crack-addicted legal guardians. An autopsy showed the 7-year-old had 70 wounds when she went into septic shock.

On Tuesday, those guardians, Donna Irving, 33, and her boyfriend, Warren Johnson, 50, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and were sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 15 years.

Elman, who is provincially mandated to advocate on behalf of children in the child welfare system, says Queen’s Park still hasn’t acted on his 2008 call to provide lawyers for children in all custody matters. And he said he is still waiting for the province to give him access to all coroner’s reports on deaths of children involved with Children’s Aid.

But at a broader level, Elman says all children need meaningful relationships with caring adults, and he hopes an inquest will look into that more “human problem.”

“It’s not a rule you can make. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge ourselves to figure out how to do it,” he said.

A statement read in court detailed a multitude of failures in a system that didn’t detect or stop the violence against Katelynn.

According to medical evidence, Katelynn was already suffering horrific physical abuse when Ontario Court Justice Debra Paulseth legally sanctioned her living arrangement with Irving and Johnson on June 6, 2008.

Irving called the

Toronto Children’s Aid Society

in March 2008 to say she did not think she could provide for Katelynn and wanted her gone. The agency passed the case on to

Native Child and Family Services

— Katelynn is half Anishinabe — which eventually closed the case at Irving’s request, after she lied and told a social worker she was receiving help from Katelynn’s school.

Later, Katelynn’s school principal reported bruises and burn marks to Children’s Aid, which passed the case again to Native Child and Family Services.

In an interview with the Star Wednesday, the executive director of Native Child and Family Services said his agency never received that referral. He also said case workers had no authority to investigate Irving after the March 2008 phone call because it was a voluntary call and there was no evidence of abuse at that time.

Rules have since been tightened — supervisors must now sign off before cases are closed and receipt of referrals must be confirmed — but when it comes down to it, Kenn Richard says his employees did all they could.

“We had extensive investigation and internal reflection on this ourselves and I am satisfied that my staff did, certainly, everything that’s required under our charter as a Children’s Aid Society,” he said.

“I would welcome (an inquest) so that we can all share what we believe went on, the roles that were played by the various institutions — and there were many players — so that we can craft some intelligence here that will make our system better at protecting kids like Katelynn.”

David Rivard, executive director of the Toronto CAS, said his agency provides after-hours emergency services for Native Child and Family Services and is legislatively bound to pass cases involving aboriginal children to them.

But he acknowledged the case prompted all four Toronto Children’s Aid Societies to move to a computerized referral system and to adopt tighter protocols.

Although confidentiality prohibits Children’s Aid Societies from disclosing what action, if anything, is taken after schools and other community partners report concerns about children at risk, more could be done, he said.

“As a sector we are looking at how we can work more closely with those other sectors to ensure when they are making a referral, follow-up is provided to them. That they know we are investigating,” he said.

2012 May 2