No less than three child welfare bodies failed on some level to protect an aboriginal girl who nearly starved after she was moved from the care of the B.C. government to her grandparents in Saskatchewan, according to B.C.'s child watchdog.
"This child's best interests were never taken seriously and, as a result, she was left in a dangerous situation, severely traumatized and emotionally and physically injured," Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said in a written release.
"This outcome could have been prevented if social work in both provinces had met basic standards. We must learn from this case and obtain strong assurances that these important services work for children in the future."
The girl, who can't be named, was moved from B.C. to Saskatchewan in 2007, at the age of two. She was kept in a windowless room with a cement floor in the home of her grandparents near Regina before being removed from the house about 18 months later.
The grandparents were found guilty in February 2012 of failing to provide the necessities of life and were sentenced to three years in prison.
Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, released a special report into the incident on Tuesday morning.
'Accountability is required'
The report recommends B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development review its policies for out-of-province placements for all children under the province's care, and also suggests that a review be undertaken of the provincial/territorial protocol on moving children between provinces.
Although Turpel-Lafond's authority doesn't extend outside B.C., she said the case points to major social work practice and record-keeping deficiencies by Saskatchewan's First Nations Child and Family Services, and a lack of oversight by the Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services.
“It is up to these public bodies to take appropriate steps to demonstrate the accountability and effectiveness of Saskatchewan’s child welfare services,” she said.
"The Saskatchewan ministry has identified areas for improvement and I commend them for doing so. In the meantime, I urge B.C. child welfare offices to use great caution and care in relying on home assessments, criminal record checks and post placement courtesy services from Saskatchewan."
Turpel-Lafond also urged the federal government to take a more active role in assessing the well-being of aboriginal children under provincial care.
“The needs and safety of children must be at the centre of all social work practice,” Turpel-Lafond said. “Uniform standards must be applied across the country so that this doesn’t happen to another child in the future. Accountability is required and we do not have that for some of our most vulnerable children."
In a written statement, Saskatchewan Social Services Minister June Draude said the government accepts the report's findings.
"It is a horrific tragedy whenever a child is abused or neglected at the hands of their caregiver. Tragedies like this are heartbreaking and warrant our utmost attention, along with action to try to prevent this from happening again," Draude said.
"The ministry has started the work on addressing these observations and will continue to work closely with the Saskatchewan advocate for children and youth to report on our progress."
Accept and implement
B.C.'s Minister of Children and Family Development, Stephanie Cadieux, says the province's new Family Law Act has closed some of the loopholes, but she accepts Turpel-Lafond's recommendations.
"Work on implementing the recommendations in this report will begin immediately," she said.