Foster boy's death prompts call for wider checks

An Alberta judge says prospective foster parents should submit to extensive background checks after a 13-month-old boy was killed by a foster father whose police record was not fully disclosed.
A judge says would-be foster parents with criminal records should submit to deeper criminal background checks. ((CBC))
An Alberta judge says prospective foster parents should submit to extensive background checks after a 13-month-old boy was killed by his foster father, whose police record was not fully disclosed.

Judge Donna Rae Valgardson of provincial court delivered 11 recommendations Wednesday after a public inquiry into the 2005 death of the baby boy, identified only as CJM.

CJM was taken to University of Alberta Hospital on Nov. 24, 2005. His foster father, Raymond Loyer, who is not named in the court documents, claimed the boy had a seizure, but a CT scan found injuries consistent with shaken infant syndrome.

The child died two days later, and Loyer was charged with second-degree murder, eventually pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Valgardson found that social workers who placed the child with the foster parents knew Loyer had a criminal record for possession of stolen goods, breaking and entering, and assault causing bodily harm.

But Loyer did not reveal to child-care officials that the charge of assault causing bodily harm, which involved a confrontation with an adult in 1987, was originally a charge of attempted murder.

Officials told the inquiry that had they known the full history of the assault charge, they would have sought further guidance on whether to allow CJM to live with the family.

The judge also noted there was no way child-care officials could have had access to the complete police files on the foster father because of privacy legislation.

Valgardson recommended prospective foster parents be required to consent to the release of complete police investigative files so that their suitability as foster parents can be determined.

The judge also suggested Alberta's Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act be amended to allow social workers to gain access to law enforcement files for any foster parent applicant with a conviction for violent crimes.

Another of her 11 recommendations to the province said a psychological assessment of the applicant should be required.

The province has moved on some recommendations already, said Children and Youth Services spokesman Stuart Elson.

"We've definitely strengthened our criminal record check process," he said. "If the applicant has a criminal record, we must acquire the detailed circumstances of those offences."

Caseworkers must consult with managers if an applicant has a criminal record of any kind. No applicant is accepted with any history of violence or abuse against children.

Elson said the department is also working on another important conclusion of the inquiry — that caseworkers and parents didn't communicate enough with each other to spot warning signs in the family home.

"We're definitely taking steps to improve that communication and co-ordination," he said. "But we're going to look at these recommendations very seriously to see if there's anything additional we can do."

With files from The Canadian Press