Mother calling for changes to reserve foster care
Avalene Parenteau's 13-month-old son was brutally beaten and killed while in a foster home.
The mother of a baby killed in a foster home last year wants her reserve's child welfare agency shut down after she says officials failed to protect the child.
Avalene Parenteau told CBC News that Onion Lake Cree Nation's child welfare officials didn't do their job when selecting a home for her baby boy.
Genesis Parenteau-Dillon was killed last November, two months after being removed from Parenteau's custody.
The 13-month-old suffered severe brain damage and died, after his foster mother asked her live-in boyfriend to babysit him.
Allen Charles Davidson has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter.
"I started picturing it," said Parenteau. "What he must have done to him and all I could think of is 'why?' I just, I just wanted to know why."
Parenteau's family blames the reserve's child welfare agency. They said Genesis should never have been placed in the care of Cheryl McClellan, his foster mother.
The family said that if the agency ran a criminal record check on the people living in the foster home, they would have found that Davidson was a drug addict with 85 prior convictions.
What went wrong in Genesis' case
Genesis's grandmother, Nellie Harper, said she's a qualified foster parent and has looked after several of her grandsons.
Harper said she would have been happy to take care of Genesis. Provincial policy states family should be the first people asked before putting a child in care.
But in this case, Harper said her offer to care for Genesis was ignored.
She said social workers did not prepare required paperwork before apprehending Genesis.
Harper said he was "scooped up" by a social worker during a routine visit to the reserve's clinic.
From there, he was left in the care of McClellan. She lives in Paradise Hill, more than 50 km from the reserve.
CBC News has learned the infant may have been placed in McClellan's care because she is related to one of the reserve's social workers.
The foster mom didn't tell anyone Davidson had a drug problem and a long list of previous convictions.
On the day Davidson was babysitting Genesis, McLellan was at a course. By late in the afternoon, Davidson called the next-door neighbour for help.
That neighbour discovered the infant unconscious, face down on the living room floor.
Autopsy results show the baby died of brain haemorrhaging — blunt force trauma on five parts of his skull and bruises all over his body.
"I know for damn sure if he was in my care he would never look like this," said Parenteau. "Nothing like this would ever happen to him."
Davidson was charged with second degree murder and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Facts presented in court showed Genesis did not trip and fall, but was badly beaten. Davidson was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the death.
Onion Lake Child and Family Services, an agency with problems
In most of the province, the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association does background checks.
They happen when someone new moves in, or there's a major change in the dynamics of the foster home. However, its jurisdiction does not stretch to foster placements by reserve agencies.
In this case it was up to the Onion Lake Family Services to run these types of checks.
No one from the agency wanted to comment on the case. Its lawyer, Marilyn Adsit told CBC News there was no check done on Davidson "because he wasn't the foster parent."
A number of Onion Lake Cree Nation's residents said they have serious concerns about the people running Indian Child and Family Services.
CBC News has learned the agency has gone through six directors in the last 10 years. Within two months of Genesis's death, almost every person who worked for the agency had either quit or had been fired.
"Yes, it's probably time now to find the right management and supervisors," said Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief, Wallace Fox. "That's part of this whole internal review we're doing."
"With all the resources and training they have, they're doing what they can. There's always room for improvement in any organization."
But Fox also wants answers.
"I will not tolerate this to continue," he said. "Unfortunately it took an incident such as this to wake everybody up."
Fox said there are currently 84 children in foster care on the reserve.
Onion Lake Child and Family Services has a budget of $5.5 million dollars in 2012. Three million of that goes directly to foster families.
Next steps for Parenteau and Onion Lake Family Services
Genesis was the youngest of seven children for Parenteau. Her other six children are still in the reserve's foster care system.
Parenteau knows what it's like to live in a foster home. She grew up in one herself.
Despite her history of drinking and addiction she managed to hold on to Genesis the longest.
She told CBC she's trying to clean up her act and intends to enter a six-week rehabilitation program offered on the Onion Lake Cree Nation.
Parenteau and her family want to see agency shut down, a public inquiry and an apology.
"At least admit that they did something wrong," said Parenteau. "They can at least learn from their mistakes. I know people make mistakes."
Parenteau and her lawyer said the reserve and the province need to make big changes in the way they operate child welfare agencies.
Currently the Onion Lake Child and Family Services and the Ministry of Social Services are doing a joint review of what went wrong in Genesis' case.
The review will not be made public, but will be handed to the office of the Children's Advocate who may decide to investigate further based on the findings.
Staff at the office of the Children's Advocate say there may be no need for a public inquiry.
A report was released in 2010 by the Saskatchewan Child Welfare Review Panel highlighting 12 recommendations for changes to the way foster care and other child protection services are provided in the province.
Some of the reforms recommended that resources be focussed on prevention services and family supports.
With files from CBC's Jennifer Quesnel