British Columbia

Horrifying story of neglect and abuse revealed in new report from B.C. children's advocate

A non-verbal 12-year-old boy who was in the ministry system was discovered naked, filthy, severely malnourished, unable to walk and living in a bedroom filled with feces and garbage.

Non-verbal 12-year-old discovered naked, filthy, severely malnourished, living in room filled with feces

A boy with hands on a fence is shown.
A new report from B.C. children's advocate chronicles the heartbreaking story of a special needs boy who was repeatedly failed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. (Shutterstock)

The shocking story of a little boy with autism spectrum disorder who fell through the cracks of the provincial child welfare system is at the centre of a new report from the B.C. representative for children and youth.

Alone and Afraid documents how the system failed "Charlie" repeatedly for 10 years, leaving the child to suffer needlessly until a moment of crisis led to his removal from his mother's care.

In January 2016, the non-verbal 12-year-old was found naked, filthy, weighing just 30 kilograms, unable to walk and living in a bedroom full of garbage and feces.

He had been screaming for 30 minutes before police arrived, and was subsequently taken to hospital "terrified and clinging to the paramedics."

The scene was so horrifying that first responders reported that they themselves were "traumatized" by the situation.

Repeated failures of the system

The troubling report says the Ministry of Children and Family Development first became aware of Charlie in 2006, but over the filing of four separate child assessment reports, no child protection social worker ever laid eyes on the boy.

The reports goes on to say that even when Charlie was seen by social workers, medical or education professionals, his needs went unrecognized and unaddressed.

During hospital stays in 2008 and 2009, MCFD opened child protection investigations at the urging of hospital staff. However, on both occasions, ministry workers failed to follow up with a face-to-face visit before determining he was not in need of protection.

Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, makes 11 recommendations in the report, including a comprehensive assessment of the capacity of the current Child and Youth with Special Needs division of MCFD to meet the needs of those children.

Other recommendations include:

  • Improving accessibility of special needs services and respite care.
  • Mandatory special needs training for child protection staff.
  • Ensuring child protection social workers actually see a child when conducting a protection investigation.
  • MCFD and Ministry of Education joint guidelines to address unexplained school absences and school withdrawals.
  • A mechanism for school districts to identify school-age children who are not attending school. 
  • Identification of a child as Indigenous as early as possible when MCFD becomes involved. 

B.C.'s minister for children and family development said she was appalled to read about Charlie's story.

"Worst of all and in spite of a wealth of information about his particular vulnerability, the child protection system failed to act when this boy's life was in critical danger," said Katrine Conroy.

Conroy says she accepts the recommendations and promised changes to better co-ordinate what she called a "fragmented system" of those working in child welfare, health and education.

The report says that three years after being taken into government care, Charlie is now living in a supportive foster home, going to school and doing well.