Edmonton

Alberta two-year-old in foster care suffered serious injury, multiple bruising: report

Alberta’s child and youth advocate is once again calling for improvements to the province’s child intervention system after a two-year-old girl was seriously injured while in a foster home.

Province’s child advocate calls for changes to child intervention system

Alberta's child and youth advocate Del Graff (CBC News)

Alberta's child and youth advocate is once again calling for improvements to the province's child intervention system after a two-year-old girl was seriously injured while in a foster home.

When advocate Del Graff's office was notified about a child with a serious injury in 2013, it was discovered the little girl had a potentially life threatening internal injury as well as abrasion marks and multiple bruising on her body.

In the advocate's investigative review report released Tuesday, the girl is referred to as Teanna, a pseudonym to protect her identity.

While she has since made a full physical recovery, the child advocate says she still has emotional scars from the ordeal.

Graff's report paints a troubling picture of a little girl who was moved to four different care homes before she turned two.

Inadequate policies kept Teanna's parents in the dark

It was during her fourth placement when she was seriously hurt.

And it's in this part of the report the child advocate raises a major issue.

Even though Teanna was in hospital with severe injuries, her biological parents weren't told about it and didn't know she was in serious condition at the time.

Government policies governing children under permanent guardianship orders meant caseworkers didn't have to inform the parents. But in his report, Graff describes those policies as "inadequate."

He points out the birth parents were unable to provide information that could have been important in her medical treatment.

"Certainly in this circumstance the birth parents were actively involved with Teanna and were seeing her on a regular basis," Graf said following the release of his report. "When parents are actively involved like that they should be made aware of an injury that takes place."
 

Frustrated foster mother told to keep trying

The report also says the girl's foster mother at the time asked for Teanna to be moved from her home on at least three occasions.

Even though she told caseworkers she couldn't handle Teanna's behaviour or meet her needs, she was told to keep trying.

Each time she was asked to continuing looking after the girl for another month to see if things improved, the report says.

The report says when a care provider asks for a child to be moved, it is an indication that there is a crisis that needs to be responded to.

"When caregivers speak out and say that they're overwhelmed or unable to continue caring for a child, the system needs to have a robust way of responding to that," said Graff. "And by robust, I mean a way that includes decisive action."

Teanna's foster mother was charged with assault and the case is now before the courts.

With both of her birth parents dealing with substance abuse issues, the child intervention system first became involved with Teanna at birth.

She had withdrawal symptoms because of her mother's use of prescription medication.

Teanna was apprehended when she tested positive for benzodiazepines.

Girl spent first month of life in hospital

She spent the first month of her life in hospital. With no family members or foster homes available at the time, she was discharged to a group home.

She was moved to two other foster homes before one was eventually found where she could be with her sister.

The child advocate acknowledges Teanna's caseworkers tried to find a placement close to her family. But he concludes: "There appeared to be little consideration for the impact these moves had on her emotional needs."

Besides being critical of the number of times she was moved, the child advocate also criticizes her level of care.

Graff notes in the report she had delayed gross motor skill development and possible neurological problems after being prenatally exposed to drugs.

In spite of this, he says the resources she needed didn't appear to come up for consideration for some time.

Graff makes two recommendations in his report.

He makes suggestions to improve case planning for children in care, including looking at ways to mitigate the impact of multiple placement moves.

His second recommendation involves ensuring the specific needs of children are met when they're placed in care.

A re-assessment needs to take place if it appears the child's placement is in jeopardy, Graff says.

Minister of Human Services Irfan Sabir said following the release of Graff's report that the goverrnment accepts the recommendations.

"We must learn from heartbreaking incidents, like the one detailed in this report, to make the system better," said Sabir in a statement.

In Teanna's case there are no signs of any long-term physical problems from her injuries. But she cries at bath time and still has nightmares.

Eighteen months after her injury Teanna was reunited with her parents and is now living with them.

Both parents turned things around after going to addictions treatment together.

Graff says the girl's family have been an important part of his report, which is not to assign blame but learn lessons.

He's hoping it will make a difference for other children if the recommendations are followed.

gareth.hampshire@cbc.ca

@cbcgareth