Nfld. & Labrador

Wally Rich's mother says system failed teen who died under N.L. government care

Wally Rich’s grieving mother, Nympha Rich, says her son would still be alive if the child protection system had given her another chance to care for her son.

Nympha Rich says social workers assured her that her son would be safe

Nympha Rich's son, Wally, died by suicide in a Labrador group home in May. She says the system failed and now she'll never see her son again. (CBC)

Wally Rich's grieving mother, Nympha Rich, says her son would still be alive if the child protection system had given her another chance to care for her son.

The 15-year-old died by suicide in a Labrador group home May 22.

The social worker who oversaw his file recently told CBC News there were issues with the child protection system before Wally's death. 

Linda Saunders says understaffed and overworked social workers were carrying double the normal caseloads. She had no access to a work phone or computer during the pandemic lockdown. Saunders was fired in the wake of Wally's death.

Wally, an Innu teen from Natuashish, had been in care for about a decade, according to his mother. In last month's provincial budget, $1 million was earmarked for an inquiry into Innu children in care. (Submitted by Nympha Rich)

Rich never met Saunders, the last social worker in charge of her son's case.

"I don't know why he did it, why he ended his life," Nympha Rich said recently from her home in Natuashish. 

"I don't know how many times he tried." 

Rich says her son had been in care for about 10 years, because she's battled a drinking problem.

She calls Wally a good kid who should have been watched 24/7 because he often talked about ending his life. 

Assured he was safe

Still, Rich says social workers assured her Wally would be safe at the group home in Labrador where he died, even though, she says, Wally was always hungry when she visited him.

Since Wally's death, Rich says, she's lost trust in the child protection system and social workers, and is now questioning the group home's safety. 

She says Wally always wanted to come home to Natuashish when they talked.

"He would always say, 'Mom, when do I come home? When can I live with you?'"

Rich says an inquiry into Innu children in care will give grieving parents like her a chance to be heard and tell their stories. (Submitted by Innu Nation)

But when Wally came home this spring, she said, it was in a casket.

"Which is very sad, and I hate it. And it still hurts me," she sobbed.

An unanswered message: 'Are you OK?'

On the day Wally died, a friend of his contacted Nympha Rich on Facebook. The friend was worried because Wally tried to end his life. 

"And then I messaged Wally. I messaged him and I said 'Wally, my son, are you OK?'" Rich said.   

"He just seen my message and never [responded to] my message."

Rich says the province offered to pay for Wally's headstone, but she wants to get him one without their help. (Submitted by Nympha Rich)

Wally's friend told Rich to check on him again.

When she called the group home, she was put on hold for a few minutes. A police officer picked up and told her Wally was dead.

Incident days before death

Rich also says social workers should have checked on her son after an incident with him over the May long weekend. 

The RCMP, group home, and the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development's on-call staff were involved, but social worker Linda Saunders said no one from the department had an in-person visit with Wally afterward. He died days later.

"My son could have been alive right now if CSSD give me another chance, but no, they didn't give me another chance," said Rich.

"CSSD has failed us a lot. They did a lot of damage to us."

Rich still doesn't know a lot about Wally's death. She wants answers, and says the group home and the province need to take responsibility. 

She says the province offered to pay for Wally's headstone, but she wants to get him one without their help. 

In the meantime, she says, a long-awaited inquiry into Innu children in care will give parents like her a chance to be heard and to tell their own stories. 

"I will never see my son again," she said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Heather Gillis

Journalist

Heather Gillis has been reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011.

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