Tot's death could have been prevented, Saskatchewan children's advocate says

Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth has released a lengthy report on the death of a 22-month-old toddler, writing that the child's death could have been prevented.

Evander Daniels, who was 22 months old, drowned in a bathtub while in foster care in 2010

Children's Advocate Bob Pringle released a report today on the death of a 22-month-old boy who drowned in a bathtub while in foster care. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth Bob Pringle has released a lengthy report on the death of a 22-month-old toddler, stating that the child's death could have been prevented.

The boy, Evander Daniels, drowned in a bathtub while in foster care in June 2010. A large part of his body had also been scalded.

The report noted his foster mother was charged with criminal negligence causing death, but was found not guilty in 2013.

Pringle suggests in the report that the province's Ministry of Social Services write a formal letter of apology to the boy's parents. He said the ministry didn't review the case when notified there were problems and did not tell the parents immediately about their son's death.

At news conference following the release of the report, Minister of Social Services Donna Harpauer extended condolences to the boy's family.

"As the minister of social services I apologize," Harpauer said. "Do we take the responsibility of this home having more children than they could handle? Yes we do. This home, it was at a time where we did not have the resources and so this home was overcrowded and should not have been."

Pringle's report, titled No Time For Mark: The Gap Between Policy and Practice, lists findings and recommendations on how the foster system needs to be changed.

"[Ministry of Social Services] staff did not take the time to follow policy and provide Mark and his family with the services to which they were entitled," Pringle wrote. "While it is too late for Mark, it is our hope that with this report, we can close the gap between policy and practice for children who come after him."

Harpauer said the government is committed to improving the system.

"We have increased the number of front-line workers by 93 since this tragedy and we have fewer children in care, so that has brought the caseload numbers down," she said.

Evander Daniel's father, Chris Martell, said he hopes more changes are made.

"I just don't want another tragedy to ever happen again to anybody. I can't even speak of it," Martell said. "They should have kept him with his family. That's where he belonged."

CBC's David Shield was tweeting from the media conference where Pringle released the report. 

Ignored problems

The report lists a number of ways the system failed the toddler.

The foster home was over capacity when the boy died. He was the fifth foster child to be placed in the home, where three of the children were under 2½ years old.

A previous study of the foster home recommended that no more than three children be placed there. At one point, the foster family was asked to take on a sixth child, but they refused.

The report also said the boy's sleeping arrangements were unacceptable. 

Evander Daniels drowned in a bathtub in 2010 while he was in foster care. The boy was 22 months old at the time.

For most of his time at the foster family's house, Evander slept in a playpen in a basement bedroom, while the foster parents slept on the main floor of the house. There apparently was no baby monitor in the room.

Pringle also blames the system for not doing more to avoid removing Evander from his biological family in the first place.

He was taken from his mother after she showed signs of depression and emotional instability. However, the report said there was never any counselling or mental health assessments made available to his parents. There was also no assessment done on Evander's father to determine whether he could safely care for his children.

Pringle said social services focused more on parenting skills and addictions, and failed to deal with mental health and disharmony between the parents. He says in the report that Evander should have been placed with an extended family member.

Moving forward

The report lists a number of recommendations for social services, including:

  • Review the investigation process for foster homes.
  • Provide more training to staff who investigate foster homes.
  • Review foster home program to determine why there has been a rapid decline in homes in the last several years.

Between 2009-14, there was a drop of almost 200 foster homes in the province, one of the main reasons for overcrowding in the system, according to Pringle.