Agency missed chances to help Katelynn Sampson but not to blame for death: director

The head of a child welfare agency that looked into the case of a seven-year-old Toronto girl said Wednesday that opportunities to help the child were missed but denied his staff's behaviour led to her death.

Head of aboriginal child welfare agency admits 'confusion' over 7-year-old girl's file

The inquest into the death of seven-year-old Katelynn Sampson, heard from the girl's former teacher Cathy Seto Friday.
  The head of a child welfare agency that looked into the case of a seven-year-old Toronto girl said Wednesday that opportunities to help the child were missed but denied his staff's behaviour led to her death.

Kenneth Richard, the executive director of Native Child and Family Services, told a coroner's inquest there was "confusion" over Katelynn Sampson's file and much of the arrangements surrounding her care were made in secrecy.

  The girl's legal guardians, Donna Irving and Warren Johnson, weren't "particularly forthcoming" and there was no opportunity to talk to Katelynn herself, he testified.

By the time case workers realized Katelynn was living with the pair full time, she had already been with them for months, and "there were no protection concerns evident to us," he said.

  "We were very busy...around this family but Katelynn seemed to have been missed," Richard said. "There were opportunities to intervene that didn't end up in intervention."

But he maintained he couldn't find "any direct line" between how his staff acted and "the unfortunate tragic events that followed" on Aug. 3, 2008, when Katelynn was found dead in her guardians' apartment.

  The lawyer representing Sampson, however, argued the agency simply didn't take the time to look beyond the information provided by Irving and Johnson, despite receiving several referrals about the child.

Nor did it bother speaking with the girl's mother, even after Irving called the agency asking to have Katelynn removed from her home, Suzan Fraser said. By the time a case worker returned that call 16 days later, Irving claimed to be receiving help from Katelynn's school, which was not true.

'Opportunities squandered'

  "Those opportunities were squandered because you failed to speak with Katelynn Sampson," Fraser said.

An autopsy showed Katelynn died from septic shock after being beaten for months. Irving and Johnson pleaded guilty three years ago to second-degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years.

  Both the Children's Aid Society and Native Child and Family Services were contacted about Katelynn or the couple while she was living with them. Oversight was transferred to the latter agency because of Irving's aboriginal heritage.

  Communication between the agencies -- as well as their other sister agencies -- has been a focus of the inquest.

  Bernice Sampson was addicted to crack and gave her daughter to Irving and Johnson after realizing she was no longer able to care for the child herself.

  The pair was granted legal custody despite having several criminal convictions and long-standing involvement with child
  welfare agencies.

  Both Sampson and Irving had several children taken away by child welfare authorities.

  Custody arrangements between the two women appeared to confuse many involved in Katelynn's life. The inquest has heard school officials called the Children's Aid Society to seek clarification, but the agency didn't investigate the terms or circumstances of the deal.

Agency believed Irving was babysitting Katelynn

  Neither did Native Child and Family Services, which initially believed Irving was simply babysitting Katelynn, Richard said.

  "We had been working with Donna Irving and Warren Johnson and their two children, that was our family," he said. "By the time we realized Katelynn was in that home, it was quite late."

And even then, it remained unclear why Sampson had turned over custody of her child, he said.

  Still, the agency did not consider reaching out to Sampson because it did not believe she was involved in Katelynn's life, he said.

  In hindsight, Richard agreed it would have been helpful to know how she came to live with her guardians, he said.

  "The more information, the better the decision," he said.

The inquest previously heard Johnson was listed in his sister's CAS file with allegations that he had sexually abused his nieces.

Though the agency believed the allegations involving one niece were substantiated, no criminal charges were ever laid.

 former intake worker with the Children's Aid Society of Toronto also testified he had expressed concerns about Irving and Johnson in a report before turning over the case to Native Child and Family Services.