Province silent on vetting of killer foster parents

Two foster parents have pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of an 11-year-old boy in their care.

It’s unclear whether two Fraser Valley foster parents convicted of killing an 11-year-old boy in their care were properly vetted.

The boy was beaten to death last year after he and his sibling endured months of abuse. A publication ban on any details that would identify the children also means their abusers’ names cannot be published. But even if it were to omit any identifying details, BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development says it still can’t comment on whether appropriate oversight was conducted before the boy was placed in the home where he died.

The two parents have pleaded guilty to manslaughter and a range of other charges in connection to the care of the boy and his sibling, who survived the abuse.

The Chilliwack Progress reported that during one parents’ recent court appearance, Crown counsel revealed that the children were repeatedly struck with objects, with the older of the two siblings dying from blunt force trauma. The Progress reported that some of the abuse occurred on camera over a two-month span that culminated in the boy’s death in February of 2021.

A sentencing hearing has been set for next April.

While Crown counsel has revealed that the incident involves two foster parents, a spokesperson for BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development wrote in an email that the ministry cannot even confirm that the children were in its care.

“The ministry will not disclose any information that could reasonably be expected to reveal that a child or youth is or was in care or any information that could reasonably lead to the identification of a particular child or youth.”

Given that the names are banned from publication and the status of the foster parents is already known, it’s unclear how commenting on the ministry’s vetting process could lead to the children’s identification. The spokesperson refused to clarify further.

“This is a heartbreaking story and we offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and community who have been impacted by this tragedy,” the spokesperson wrote. “Every child should be safe, supported and cared for by the adults in their life.”

They did say the ministry does a review of practices and policies anytime there is a fatality or critical injury, though the public will never see the findings of that review.

The BC Coroners’ Service confirmed that it has an active investigation into the death. It’s unclear what details will be made available upon its conclusion.

Audits have revealed systemic flaws

The Ministry of Child and Family Development requires possible foster parents to undergo a series of assessments before children are placed in their care. Those include criminal record checks, “child protection checks,” reference checks, and assessments of the home in question. Resource workers are in charge of making sure all those checks and assessments are carried out.

But a 2020 ministry audit found that in the East Fraser region, there was no proof that many of those checks were being carried out.

“Almost half the files lacked confirmation that a child protection background check or a medical assessment was completed,” the audit declared. “Further, the documentation in more than a quarter of the files indicated that a consolidated criminal record check (CCRC) or reference checks for one or more caregivers were not completed.”

The audit found that in a third of cases, auditors were “unable to confirm that all of the required screening and assessment activities were completed before a child was placed in the home.”

A similar audit of Fraser Valley Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society, which oversees the care of Indigenous children in the region, found that only 42% of homes had records of all necessary home assessments. (It’s not known which agency handled the care of the children.)

Foster homes are also supposed to be checked every 90 days, though it is unclear in this case whether the children were in the home that long. For a decade, social workers, auditors, and the province’s Representative for Children and Youth have warned the province that social workers are unable to keep up with the number of cases they are asked to administer and oversee.

A spokesperson for the Representative for Children and Youth told The Current that office will determine whether the office undertakes a comprehensive review or full investigation. Comprehensive reviews are also not made public, because of provincial legislation. However the details of the reviews are referenced, in anonymous fashion, in published reports on topics of public interests.

The Current asked the ministry whether all necessary screening and assessments were conducted in the case of the boy and his sibling. But that was among the questions the province said it could not answer because of confidentiality reasons.

The next audit for the East Fraser region will take place in 2024.

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