Sask. foster care plagued by systemic problems: children’s advocate

Watch above: A report out Wednesday on the death of a young boy in foster care harshly criticizes the government and makes recommendations to avoid a similar situation. Wendy Winiewski talks to the boy’s father to see if this brings closure.

SASKATOON – Saskatchewan’s children’s advocate says there are persistent problems in foster care that haven’t been addressed despite efforts by the social services ministry. Bob Pringle released a report Wednesday after an investigation into the death of a child who drowned in a bathtub in 2010.

He says the toddler was placed in an overcrowded home and became the fifth child under the age of four to live there. The home was approved to care for three foster children.

“I simply cannot understand why the Ministry of Social Services did not provide the support needed to Mark’s foster parents to keep the young children in their care safe,” said Pringle.

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The child’s father, Chris Martell, attended a news conference at the Saskatoon cabinet office held by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services to respond to the report. Martell’s son is Evander Daniels, who the children’s advocate refers to as ‘Mark.’

Evander was 22-months-old when he was left unattended by his foster mom in a bathtub. He was scalded and drowned.

“At the time of Mark’s death, his parents were waiting for the Ministry of Social Services to move Mark to be cared for by an extended family member, which is tragic,” said Pringle.

“The file was being passed around and nothing was being done,” said Martell.

Near tears at the new conference, Martell spoke across a table of news media, directly to the minister claiming he’s had no support in the five years since his son’s death.

As the conference concluded, Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer approached Martell, shook his hand, apologized and offered him grief counselling.

A coroner determined the toddler died from accidental drowning. The foster mother was charged with criminal negligence causing death but she was found not guilty in court.

“Our investigation found that Mark’s rights were violated, and that this was a preventable death,” said Pringle.

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READ MORE: Inquest into death of six-year-old boy sheds new light: children’s advocate

“Do we take the responsibility of this home having more children than they could handle?” Harpauer asked rhetorically.

“Yes, we do. This home, it was at a time when we did not have the resources and so this home was overcrowded,” she admits.

The ministry has added 93 new frontline staff in the five years since the tragedy.

“Although I recognize that the Ministry of Social Services has made attempts to address some critical issues in the child welfare system since Mark’s death five years ago, both this investigation and our more recent ones into children’s deaths in care have made it clear that there are persistent issues in noncompliance with policy,” said Pringle.

“This is a systemic problem.”

Among the findings in the report, Pringle found there was a lack of quality case management and supervision.

He also found there is a lack of policy compliance, adherence to required contact standards and a continuing need to place children in foster homes which are over their recommended capacity.

READ MORE: Sask. child advocate criticizes Corrections in annual report

Pringle renewed his call for foster homes to be licensed.

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“The intent of licensing is so that foster parents can be better supported to care for some of the province’s most vulnerable children,” said Pringle.

According to the ministry, there is no proof provincial foster home licensing improves outcomes for children. Harpauer used Ontario and Manitoba as an example.

“While I agree that the Ministry of Social Services has good policies to provide accountability and oversight of the foster care system, I would like to see these policies embedded in law, to ensure that they are upheld,” said Pringle.

Pringle stated the bar needs to be raised to the highest level to ensure the rights, interests and well-being of youth and children in foster care are respected.

With files from The Canadian Press and Wendy Winiewski