Alex Radita trial: B.C. youth advocate slams sharing of child welfare info between provinces

Click to play video: 'More details and testimony in Radita trail' More details and testimony in Radita trail
WATCH ABOVE: More details and testimony in Radita trail. Nancy Hixt reports – Jun 2, 2016

When paramedics were called to the home of 15-year-old Alex Radita in 2013, they discovered the body of a teenage boy that was so emaciated “he looked mummified.”

The trial of Alex’s parents, Rodica, 53, and Emil Radita, 59, continues this week in a Calgary courtroom and has already heard shocking testimony and disturbing evidence. Both parents have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of their son.

READ MORE: Shocking testimony in Calgary trial of parents accused of killing diabetic son

Click to play video: 'Parents plead not guilty in the first degree murder of teenage son' Parents plead not guilty in the first degree murder of teenage son
Parents plead not guilty in the first degree murder of teenage son – May 24, 2016

Radita weighed less than 37 pounds at the time of his death and his physical condition was so disturbing, some first responders who found the emaciated youth inside the family’s home had to seek psychological services.

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“I actually remember walking in the room thinking, ‘What the hell is that?'” paramedic Deborah Baumback said in court last week. “[Alex was] emaciated to the fact that he looked mummified.”

The prosecution has presented evidence that his parents repeatedly expressed to doctors and social workers that they did not accept their son’s diabetes diagnosis and were reluctant to treat it.

READ MORE: Calgary parents accused of not treating diabetic teen plead not guilty to first-degree murder

Alex was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age three when his family lived in Surrey, B.C.

Court documents show Alex had been removed from the Radita home by child welfare because the parents weren’t properly treating the diabetes. A judge later returned him to his parents’ care.

The family then moved to Alberta, where he died in a Calgary home on May 7, 2013.

What has happened since the death of Alex Radita?

Three years after the boy’s death, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told Global News the case still raises questions about how provinces share child welfare information.

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“The tragedy of this young person’s life was one where you had a family that had fairly significant child welfare history and ample evidence from medical professionals and others that the child’s needs weren’t being met,” Turpel-Lafond said. “Then they lost contact with the family because they moved and the file was closed.”

“This is where the system breaks down in Canada,” she said.  “These systems are reactive. They’re very seldom proactive and there’s no mandatory requirement that you do that follow up with another province.”

BELOW: Photos Alex Radita on his 15th birthday, taken just months before his death

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Since the tragic death of Radita, Canada’s provinces and territories — with the exception of Quebec — have adopted an updated version of the “Provincial/Territorial Protocol on Children, Youth and Families Moving between Provinces and Territories.”

“Canada’s provinces and territories recognized we needed to strengthen information sharing provisions to better protect the safety of vulnerable children and families,” said Shawn Larabee, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, in an emailed statement.

He said the legislation authorizes the sharing of confidential information without the person’s consent to ensure the safety and well-being of a child or youth, which includes assessing the suitability of potential caregivers.

READ MORE: B.C. social workers speak out in case of teen found dead in Calgary

Provincial ministries contacted by Global News, including Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia regarding concerns over the interprovincial sharing of child welfare information all pointed to the provincial and territorial protocol.

“An interprovincial protocol and process exists for transfer of child intervention files with an open status,” said a spokesperson for Alberta’s Human Services, in an email. “The protocol is reviewed and updated every five years or sooner at the recommendation of the Provincial/Territorial Directors of Child Welfare Committee.”

WATCH: Judge approves the release of court exhibit photos

Click to play video: 'Photos of 15-year-old Alex Radita released during trial' Photos of 15-year-old Alex Radita released during trial
Photos of 15-year-old Alex Radita released during trial – May 26, 2016

Turpel-Lafond said the legislation, while a step in the right direction, falls short of what is needed to protect children whose families may move between provinces.

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“It’s an informal protocol and frequently I find those protocols are not observed,” she said. “It is quite known in child welfare circles in Canada, and around the world, that there are some categories of parents and caregivers who instead of dealing with the child welfare officials will try to keep moving.”

The B.C. youth advocate added that there is no national office to coordinate the sharing of information between provinces and called for greater leadership at a federal level.

“[Families] may move [between] three or four provinces, they may move across international boundaries and this is why cooperation in child welfare is important inter-provincially as well as internationally and on both of those fronts our systems are extremely weak,” she said.

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said the ministry does not comment on provincial social services issues and cannot “comment on any specific issue that is currently in the courts.”

“It’s been a major concern for some time and I think this case, while it’s a criminal case in Alberta, highlights a pretty fundamental issue,” Turpel-Lafond said. “We’re overdue in Canada to develop a much stronger framework and particularly the federal government could create much stronger incentives and support the inter-provincial work.”

B.C.’s youth advocate says more oversight needed

In 2013, her office issued a report on a separate case examining how child welfare agencies in B.C. and Saskatchewan failed to keep a three-year-old First Nations girl safe from a grandfather with a history of addiction and criminal convictions. When the toddler was apprehended by RCMP she was found to show signs of starvation and physical abuse.

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An update to territorial and provincial protocol on child welfare was released April 1, but B.C.’s youth advocate said more oversight is still needed.

“A protocol is a protocol that means you and I agree on the best of days that we will try to work together. But what happens when people don’t do it? How do you know that it’s happening who’s checking it?” she said.

“My issue is we need to talk about the rights of children. A child’s right to be treated for a chronic medical condition for which there’s very good treatment protocol and good longevity, like diabetes, it’s the child’s right to health and support.”

*With files from Nancy Hixt and Erika Tucker

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