Kuna Sauve wonders if her baby daughter would have died if she hadn’t been taken away and put in foster care.
“I don’t really think so,” Sauve said outside court Wednesday, after the first day of a fatality inquiry into the death of six-week-old Dani Isabella Jean. The baby was found unresponsive in her foster parents’ bed in May 2013.
Dani had been put in foster care three weeks after she was born. Still, Sauve was allowed visits with her a couple of times a week and saw her the day before she died.
“I held her and she was smiling,” Sauve said. “She slept most of the time but when she was awake it looked like she was trying to giggle.”
“It’s one of the memories that sticks the most for me.”
According to an investigative report, Dani had six older half-siblings, two of whom were in foster care when she was born due to concerns about possible risk of abuse. So, she was taken into provincial care.
The report explained her foster parents were experienced caregivers who had been licensed for about 10 years and had cared for 30 children.
Scroll down to read the full investigative report and review.
Dani’s foster mother testified she brought the baby into her bed just after 5 a.m. The infant was swaddled and in her arms. The foster mother said she did not fall asleep while holding the girl.
“I remember she looked very peaceful, just sleeping.”
The foster mother testified she got up to check on her other child and left Dani on the bed. When she came back, she said she woke her husband.
“He went to pass her to me, her arm fell out of the blanket… He pulled her back into himself and turned on the light. He knew something wasn’t right.
“I could see her eye was fogged over. She had a greyish colour to her.”
“We both just saw her and said, ‘oh my god.'”
An ambulance took Dani to hospital where she was pronounced dead. The chief medical examiner determined she died “as a result of undetermined causes.”
Dani’s biological father still has many questions about his daughter’s death.
“I really don’t know, as a family, how much closure we’re going to be getting,” Paul Jean said outside court on Wednesday.
He and Sauve both said their daughter shouldn’t have been apprehended at all.
“If that child died on our watch, in our home, what would be happening to us right now?” he asked.
The investigative review into the death of Dani led to the Child and Youth Advocate recommending the province implement a clear policy directing foster parents not to share their beds with infants.
The August 2014 report – Baby Dawn: Bed-Sharing with Infants in Foster Care – and its recommendation was accepted by the Ministry of Human Services.
“Policy has been revised to be more explicit about not bed-sharing with infants,” the ministry’s response reads.
“The policy was implemented along with Safe Babies Caregiver Training in the fall of 2014. Policy in this area also guides foster parents to follow Alberta Health Services’ Safe Sleep Practices, which includes no bed-sharing with an infant.”
Previous government documents referred to Dani as “Baby Dawn,” but her family later requested her name be made public.
“There was nothing in any of the information we reviewed to indicate any harm was intended,” Del Graff, Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate, said in his report.
He stressed the review is not intended to place blame or find fault but to identify ways the system could be improved and made safer.
“Foster parents care for the most vulnerable children in our society,” Graff said after the 2014 report was released. “I hope all of them will read this report and refrain from bed-sharing with the infants in their care.
“This baby’s death is tragic, but I am hopeful that positive change will come from foster parents having sound information about safe sleeping practices, and clear policy that provides direction for foster parents not to bed-share with infants.”
The fatality inquiry is scheduled to last four days, with the final day set for March.
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