Staff lose jobs after abused foster child dies in care, opposition parties want Dean sacked

Click to play video: 'First Nations Leadership Council calls for resignation of B.C. minister Mitzi Dean'
First Nations Leadership Council calls for resignation of B.C. minister Mitzi Dean
WATCH: The horrific case of foster parents torturing and starving two children in their care, one who died, has outraged the First National Leadership Council saying more should have been done. Spokesperson Chery Casimer says there needs to be accountability at the highest level. This was on the day B.C.'s Child and Youth Advocate Jennifer Charlesworth announced an investigation into what happened in a Lake Errock residence that a Chilliwack judge called a "house of horrors." Kristen Robinson reports. – Jun 26, 2023

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

The BC Greens are throwing their weight behind calls from First Nations leaders for the minister responsible for child welfare to resign in the aftermath of a horrific case of child abuse that resulted in the death of a First Nations boy.

Earlier this month, two Fraser Valley foster parents — a married couple — were sentenced to 10 years behind bars for manslaughter and six for aggravated assault for their appalling torture of the two children, a brother and sister. The 11-year-old boy died after a beating in February 2021, weighing less than 65 pounds.

In a Thursday statement, the Greens accused the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) of “shocking and horrific systemic failures,” and called for Mitzi Dean to step down or be sacked.

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“Minister Dean has proven entirely incapable of delivering the reforms that the BC NDP called for when they were in opposition,” said Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, who is also a citizen of the Tsartlip First Nation.

“The latest reports of children in the British Columbia child welfare system suffering neglect and abuse leading to death, reports for the Representative for Children and Youth showing hundreds of children in the system go missing and are unaccounted for each month, the embarrassing reversal on much-defended changes to the care model for neuro-diverse children, are just a few examples of Minister Dean’s inability to lead this important work.”

Dean declined an interview Thursday. She has led MCFD since November 2020.

The ministry said discussions are ongoing between the First Nations Leadership Council and the government about the incident.

Click to play video: '‘Our government is committed to reconciliation’: Minister Mitzi Dean on MCFD changes'
‘Our government is committed to reconciliation’: Minister Mitzi Dean on MCFD changes

Neither the foster parents nor the children in the recent case can be identified under a publication ban. The crimes against the youth — including punching, kicking, whipping, slapping, confinement, and forced starvation — were committed in Lake Errock, near Chilliwack, between 2020 and 2021.

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Evidence presented in court, including 16,000 video clips, showed that the ministry hadn’t checked on the children in seven months.

In a statement to The Canadian Press, MCFD said its staff who failed to perform those check-ins have are “no longer employed by the ministry.” It did not provide any names or reveal whether they left of their own volition or were let go. MCFD further said the staff did not follow its policy that children in case should be seen regularly by a social worker.

In a previous email to Global News, the ministry had said all placement decisions for children in foster care have been reviewed at the Hope office implicated in the Lake Errock case to ensure care providers have been appropriately assessed.

Involved staff would also receive training on guardianship responsibilities, including  updating care plans, completing cultural plans for Indigenous children, and ensuring adequate medical care and supports services are in place, it added.

A review of the involved team’s cases would be completed “focusing on family service, child service and resource standards,” it wrote.

Click to play video: 'B.C. minister responds to case of horrific foster parent abuse'
B.C. minister responds to case of horrific foster parent abuse

Earlier this week, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, called it “one of the most egregious situations” she has seen in more than 40 years of working with children and families. Her office announced formal investigation into the case on Monday.

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“I will do everything in my power as Representative to ensure that we learn what happened and – most significantly – what needs to be done to ensure that the system is transformed so that this does not happen to any child, anywhere in this province, again,” Charlesworth said.

“My Office is also advocating for the other children who have been impacted by this violence and monitoring the care that they are receiving. They will need highly specialized care and counselling over time.”

MCFD has said it will fully cooperate with the investigation and implement any recommendations that stem from it.

Click to play video: 'Sentencing hearing in case of horrendous child abuse'
Sentencing hearing in case of horrendous child abuse

Meanwhile, the BC Greens are also pressuring Premier David Eby to transform the ministry and replace Dean, calling it “unbelievable” that he could maintain his confidence in her as minister.

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“In 2015, former BC NDP Premier John Horgan asked the same question I am asking today, ‘I don’t know how many swings at the plate you get? We need to stop defending the ministry and start defending children. When will Premier Eby start defending children?” asked Olsen.

Global News has reached out to Eby for comment. On Monday, he said the Lake Errock case was a “horrific situation involving vulnerable kids” and definitively stated, “the system failed” them.

“Our social workers were supposed to be checking on them, our social workers were supposed to be ensuring their safety and something went horrifically wrong here,” he said.

“(Dean) and her team are doing a full review and investigation from their side, we have asked and we are very hopeful that the representative for children and youth will do an investigation into this.”

He did not address calls for her resignation at the time.

BC United also called for Dean’s resignation Thursday.

Karin Kirkpatrick, shadow minister for housing and childcare, tweeted that the “magnitude of failure in this case is utterly disgraceful,” and Dean’s “appalling lack of leadership has shattered public trust,” in addition to jeopardizing the lives of children.

“It’s high time is removed from this file,” Kirkpatrick wrote.

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Members of the First Nations Leadership Council, including Cheryl Casimir and B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee have called for an overhaul of the system that has repeatedly showed “negligence and a lack of systemic oversight.”

The B.C. and federal governments must continue to empower First Nations to retake jurisdiction over child welfare for their youth, added Casimir, calling the abuse of Indigenous children in provincial care “a trend.”

“It is Minister Mitzi Dean who is to be accountable and responsible,” she told Global News. “There are too many injuries and too many deaths of our kids when they’re in the care under the ministry, so we need to change that by making sure the provincial and federal governments are fully supporting First Nations to be able to implement their own laws.”

Dean has called the Lake Errock case a “real tragedy” and extended her “deepest sympathies,” as well as apologized, but has still not provided substantive details into how the failures took place and why.

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— with files from Global News’ Kristen Robinson and The Canadian Press

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