A young girl with Down syndrome, left alone with her dead mother for at least a week, was not only neglected by the system, she was invisible to it, an investigation has found.
A report released Monday morning by B.C.’s child watchdog, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, uncovered a significantly flawed system of services for children with special needs.
The report was the result of an investigation into the case of a 15-year-old Chilliwack girl with Down syndrome and other special needs who was found at home alone on Sept. 14, 2010 with the decomposing body of her dead mother who had been deceased for several days.
“Many people in our province were saddened and outraged when they heard of these events, but equally sad and outrageous is what we found when we scrutinized the circumstances in which she lived most of her life, especially the three years before the injury,” said Turpel-Lafond.
The report found the girl was eligible for a range of supports, but received few. Her physical and medical needs were not adequately assessed. Her hearing was compromised with outdated and not-working hearing aids, to the point where one care worker believed her to be deaf and did not investigate further. There was no comprehensive or collaborative plan in place for this child’s development or for her future.
“She was all but invisible to service providers who should have been focused on her well-being,” said Turpel-Lafond.
“Her significant needs were neglected by many people for weeks and months before her mother’s death. The system of services and supports that was supposed to help her thrive was passive. And the result was long-term neglect.”
The girl’s mother also had complex medical needs, struggled with addictions, and lived in poverty. A car accident in April, 2010 left them isolated in their trailer park home at Cultus Lake. She was cutoff from welfare, without a follow-up from MCFD, in July, 2010 after she failed to submit necessary paperwork.
“It is shocking to me that income-assistance benefits can be cancelled without a home visit and without an income-assistance worker discussing with the Ministry for Children and Family Development how the child will be provided for,” said Turpel-Lafond.
“When it is clear that a single parent with a child with special needs is struggling financially, all efforts must be made to make sure the child’s well-being is a priority.”
This child isn’t the only one getting lost in the system.
Turpel-Lafond said this case must act as a catalyst to improve the quality, accessibility and effectiveness of services to children with special needs in B.C..
“There are not enough supports available for parents and caregivers who cannot, like this deceased mother, navigate the complex system serving children and youth with special needs,” said Turpel-Lafond.
“If there had been an assessment and a plan in place to ensure high visibility of the needs of this child and her well-being, the harm caused by leaving her with her deceased mother would likely have been prevented,” said Turpel-Lafond.
Recommendations in the report include a call for a detailed strategy to ensure that children and youth with special needs are receiving services they require, and a review of the plans for all children and youth transferred from Community Living British Columbia to MCFD services. The report also recommends a policy be put in place so that income assistance to families with dependent children or youth with special needs can’t be terminated without reviewing first with MCFD and that personal contact must be made with the family, including a home visit to ensure other effective supports are in place.
“No child should ever have to endure the isolation and invisibility that this young girl did,” said Turpel-Lafond.