System failed girl left alone with mother's corpse: report
The needs of a teenage girl with Down syndrome were neglected long before she spent nine days alone with her mother's corpse, according to a report calling for drastic improvements to B.C.'s special needs services.
The report, released Monday by B.C.'s representative for children and youth, found that the 15-year-old's mother had "complex medical needs of her own" and could barely walk by the time she died in her Chilliwack, B.C. home in September 2010.
It also confirms claims made by the girl's half-brother, who told CTV News in November that their mother was addicted to prescription medication and struggled with alcoholism.
Yet the woman's special needs daughter was "all but invisible to service providers," Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said in a release.
The young woman spent more than a week at her deceased mother's side before being found emaciated and filthy in the family's mobile home.
"If there had been a plan in place to ensure high visibility, the harm caused to this girl by being left with her deceased mother would likely have been prevented, and her life before her mother's death would have been much richer and more dignified," Turpel-Lafond said.
Staff at the ministry of children and families investigated the mother earlier in 2010 following up on a complaint filed by her sons, but ultimately cleared her of wrongdoing.
Turpel-Lafond also accuses the government of failing to provide a comprehensive plan for the teenager's development. Instead, her family got by on "piecemeal provision of inadequately monitored care and support, confusion about roles and responsibilities, and no meaningful assessment."
The report reveals that the mother's income assistance file had been closed, but had not been followed-up on. A single parent who is struggling financially while raising a child with special needs should be made a priority, Turpel-Lafond said.
She has recommended a policy that income assistance cannot be terminated for families with children with special needs without first contacting the Ministry of Child and Family Development and making personal contact with the family.
The report makes a further four recommendations designed to ensure special needs youth receive the services they require, and that they transfer smoothly when the children move from the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development to Community Living BC to as they reach adulthood.
The girl's older brother Mike Prentice says that he and his brother Kevin have been allowed only limited contact with her since she was placed in foster care.
The brothers have little confidence that real change will come from the report's recommendations.
"After what's happened so far, you don't have too much faith in the system. I'm very skeptical. I'm just glad that some things are being done and people are being heard and maybe some kids can be helped out there," Prentice said.
Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil is promising that the all of the report's recommendations will be followed, including developing a strategy for providing services for children with special needs.
"It's an extremely troubling case and clearly the child deserves better," she said.
However, she said that no one has been fired or disciplined in connection with the case.
"We are working with the various workers to make sure that it's very clear what their job description is," McNeil said.