Ontario’s child welfare system has failed 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Wed May 02 2012.
Five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin suffered such abuse and deprivation he weighed just 21 pounds when he died. Randal Dooley was beaten to death, literally. The seven-year-old boy had 13 broken ribs, a brain injury, a lacerated liver and a tooth in his stomach. Three-year-old Kasandra Shepherd died after a severe blow to her head.
After all the child welfare lessons that should have been learned from those horrific abuse cases, we would have thought that another inquest into the death of a child at the hands of troubled caregivers under the watch of a children’s aid society would never be needed.
Yet the murder of seven-year-old Katelynn Sampson and the apparent blindness on the part of so many adults in her life to the abuse she was suffering shows that is not the case. At the end, there were no fewer than 70 wounds on her little body.
“Alarm bells were ringing and no one was responding,” Superior Court Justice John McMahon said Wednesday when he sentenced Katelynn’s legal guardians to life imprisonment.
A coroner’s inquest is certainly needed and it must have the broadest scope possible to identify every person and procedure that failed this little girl. With all that we know about the vulnerability of children, how on earth can two children’s aid agencies let a little girl fall through the cracks of their paper-shuffling bureaucracy? How can school officials not do more to follow up when a little girl covered in bruises and burns stops coming to school altogether? Did the neighbours not see or hear anything?
But an inquest is not enough. There is no point in simply recommending more rules if they are either unworkable or will be ignored. Years of court cases, inquests, pediatric death review committee reports and internal children’s aid reviews have led to an increasing number of laws, rules and procedures to follow. Yet, somehow, children like Katelynn are still dying.
That’s why Children’s Minister Eric Hoskins cannot sit back and think that his ministry has done all it can. Yes, the government did fix the terrible law that allowed Katelynn’s mother to hand her off to a crack-addicted friend with a record of violent offences. That, as we now know, was just the first thing that went wrong.
Kenn Richard, executive director of Native Child and Family Services, says that after “extensive investigation and internal reflection” he is satisfied that his staff did “everything that’s required under our charter as a Children’s Aid Society.”
If that’s the case the system is even more broken that people imagine. Following the rules but still allowing the child to die is a system in desperate need of an overhaul. The minister must read every word of the internal reviews conducted by Toronto children’s aid and Native Child and Family Services.
This government saw fit to appoint a commission to make child welfare more cost effective. How about a commission with a mandate to make it better? The system that failed Katelynn, Jeffrey, Randal and Kasandra can fail the next little boy or girl, too.
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