VICTORIA – Children in British Columbia with complex care needs that can manifest themselves in violent rages deserve more from the child welfare system than being locked in windowless rooms or tranquilized by doctors, says a report detailing the failed care of an 11-year-old boy who was zapped by an RCMP Taser.
Serious errors made by the Ministry for Children and Family Development left the boy open to abuse and neglect in his family home and in the numerous other homes he was placed in by the ministry, said the report released Thursday by B.C.’s children’s representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
One foster family regularly kept the boy locked in a shed located on a rural property. Another put him in cold showers to punish him for wetting his bed and his parents raised him for the first two years of life in an atmosphere of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, starvation and neglect, the report stated.
The report, “Who Protected Him? How B.C.’s Child Welfare System Failed One Of Its Most Vulnerable Children,” finds 22 critical injury reports involving the boy, including nine injury reports following the April 2011 police Taser incident in Prince George which made national headlines.
“The sad reality of this report is that the Tasering by the police of this boy at 11 years old is probably one of the least traumatic things that happened to him when I look at the 22 critical incidents reported to my office, including nine since the Tasering,” Turpel-Lafond said at a news conference.
The report states the Taser incident occurred in April 2011, six days after the boy was moved to a new group home, his 15th move since 2001.
The incident escalated after the boy barricaded his bedroom door and escaped through a window. About an hour later, he was located in a nearby trailer stabbing at the walls and upholstery with two steak knives he found in the trailer, stated the report.
The boy stabbed the group home manager below the ribs after climbing out of the trailer’s window and fled to another home. Three RCMP officers arrived shortly afterwards and after a standoff during which the boy continued to hold one of the knives, he was jolted as he stepped out of the home.
Turpel-Lafond said the boy has been known to the children’s ministry since his birth, but the level of care he received “can only be described as appalling. Certainly not the way a compassionate society should treat any child. I can only characterize this as care by trial and error.”
She said the boy’s basic rights to safety, education, health care, socialization and cultural identity were not provided by the ministry.
The report makes four recommendations, including: create a residential service program for children with complex needs that can’t be met in traditional foster home or group home settings; implement senior management oversight for cases of children with complex needs; develop a ministry unit to provide training and clinical support to those dealing with complex-needs children and youth; immediately stop using isolation rooms to manage behaviour in care homes.
Children’s Minister Stephanie Cadieux, who called the report disappointing and heartbreaking, said she will implement Turpel-Lafond’s recommendations.
She said her ministry’s own analysis of the treatment of complex needs cases revealed gaps in government care.
“We are also immediately moving towards opening a new facility, a new six-bed facility, at the Maples Centre to meet the specific needs of children who have complex needs,” said Cadieux. “Again, I want to say that I am heartbroken that the system failed this child.”
Turpel-Lafond said at one point the boy’s caregivers considered sending him to Alberta, where the province has five homes that can house complex cases.
“A few short years ago, I thought we were the best place on Earth, and now we’re going to send children to Alberta,” she said. “There’s something deep about this case beyond just failing to meet standards. There’s something about the fundamental human rights of children to have a system of support that will meet their needs, not further harm them.”
The report details the boy’s violent rages, which resulted in some psychiatrists recommending placing him in a quiet room where he could calm down and not injure his caregivers. It also includes instances where, after violent episodes, he was taken by paramedics to the local hospital where doctors tranquilized him.
In June, 2007, when he was nine years old after being moved to his sixth foster home, he ended up being restrained at a local children’s ministry office after biting, spitting and clawing at his foster mother.
In November 2007, he was taken from his elementary school after injuring two support workers. In January 2008, he was described as being in a state of rage for almost two hours before police took him to hospital, where he was sedated.
Two weeks later, he broke down two doors and smashed through a wall before police and paramedics took him back to hospital.
Eleven days later, he hit and injured his care staff and when he was locked in his so-called safe room, he tore up the base boards and continued to threaten workers.
In March 2009, when he was nine years old, a young girl told a life guard the boy was being sexually intrusive towards her.
In January 2010, he punched through the walls of a safe room and it took three police officers to restrain him and take him to hospital. Two days later, he ripped a door off its hinges and broke it in two and punched holes in the walls.
“Staff were now becoming increasingly concerned about their ability to control him,” the report stated. “They reported to his social workers that when he was raging, he was so strong they could no longer physically restrain him when it was necessary to keep him safe.”
Shortly afterwards he was sent to B.C. Children’s Hospital In Vancouver for assessment and stabilization, but due to his behaviour he was flown by air ambulance, under sedation.
The boy is now 13 years old and is in government care.
Turpel-Lafond would give any more details beyond saying she is not satisfied with his care. Cadieux said the boy is safe, but she would not say whether he would be moved to the new facility.