A special report released Tuesday by the Advocate for Children and Youth describes a Social Services Ministry that is understaffed and struggling to meet the basic needs of vulnerable children.
Throughout the report, Lost in the System: Jake’s Story, the advocate describes medical care referrals and developmental assessment requirements that were regularly not followed through on; Assessment and Care Plans that failed to be approved within timeline policies; and understaffed, overcrowded foster homes and emergency care centres that didn’t have time for proper follow-up on red flags.
The cause of Jake’s sudden death in December 2009 can’t be determined, but NDP Social Services critic David Forbes said proper medical and developmental assessment throughout Jake’s short life should have been done along with proper follow-up.
“We’ll never know if anything could have been done to prevent Jake’s death – but we know that he wasn’t given every opportunity and advantage he should have, because we see how the medical and developmental check-ups just weren’t done. We see how often he was moved from one foster home or emergency home to another. We see how infrequently he was looked in on at night,” said Forbes.
“This report is heartbreaking, and it describes a Ministry that is so short-staffed and under-resourced it doesn’t seem to be able to follow its own policies.”
Jake had an inadequately investigated broken leg shortly before his death, and documents noted issues including muscle weakness and a lack of motor skills, a lack of language benchmarks for his age and frequent tantrums. Jake was repeatedly given a referral for a developmental assessment and a referral for a hearing exam – but both needs slipped through the cracks, leaving pediatricians and other professionals to work with an incomplete picture of Jake’s health.
Forbes said while Jake deserves the investigation into the tragedy of his personal circumstance, investigating Jake’s story isn’t just about one child. Between 2010 and 2013, 81 children died while in the province’s care or having recently left the province’s care. That number excludes children who died of natural causes.
“This government is just not getting its act together when it comes to vulnerable children in care,” said Forbes. “There are more children than ever in the care of the province, and this government has made cuts to the number of staff in the Ministry of Social Services, despite warnings from the children’s advocate that the caseloads are too high and are putting children at risk.
“This is not a matter of government spending and investment choices or efficiency – it’s a matter of life or death for these children.”
Forbes said the NDP supports the recommendations made by the children’s advocate in Tuesday’s report.
* As per provincial legislation, the Children and Youth Advocate has not identified “Jake” by his real name.