B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth is launching an investigation into the abuse of two foster children in the eastern Fraser Valley community of Lake Errock.
In a statement Monday (June 26), Jennifer Charlesworth called the circumstances that led to the death of one of those children “unbelievably tragic,” and pledged to do everything in her power to make sure it never happens again.
Between December 2020 and February 2021 two foster parents inflicted severe physical and psychological abuse on the children, which included the use of weapons and restraints. A traumatic brain injury claimed one child’s life on Mar. 1, 2021.
“This is an unbelievably tragic story, and one that has frankly brought me to my knees as I try to imagine what this child – and their siblings – experienced,” Charlesworth said. “In 46 years of practice in helping children and youth, this is one of the most egregious situations I have ever seen.”
Last week, Minister for Children and Families Mitzi Dean said the children were “failed at every level” and said the MCFD office supervising their care did not follow all policies.
“In response, the ministry conducted a thorough review of MCFD’s involvement with these children. As a result of this review, the ministry has made changes at the office that was involved to ensure that existing ministry practices are followed,” Dean said.
The Representative for Children and Youth Act enables Charlesworth to investigate and report on critical injuries and deaths experienced by children and youth receiving reviewable services, but the law required her to wait until criminal proceedings were over before beginning a formal investigation.
The two foster parents were sentenced June 16 at the Chilliwack Law Courts, receiving 10 years for manslaughter and six years for aggravated assault, served concurrently.
Their names, and the names of the foster children, cannot be revealed due to a court-ordered publication ban.
“We have been monitoring this situation since the day after the child was taken to hospital and have initiated two stages of review to date,” Charlesworth said. “Now that the criminal proceedings are substantially completed, we can publicly commit to an investigation.”
RCY investigations are conducted with the intent of learning from the circumstances that led to the critical injuries and/or deaths of children and youth. The resulting public reports make recommendations to government to help prevent similar situations from occurring going forward. The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) has spoken in support of an RCY investigation into this case and Charlesworth said she intends to consult the FNLC and others about how to proceed, particularly considering the well-being and privacy of the surviving children who’ve been affected.
“My deepest condolences go out to the family of these children, who are experiencing unimaginable grief, and to their community,” Charlesworth said. “My office is also advocating for the other children who have been impacted by this violence and monitoring the care that they are receiving. They will need highly specialized care and counselling over time.”
Dean responded by saying Charlesworth will have whatever support she needs from MCFD.
“I am heartbroken at what these children endured and I extend our deepest apologies and condolences to the family, friends and communities that have been impacted by this tragedy, including Indigenous peoples across the province who have experienced and continue to experience the trauma of a broken child-welfare system,” the minister said. “The ministry will support and participate in all efforts to bring the facts to light and will assist the representative in any way that she deems necessary. We will address all recommendations to improve the safety of children and youth in care.
“These children deserved safety, support and love and they were failed at every level. In partnership with First Nations leadership and Indigenous partners, we are determined to continue making the systemic changes that are needed to support Nations in exercising their inherent jurisdiction to provide their own services for their children and youth. Every young person in care must be able to trust the adults and caregivers in their lives to act with their best interests in mind, and to provide them with safety, care and support. Our focus is on protecting children and youth and ensuring their well-being.”