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Foster Care System Failing Youth with Special Needs

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Westminster, B.C, March 3, 2011 – The BC Association for Community Living is shocked to hear of a youth with special needs who was abused while in foster care by a relief support worker who was given virtually no screening or background check. Despite clear and documented reports raising concerns, no action was taken to protect the child.

This appears to be yet another example of how children and youth with special needs in foster care are not being protected by the Ministry. BCACL is calling for an immediate and full inquiry to examine how this could have happened and also for the creation of a Task Force that includes representatives from BCACL and other experts in the field of disability to review cases of children and youth with special needs in foster care. The Task Force would establish practice standards, training requirements and systemic protocols to ensure that children and youth with special needs are safe and receiving good care. The fact that any child in need of protection suffers at the hands of the Ministry whose mandate is to protect them is unconscionable and unacceptable.

In November of last year BCACL responded to the disturbing story of a 14 year old girl with Down syndrome left alone for up to nine days with her dead mother. We expressed our concern to the Ministry that child protection issues having to do with children and youth with special needs are not taken seriously or followed through on. Little more than four months later we are faced with another extremely disturbing case of a youth with special needs suffering as a result of the inability of the child welfare system to respond.

“Where there should be an increased level of safeguards and supports for children with special needs, we’re seeing the opposite,” says Faith Bodnar, BCACL Executive Director. “These children are falling through the cracks and the Ministry must be held accountable.”

Fred Ford, a well known advocate for people with disabilities and children who have experienced abuse, joins BCACL in the call for a focused review: “Young people with intellectual disabilities experience the highest rates of sexual abuse in our society. This care-giving situation called for the highest level of safeguards, yet it appears that even the most basic steps were absent. We need to understand how our system failed and we must correct it.”

The Ministry of Children and Family Development website acknowledges the need for a unique system of supports for children and youth with special needs in foster care, stating that foster parents must be “willing to be involved intensively with a child or youth with special needs.” Despite this rhetoric, the Ministry paid a foster parent who did not live in the home with the youth. In fact, Ministry officials stated in a report that the “unconventional” sub-contracting agreement (in which the foster parent did not live at the residence) “appears to be working.”

A Task Force within the Ministry of Children and Family Development would develop long-term directives to ensure that Ministry workers have the expertise and specialized knowledge needed to support children with special needs in the foster care system, preventing this from happening again.

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Read the Province article here: