How do you sleep?
The question is directed at any politician or public official remotely associated with the welfare of the Yukon’s children.
Because the system is a shambles that borders on the criminal.
And, from where we’re sitting, plenty of you are more interested in protecting the bureaucracy, maintaining race relations and playing politics than you are in safeguarding the territory’s children.
Perhaps a little history is in order.
Gird yourselves, it’s plenty ugly.
In 1999, 17-year-old Justina Ellis shook, punched and slapped her two-month-old baby daughter within inches of her life.
Today, the seven-year-old child’s mind is scrambled, her vision is impaired and her body will be permanently wracked by convulsions.
Ellis has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, was abused and was addicted to booze and drugs.
Our society let her keep her baby. Then it left them alone together.
After the vicious beating — which everyone calls tragic — Ellis appeared before territorial court judge Heino Lilles at a circle sentencing hearing.
He let her go. He blamed society.
He was right.
An arm-long list of people dealt with Ellis.
Their failure to act contributed to the tragedy, he said, noting how inadequate our social programs and institutions are at dealing with cases such as Ellis’.
He also singled out the secrecy surrounding such cases.
“One of the principle failings in this case relates to the lack of sharing information,” wrote Lilles in his 25-page decision.
“This case is a condemnation of a system which erects numerous barriers of confidentiality, isolating relevant information from professionals who are forced to make critical decisions with incomplete data.”
In Ellis’ case, society failed to act.
Government spends money reacting to tragedy, and not enough preventing it, wrote Lilles.
“With the large number of professionals involved, someone should have intervened sooner,” he wrote.
“But no one knew all the things that had happened were happening to her.
“Had most of what has been recounted in this judgment been known to even one professional, I am confident early intervention would have been triggered and (the baby) would have been saved from early injury,” wrote Lilles.
And, following Lilles’ thoughtful decision, did society act?
A small step might have been to require people — police, nurses, doctors, family members, citizens — who suspect abuse to report it to social services.
Currently, the only people in the Yukon who are required, by law, to report abuse are teachers. It’s written into the Education Act.
But it’s not in the Children’s Act — government won’t put it into the legislation — so everyone else can turn a blind eye.
Fast-forward to August 2002, and the death of another little girl, Emily Sam.
The two-year-old was smothered by her drunken mother, Rachel McLeod.
A year earlier, family and children’s services seized the child because McLeod was incapable of looking after her.
Nevertheless, Emily was returned to the family, in July 2002.
A month later, the child was dead.
A review of that case suggested there were problems in risk assessment and in communication between officials.
It also suggested better file keeping.
The department said it acted.
Then, in 2004, Ellis killed her second child, Samara Sky Olson.
The seven-week-old baby was killed and discarded in a Dawson City garbage can by Ellis, who was then 22.
Once again, family and children’s services failed to protect a child from her drug-addled mother.
Ellis is currently doing time in BC for manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Social Services is busy doing damage control.
It commissioned an independent review of the Ellis case.
Social Service officials received the 119-page report on February 28.
It released a heavily censored 17-page version of it just last week.
Guess what it said?
Family and children’s services failed to live up to standards laid out in the Children’s Act, said the report, by Manitoba-based Jan Christianson-Wood.
Her critique mirrors all the previous reviews and legal decisions.
Specifically, the quality of assessments, including risk assessments, was inadequate.
After Samara Sky’s birth, the family should have been evaluated by social services.
And information held by officials wasn’t shared properly.
The case-management, documentation and file management was lacking.
And, most troubling, “There is a lack of specific policies and procedures directed toward the management of high-risk or high-profile cases,” wrote Christianson-Wood.
Today, the Dawson City social worker handling the case has been fired. He’s fighting the dismissal.
He probably has a case.
We suspect he was just following well-established procedures and policies laid out by management — a bureaucracy obsessed with secrecy and protecting itself.
It is clearly more interested in the politics of seizing children than in ensuring their safety.
That’s because, unlike aboriginal leaders, children don’t raise a ruckus. They don’t scream racism.
Babies suffer abuse in silence. They don’t rock the boat — unless, of course, they die.
Then, those in charge can fire the frontline worker.
And they can review the review.
Delay, distract, refuse to answer questions until the issue goes away and, eventually, carry on business as usual.
And so we raise the question again.
How do you sleep? (RM)