The inquest into the death of a seven-month-old girl in Watson Lake in 2021 concluded over the weekend at the Yukon Inn in Whitehorse. The jury issued 13 recommendations and established the main facts of the infant’s death. (Yukon News File)

The inquest into the death of a seven-month-old girl in Watson Lake in 2021 concluded over the weekend at the Yukon Inn in Whitehorse. The jury issued 13 recommendations and established the main facts of the infant’s death. (Yukon News File)

13 recommendations issued at conclusion of inquest into infant’s 2021 death

The jury suggested the formation of an infant mortality review group and better safe sleep training

The following story contains details which some readers may find distressing. Rapid access counselling is available in the Yukon at 867-456-3838.

Jurors in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Kaiya Sandra Faith Stone-Kirk delivered their findings at around 4 p.m. on June 17 in Whitehorse after five days of testimony. In addition to deeming the seven-month-old infant’s death accidental, the six-member jury issued 13 recommendations.

At the top of the list is establishing a Yukon infant mortality review committee (IMRC). The proposed committee would include membership of First Nations, community health providers, Family and Children’s Services (FCS), and experts in perinatal health, among other stakeholders.

“While the details of scope, goals and objectives would be determined by the IMRC, a specific focus of the committee would be to monitor and review all infant deaths within the territory with a focus on deaths that have a preventable component,” reads the jurors’ inquest report.

The report goes on to note that the IMRC’s findings and recommendations should be made public to reduce the likelihood of future deaths.

The inquest’s jury was not tasked with assigning blame in the case. Instead, they were asked to establish the circumstances of the infant’s death and suggest how to prevent similar tragedies going forward.

Stone-Kirk was declared dead at Watson Lake Community Hospital on Aug. 1, 2021, with the jury finding her cause of death to be positional asphyxia – the inability to breathe due to body position.

At the time of her passing, Stone-Kirk and her 17-month-old brother were in the care of a babysitter while their grandmother, Margaret Sue Stone, was ill with COVID-19. Both of Stone’s grandchildren were also positive for the disease.

Stone was tasked with caring for her grandkids under an extended family care agreement. This arrangement was in place due to substance use challenges faced by the children’s parents.

The babysitter, Cheryl Wolftail, who was in isolation with her family due to them being COVID-19-positive, was first approached to care for the Stone-Kirk children by an FCS social worker.

The inquest heard that Wolftail, who had previously babysat for Stone, was initially hesitant to take the infant Stone-Kirk and her toddler brother. She eventually agreed to care for the young children for a few hours on July 30, although the arrangement was ultimately extended to two nights.

On the second night, Wolftail placed Stone-Kirk to sleep in an adult-sized bed instead of in the bassinet provided to her by FCS. The following morning, Wolftail discovered Stone-Kirk’s lifeless body stuck between the bed and the wall, with the infant’s face smothered in the mattress.

The jury’s second recommendation calls for the Yukon government to review the Child and Family Services Act in consultation with First Nations and community partners to clarify the roles and responsibilities of extended family care agreements.

Another recommendation calls for ensuring that families involved in extended family care agreements have a safety plan for urgent short-term situations. Another yet calls for creating community lists of potential short-term caregivers for infants and small children.

“With a priority for Liard First Nation in Watson Lake, in collaboration with First Nations, develop a roster of people in each community that can be relied upon to provide short-term or overnight care for infants and children when a caregiver is in urgent need of such services,” reads the report.

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During the inquest, concerns were raised about Wolftail’s suitability as a babysitter. The coroner’s council questioned the social worker assigned to the Stone-Kirk kids’ file about Wolftail’s FCS file, which includes serious allegations of neglect regarding her own children when they were infants.

Wolftail’s cognitive capabilities were also questioned by lawyers at the inquest, who highlighted that she might have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. The Stone-Kirk children’s grandmother and parents were unaware of Wolftail’s challenges with her children or concerns about her care abilities.

In selecting Wolftail to care for the children, social workers noted the desire to keep Stone-Kirk and her brother within the community in the short-term care of people who knew them instead of moving them into formal care in Whitehorse. The fact Watson Lake and its surrounding area were in the midst of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak also impacted decision-making.

The jury’s third recommendation is that the Yukon government enact legislation to regulate the social work profession and its practitioners in the territory. This would align with the approach taken by all Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories, where social workers are registered and held to specific standards by regulatory bodies.

Jurors also heard that FCS was aware that Stone-Kirk had previously been injured during sleep.

Just days prior to her death, Stone-Kirk suffered a head injury after rolling off a couch at her grandmother’s house that she had been placed on to nap.

Paramedics responded to the incident and noted a small bump on Stone-Kirk’s forehead. The infant’s mother ultimately refused to have her daughter visit the hospital for further examination.

“We offered transport to the child […] because we don’t have any way of treating an internal brain injury, so only a doctor can make the final assessment on that,” John Moses, one of the paramedics who responded to the call, told the inquest.

“The family refused treatment, and we had them fill out a ‘refusal of treatment form,’ and we left the scene.”

In their conclusions, jurors made several recommendations to FCS regarding safe sleep practices, including establishing a safe sleep policy and mandatory in-person safe-sleep training for FCS staffers conducted every two years.

FCS is encouraged to acquire a “sufficient stock” of Health Canada-approved safe sleep equipment. There should be a process in which staff review the equipment manuals to ensure they understand proper usage considering a baby’s age, size and weight. FCS staff should also provide caregivers with a copy of the manual when equipment is loaned out.

Other suggestions include having the Yukon government call a public inquiry into how and when family and caregivers were notified about Stone-Kirk’s death, and that FCS use community safety officers instead of the RCMP when appropriate.

In the Yukon, coroner’s inquests are court-like proceedings ordered by the territory’s chief coroner to determine the circumstances of a death. The inquest into Stone-Kirk’s death was held from June 12 to 17 at the Yukon Inn in Whitehorse.

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Contact Matthew Bossons at

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