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Ministry Ignored Complex Needs of Young Girl with Down Syndrome

Monday, June 27, 2011

Quick Links

Report: Isolated and Invisible: When Children with Special Needs are Seen but Not Seen.

Children and Youth with Special Needs Cross-Ministry Framework for Action

Postmedia News Report: "Case of special needs B.C. girl left with mother's corpse highlights deeply flawed system: report" - June 27, 2011

New Westminster, B.C, June 27, 2011 – In November, 2010 we heard the disturbing story of a 15 year-old girl with down syndrome who was left alone for up to nine days with her dead mother. The Office of the Representative for Children and Youth has since investigated the events and the girl’s life circumstances leading up to the incident and released its report today.

The results are alarming and show how the child protection system failed to meet even the most basic needs of the young girl who was clearly in need of support and made more vulnerable by virtue of having a developmental disability. The report, titled “Isolated and Invisible: When Children with Special Needs are Seen but Not Seen,” states, “Our systems of services and supports did not address her complex needs. Those needs were not even thoroughly assessed. They system was passive, and the result was long-term neglect” (p. 47).

The report finds that Ministry of Children and Family Development did not recognize or acknowledge the young girl’s vulnerability even in the face of other factors including extreme poverty, mental and physical health issues, addictions, complex family dynamics and social isolation. “If there had been an assessment and a plan in place to ensure high visibility, the harm caused to this girl by being left with her deceased mother would likely have been prevented” (p. 29).

"Systems that were designed to support this young woman and her mother failed miserably," says Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of the BC Association for Community Living. "We still have many questions about how this could have happened, including the role that the young girl's disability may have played in the Ministry's lack of action."

The fact that Ministry officials who had the mandate, training and accountability to observe and address this situation before it became a tragedy failed to act, is an opportunity to examine not only the lack of response but also our attitude towards developmental disability.

The report reflects the disturbing trend of families having to provide the bulk of support for their child with special needs or adult with a developmental disability. This report shows what can happen when family-centred systems of support are not in place and the burden of care is placed entirely on the family members.

The report provides an immense opportunity for learning at all levels. We expect the Ministry to heed the recommendations in this report and seriously re-evaluate their approach towards supporting children and youth with special needs and their families.

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