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Family continues to fight for answers surrounding foster care death

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on Fri, 04/20/2012 - 23:00
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Family continues to fight for answers surrounding foster care death

Apr. 11 marked the one-year anniversary of four-month old Delonna Sullivan’s death while in foster care.

More than a year later, Delonna’s mother and close relatives are continuing their efforts to get their voices heard in hopes of bringing change to the province’s foster care system.

Marilyn Koren, Delonna’s grandmother, along with her daughter Jamie Sullivan, Delonna’s mother, were two of the advocates present at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Apr. 11 in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Delonna’s death.

“Today we still have no answers as to what happened to Delonna,” explained Koren.

To get Delonna’s name released to the public, Sullivan went to court to get the publication ban lifted and continues to fight for more transparency regarding foster care in Alberta.

According to Koren, two social workers from Leduc along with a Leduc RCMP officer arrived at Sullivan’s house with an apprehension order for the children of Sullivan’s roommate on Apr. 5, 2011. Delonna was also taken from the house by the social workers and RCMP, but without an apprehension order, said Koren.

“There was never an apprehension order that was filed or a complaint against my daughter. I went out to my daughter’s place and we pleaded to the RCMP that we could take Delonna, but they flat out refused,” explained Koren.

But an affidavit signed by a social worker two days later on Apr. 7, 2011 claimed the child needed to be removed because “the infant has been subjected to disharmony in the home and the child is left with inexperienced babysitters” and her mother “appears to suffer from an alcohol addiction.”

Koren said the reason the social workers refused to allow her to take custody of Delonna was because of a previous involvement with social services.

“When Jamie was six years old, her father abused her and I called the police on him. Seven or eight months later we reconciled, but a year and a half later there was an isolated incident where he abused her again. They ended up apprehending her and she was stuck in a group home for six days,” explained Koren.

“That was their reasoning as to why they didn’t allow me to take Delonna.”

Koren also said her son and his wife also asked if they could take Delonna, but were also refused. Unlike the reasoning they gave Koren for not allowing her custody of Delonna, Koren said the workers did not give any reason as to why her son and wife couldn’t take her.

On Apr. 8, 2011 Koren and Sullivan visited Delonna at the foster parent’s house and were distressed by what they saw. Koren claims Delonna had severe diaper rash and feces on her due to three straight days of diarrhea.

“I asked [the foster parent] how long she had diarrhea. When we saw her on Friday she had diarrhea for three days. And I asked if she had taken her to a doctor and [the foster parent] said ‘no, if she’s not better by Monday I’ll make an appointment.’ Monday she died. She let that baby lay there and suffer for five days without taking her for any sort of medical attention,” remembered Koren.

On Apr. 11 around 2 p.m. Delonna was taken to the hospital and at 4 p.m. she was pronounced dead. Sullivan wasn’t notified of her daughter’s death until 10 p.m. that evening.

Recently, the Alberta government released the full number of children who died while in provincial care.

The government reported — between Apr. 1, 2011 and Mar. 31 — 10 children died while in care. 13 died the year earlier. Children who died due to illness while in care were included in those numbers.

The cause of the death for the 10 children were:

Five children died due to medical conditions

One youth died due to head trauma (sustained at a house party)

One child died due to homicide

The cause of death for one of the children is undetermined (according to the Medical Examiner’s report)

The cause of death for the remaining two children is pending

Delonna is included in the 10 deaths last year, but it is unknown what her official cause of death is.

“We can’t comment on any of the specifics,” said Roxanne Dube Coelho, spokesperson for Alberta Human Services.

In the past, Alberta Human Services only reported deaths that occurred due to a serious injury or homicide. Under that system, the department reported two confirmed deaths last year, and six deaths the year before. There are about 8,700 children in care in Alberta at any one time.

The new reporting system was created to increase transparency and public accountability.

“It will provide more context for Albertans so they can really see it’s not just a statistic and there is a story behind it as well,” explained Dube Coelho.

At the end of June or early July, Alberta Health Services is going to release their annual report with information on the number of deaths for all children in care, regardless of cause of death


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EDMONTON - For the first time, the Alberta government has released the full number of children who died while in provincial care, and the number is much higher than previously reported.

Ten children died in the year that ended March 31, and 13 children died the year earlier, including those who died from illness.

“That’s unbelievable. I had no idea there were that many,” said Bernadette Iahtail, whose group Creating Hope Society holds a candlelight vigil every time they hear of such a death.

“There’s a lot that don’t even hit the news. That’s just shocking,” she said.

In the past, Alberta Human Services only reported deaths they confirmed happened because of a serious accident or homicide. Under that system, the department would have only confirmed two deaths last year, and six deaths the year before. There are about 8,700 children in care in Alberta at any one time.

The new, fuller reporting system is an effort to increase public accountability and transparency, said department spokeswoman Roxanne Dube Coelho. “Now we’re going to be reporting all the deaths.”

The deaths last year include five children who died for medical reasons, one youth who died from a blow to the head suffered at a house party. One child died from an alleged homicide, but it’s unclear which case the provincial records refer to. The information released contains only a few words about each death.

The medical examiner ruled the cause of one death could not be determined, and the causes of two deaths are still pending.

Jamie Sullivan’s daughter, Delonna, who died in care when she was four-months-old, is included in the 10 deaths last year.

Sullivan went to court to get the publication ban lifted from her daughter’s name, and has been fighting for more transparency. Her daughter died six days after being apprehended without a court order last April.

But Sullivan expected the numbers to be much higher, based on cases she’s heard of in the news or through activist channels. More information needs to come out about how each child died, she said. “It’s unacceptable how many children are dying. I want people to see the numbers so they become as horrified as we are.”

Del Graff, the provincial Child and Youth Advocate, said he will investigate more deaths in the future since his office got increased independence April 1.

More information statistics on deaths and injuries will allow his team to compare Alberta’s performance with other jurisdictions, he said. “Our interest is really to look at the situation so we can learn how to prevent deaths in the future.”

By Elise Stolte,
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Jamie Sullivan is comforted by her mother Marilyn Koren (left) in front of the Alberta legislature on April 11, 2012, during a demonstration recognizing the one year anniversary of Jamie's daughter Delonna Sulivan. She died within six days of being taken into child protective custody.

EDMONTON — A group of parents protesting secrecy and a lack of oversight at Alberta Child and Family Services launched a chapter of the Children’s Army Wednesday.

“We believe in accountability and we believe in truth. We want the deaths of children to end,” said Velvet Martin, whose daughter Samantha died at age 13 after spending most of her life in foster care. A report from a fatality inquiry into the teen’s death is expected any day.

The local chapter of the small national organization wants the provincial government to publicly state how many children die in care each year, and to lift the ban preventing parents from publicly naming children after they’ve died in care.

The provincial government also needs to do better investigations before children are taken from their parents, and respond faster if anyone has concerns about the child’s health or safety while they are in foster homes, said Jamie Sullivan, whose four-month-old daughter Delonna died in care one year ago Wednesday.

Both Martin and Sullivan fought in court for the right to publicly name and share pictures of their children. They believe they are the only two parents of foster children in Alberta with the right to do so.

Sullivan said her daughter was happy and healthy before two social workers and an RCMP officer came with court orders to apprehend her roommate’s children last April.

Sullivan says they had no legal right to apprehend her daughter.

Martin said her daughter seemed sick and had diarrhea when she held her on a supervised visit three days later. She said she asked the social worker to take the child to the hospital, but that wasn’t done until the next Monday, three days later. She said the child died about two hours after reaching the hospital.

“I knew my daughter was sick but they took away all my rights to protect my child,” said Sullivan, adding that she is working with a lawyer to file a lawsuit.

“I’ve never felt so helpless in my life,” said Sullivan’s mother, Marilyn Koren. “We want all parties charged. Our government needs to get up and address these issues. I’d like to see one of these parties put it on their platform.”

Roxanne Dube Coelho, spokeswoman for Alberta Human Services, said department officials would not comment on individual cases.

She said it is legal for social workers to apprehend a child without a court order if they believe the child is in immediate danger. Such a case must go to a judge within 10 days.

Dube Coelho said the provincial government will, for the first time, publish the number of children who died in care in their annual report this summer. Until now, they have only been publishing the number of children who die from injuries, not illness.

The provincial government also established the external Council for Quality Assurance last year, which received investigative powers April 1. Their reports on serious incidents also will be public, said Dube Coelho.

Edmonton Journal