Abused children were starved, denied toilet and toothbrushes: N.L. report
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 25, 2019 1:57PM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- A new report has detailed horrific abuse suffered by several siblings who were confined by their parents, often denied food and forbidden from brushing their teeth or using the bathroom at night.
The report, from Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate, also found that child protection authorities intervened too slowly -- and workers abused the siblings anew when they did.
"The system established to protect these children failed them," said the advocate, Jackie Lake Kavanagh.
"These children did not deserve what happened to them and it was not their fault. They were seen, but not heard. I truly hope these children find a path to healing and that they are heard."
Her report, released Thursday, doesn't disclose the children's age, hometown, or even how many siblings there are.
Lake Kavanagh said the siblings suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect by their parents even while they were receiving protection services from the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development (CSSD).
"The Regional Health Authority determined that several of the children were behind in their developmental milestones, such as crawling and walking. The parents confined the children to highchairs, playpens, couches, and to their bedrooms. Simple hygiene practices were forbidden (i.e. toothbrushing). On one occasion, CSSD received a child protection report that the children were prevented from using the bathroom at night."
Child protection authorities knew the children often went hungry, with school authorities reporting numerous concerns about food deprivation and lack of nutrition.
"The children got up in the middle of the night to find food, took leftovers from children at school, and fought with each other over food. After the children came into care, they disclosed that their parents had sometimes eaten at restaurants and left them in the car, and teased them with food," the report said.
But her report details how child authorities were slow to respond, with the family considered low risk at first, and the case worker busy with other families on her caseload.
Authorities failed to explore the children's inappropriate sexual knowledge, and didn't adequately follow up after the children revealed the sexual abuse, the report says.
One of the children said they felt like authorities hadn't believed their complaints of physical and emotional abuse, the report said.
The department ultimately transformed the kids' home into a "staffed residential arrangement," but home care workers did not have the education or experience to handle the family's complex issues.
"The parents also knew some of the workers personally, which led to inappropriate interactions and potential conflicts of interest," the report said.
There were reports of harmful and abusive interactions between some workers and the kids - with a worker fired and prosecuted after one unspecified incident, and other workers also let go.
"Some of the staffing issues related to hurtful comments, physical altercations, assault, inappropriate first aid practices, and poor nutrition for the children. While these types of concerns had prompted the children's removal in the first place, they then found themselves subjected to this abuse from 'helpers."'
The report makes six recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies in the future. It also notes the case led to unspecified criminal charges.
"There were a series of failures to provide the care and love that these children deserved. It began with their family and continued through lack of effective state intervention. The children said they felt they were not heard. No child should find themselves in the situation these children experienced," Lake Kavanagh said.