Manitoba’s Children’s Advocate will investigate the death of a teen with autism in foster care
By Jill Coubrough, CBC News Posted: Dec 21, 2016
The head of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services says the agency is “shocked” to learn the death of an 18-year-old with disabilities in foster care was ruled a homicide, and has ordered an external review.
Lydia Whitford was living with a licensed foster parent in Springfield, Man. RCMP say she was found dead at a residence in the rural municipality in July.
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Her death was not ruled suspicious at the time. But on Tuesday, RCMP said they are investigating it as a homicide.
You sit and wonder ‘What did we miss? Is there something that we missed that [contributed] to that?'” – Richard De La Ronde, Sandy Bay CFS
“The agency regularly checked in on her,” Sandy Bay CFS executive director Richard De La Ronde told CBC News.
“We’d actually just been in the home two weeks prior to her passing, so not only did her passing come as a shock but just recently that [this was a] homicide was a surprise to the agency.”
Whitford lived with autism and epilepsy. She had been involved with the child welfare system since 2002 and had been living at her most recent placement for just over a year, De La Ronde said.
Hamstrung by lack of information
Police have not released details on Whitford’s cause of death, or any information on possible suspects or charges. De La Ronde says that’s making it difficult for his agency to conduct a proper review.
“Without the information you sit and wonder, ‘What did we miss? Is there something that we missed that [contributed] to that?'” he said.
“Not knowing what it is they found to change their mind six months later is hard on the social worker and the alternative care worker that does the placements.”
De La Ronde says he has formally requested the matter be investigated by the Manitoba’s Office of the Children’s Advocate. The office confirms to CBC it will be investigating once the RCMP investigation has concluded.
“A child passing in your care is a serious matter and we take that very seriously,” De La Ronde said.
“The agencies do everything within their abilities to provide a quality level of services to families, so I think it’s important to acknowledge what has happened … We’re not trying to hide anything and we’re certainly open to people coming in and reviewing our files.”
According to Whitford’s records, De La Ronde said she was being visited regularly by her support workers and had a good relationship with her foster placement.
After her death, Whitford’s biological family told CBC News they became suspicious about the nature of her death because of extensive bruising along her collarbone and arms.
De La Ronde said his agency inquired about the bruising and were informed by the funeral home it was a natural part of death. The autopsy report came back inconclusive, De La Ronde said.
A spokesperson for the province declined to comment on the situation, citing privacy concerns and the ongoing police investigation.
According to an annual report by the Manitoba’s Children’s Advocate, 61 children involved with child and family services in the province died between 2015 and 2016.
Within Sandy Bay CFS there have been tragic deaths and still births, but De La Ronde said a homicide has never happened to his knowledge.
“Our staff are having a hard time dealing with this, but we have things that we need to do and it would be helpful if we had a bit more information to do those things that are required.”