Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brother of Canadian teen with Down syndrome who spent 9 days with dead mother blames her school for not calling emergency contacts

From CTV in Canada:

The brother of a teen with Down syndrome stranded for a more than a week with her dead mother says her school should have noticed something was wrong earlier and called for help.

Mike Prentice said his sister Amy could have been found days earlier if officials from Sardis Secondary School in Chilliwack had called emergency contacts when she missed her first part day of school, instead of her first full day, which was several days later.

"It makes me angry," said Mike Prentice. "It hurts and it's disheartening. You're dealing with a child with Down syndrome -- there should have been a lot more done with this."

But Chilliwack school officials say they followed their policy of phoning emergency contacts after a full day absence, and what happened to Amy Prentice was something that was simply sad and unfortunate.

"The week in question was the first week of school for the 2010-11 school year," said the district's superintendent, Corinne McCabe. "The school has processes in place for contacting parents and emergency numbers when students do not attend…these processes were followed."

Amy Prentice (pictured), 14, was found filthy and emaciated next to the decomposing body of her mother in a Chilliwack trailer park. Family members say it's likely that her mother, Yvonne Prentice, died as a result of a mix of alcohol and prescription drugs.

Her brothers had alerted the Ministry of Children and Family Development to problems in the home, but after an investigation officials chose to leave Amy in her mother's care.

Amy was scheduled to be at school for a part day on the week of Sept. 6, McCabe said. When she didn't attend, school officials weren't concerned.

When she didn't attend on her first full day on Monday, September 13, officials contacted emergency numbers but didn't receive a response.

When she missed a second full day of school on Tuesday, September 14, the school contacted the Ministry of Children and Family Development. By that point, Prentice had been found by neighbours.

Mike Prentice says the school district should change its policy to be more proactive in cases where children are special needs children or where there are suspicions of problems with his or her parents.

"The people in the school board worked with Amy for years. They know her condition. For her not to be showing up at school is definitely a problem," said Prentice.

Meanwhile, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth has chastised the Ministry of Children and Family Development for not informing her office when Amy was found.

Ministry officials are meant to refer cases to the representative in cases of death or serious injury. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond says the B.C. government failed the teen when it didn't send her a report of the case.

"It is self-evident that a child of any age left alone with a deceased parent has suffered emotional trauma. Compounding this tragedy is that the child in question has special needs," wrote Turpel-Lafond.

"There is no question that this situation fits the legislature's intent in including ‘critical injuries' in the list of reviewable matters," she said.

But a ministry spokesman said the ministry simply hadn't decided whether Amy had been critically injured.

"Professionals are still in a position of assessing the extent to which there is injury to the child," said a statement issued by the ministry.

Turpel-Lafond has started an investigation into how the ministry handled the case.

Prentice said he and his mother were estranged but that he loved his mother and his sister. Prentice said he wished his sister had been taken away from his mother earlier.

"I wish Amy was taken away. That might have jump-started my mom into asking for help. She could have gotten help, asked for help, and then Amy might have gone back into her care," he said.