Friday, November 12, 2010

Canadian teen with Down syndrome lived in trailer with dead mother for 9 days

From The Vancouver Sun in Canada:

VANCOUVER, Canada — A 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome was left alone with her mother’s corpse in their British Columbia trailer home for nine days after the mother died of a suspected drug overdose.

The girl’s two brothers are outraged at the province, saying their repeated warnings to the Ministry of Children and Family Development that their mother was unfit to care for the girl were never adequately addressed.

Mike Prentice, 32, said he and his brother Kevin, 29, who both live in North Vancouver, B.C., had reported their mother Yvonne to social services countless times for alcoholism, addiction to pills including Clonazepam and Atavan and being physically and emotionally abusive.

In July, Kevin visited the trailer home in Chilliwack, B.C., which Mike described as being filthy and “like an episode of Hoarders.”

Seeing its condition, and their mother’s condition, Kevin took his sister to his home and called police, who told him to contact the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Mike said.

The ministry conducted a survey at the home later that month and told the brothers to return the girl, as their mother was going to charge them with kidnapping, Mike said.

“They deemed it OK for my sister to go back when all you had to do was take a look at my mom, and her house, to know something was seriously wrong,” he said, adding he had seen garbage and even dead mice in the residence.

On Sept. 14, a neighbour who realized he hadn’t seen any activity at the trailer peeked in through a window and made the grisly discovery.

“Two months after we called social services and the RCMP saying we’re worried our mom is going to harm herself and our sister’s going to be left with a dead corpse, my mom passed away,” Mike said.

Yvonne had been dead for about nine days and her body had begun to decompose.

On the floor nearby were pills and boxes of macaroni — items left behind after the girl tried to nurse her dead mother back to health.

The girl, who cannot care for herself, was emaciated and fatigued.

“She almost died too, because she didn’t eat or sleep and she’s been (taught) not to go to the door at any time,” Mike said.

He said that when someone finally slid open the window, saw the corpse and asked his sister if she was OK, “she didn’t even answer because she was so fatigued she couldn’t get off the couch. Two more days and she would have died too.”

A coroner is investigating the cause of the mother’s death.

Mike believes the ministry didn’t take the brothers’ warnings seriously because both have criminal pasts.

“We grew up with alcohol- and drug-addicted parents, so in turn we both acted out in our younger years,” said Mike, whose past crimes include theft and assault. “Whenever we tell social services something about my mom, she would in turn just say that we’re violent, and this and that, and they’d look at our records and be like, ‘These guys are crazy. We don’t want to talk to them.’ ”

The ministry declined to comment on specifics of the case, citing privacy concerns, but said in a statement that its priority is always the safety of children.

“Any time there is a complaint made or a suggestion of a child being at risk, we assess the information based on that information (and) take appropriate steps to ensure the child is safe,” the statement said. “If an individual is not satisfied or continues to have concerns about a ministry response, each region has a designated complaints consultant to discuss and act on their concerns.”

The girl is now living in Chilliwack under the care of the ministry.

It will be determined in Family Court later this month where she will live long-term. Mike and Kevin, who cannot afford to raise her full-time, hope she will be relocated to a home in North Vancouver, where they can visit her easily.