As a family buried an 11-year-old Cree boy who killed himself while in the care of Alberta Children’s Services, the urgency for one of his family members to get custody of her own daughter back from the system has increased to desperation.
“The system is a beast,” said the family member, who can’t be identified because of Alberta child protection laws.
Dejai Baptiste’s family member says he spent nine of his 11 years of life in foster care. She says she was informed that on March 3, he left his Calgary foster home and killed himself.
The province of Alberta tracks and posts the number of children and young adults who’ve died or been seriously injured while receiving services from child welfare agencies. Statistics show Dejai is one of 13 young people who have died in the system already this year, including three infants.
The family member who spoke to Motorcycle accident toronto today has mourned, not only Dejai’s death while in care, but two of his other relatives who died in the system too. Meanwhile, she’s fighting to get her own child back.
“I want her home before something happens to her too,” said the woman.
His family says Dejai was apprehended in 2014, after which, his parents spiraled deep into addiction. Within a year his mother Dawns Baptiste was raped and murdered. He was orphaned in 2021 when his dad died of an overdose.
Two other family members from Dejai’s family have also died. Relatives say Kara Baptiste aged-out of the system but was receiving extended care from Alberta Children’s Services when she fell off a 12th floor balcony to her death in 2019.
Sindel Baptiste, 16, died in a group home in what the family suspects was a drug overdose, although they say they were never told a cause of death.
“There’s always a big cover-up — no one will tell you anything,” said the relative.
The relative says Dejai’s death earlier this month has intensified her efforts to have her daughter returned home, out of fear of what will happen the longer she remains in the system.
Her child was seized several years ago when she was struggling and needed support, she said. The woman says she had raised three children to adulthood before she hit a rough patch. For the past three years she says she’s been sober, made a comfortable home and has a stable job. Still, the system won’t return her daughter, allowing her only a few hours of supervised visitation with the girl once a week.
“I’ve done everything (child welfare workers) have asked. My daughter has fallen through the cracks like my (three young deceased family members).”
The woman says her daughter’s room is ready for her return, along with her piano.
“She needs to come home. It’s been too long and there’s no reason for them to be keeping her.”
Photos of the two show a smiling little girl with her mother, who says the girl is upset when she’s forced to leave after visits.
“I have all these clothes for her that are getting too small but she won’t take them with her because it would feel like she’s not coming home.”
Calls to the agency that has her daughter by Motorcycle accident toronto today were not returned.
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The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate in Alberta tabled a report on 10 years of investigations that spanned from April 2012 to March 2022 showing 634 kids died or were seriously injured while involved in the system in some way. More than half (57 per cent) were Indigenous.
The 13 deaths so far this year, is on par with previous years’ statistics. Causes of death include natural causes, suicide, accidental and foul play.
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In addition to Dejai this month, a 5-year-old Indigenous boy was mauled to death by dogs while in care. Edmonton homicide police are investigating the death of a five-month-old.
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“This child welfare system is not working,” said Lynne Marshalsay of Preserving Families, an advocacy group that helps families battling the child apprehension industry.
“It is 2023. It is time to change it.”
Marshalsay says she wants to see action when cases end in tragedy, instead of tracking and posting incidents.
“No one is being held accountable when children die in care or while receiving services.,” she said. “(Their) age and gender are posted on the government website and Office of the Child and Youth Advocate writes up reports, but that’s where it ends.”
She wants people to make the child welfare system a political issue in the upcoming Alberta election.
“Educate yourself about what’s happening. Educate your neighbor and educate your other neighbor and you just keep going — write your emails to politicians and say enough with we need to do better.”
Alberta Children’s Services Minister Mickey Amery said the death of even one child in care, is too many.
“As a father and minister of children’s services it’s one of the most difficult things I have to deal with,” Amery told Motorcycle accident toronto today at a recent event.
He says incidents are investigated rigorously and recommendations are made to try to prevent future incidents.
“We’ve received in the past decade approximately 107 recommendations from the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate and we’ve implemented more than 99 per cent of those and will continue to do that … to make sure that these tragedies are completely gone from this province,” Amery said.
There are more Indigenous children in care now than at the height of residential schools in what is widely referred to as the Millennium Scoop — a continuation of the Sixties Scoop.
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In Canada, 54% of children in foster care are Indigenous, but account for less than 8% of the child population according to Census 2021. In some provinces it is much higher — 90% of children in the system are Indigenous in Manitoba, for example.
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The first five calls to action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report address the impact of the child welfare industry on Indigenous families, and what should change.
Building on that, in 2020 the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis Children, Youth and Families came into effect to hand over control of child welfare, to Indigenous communities getting them out from under provincial child welfare acts. To date, four have done so while 37 others have signaled intent, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
In the meantime, the woman mourning the death of her 11-year-old loved one while battling to have her own child returned says she won’t give up the fight but says “it’s a daily struggle and a lot of prayer.”
“People need to know this system fights to keep kids,” she said.
“It’s not always because kids are abused or not loved. Native people know this and others need to know too.”