Will Katelynn's Death Be a Turning Point?
There are too many holes in Ontario's sloppy child protection system
Posted By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD
Posted 3 days ago
Jordan Heikamp, Randal Dooley, Jeffrey Baldwin.
It's a shameful roll call of children who died horrific deaths because our child welfare system failed them.
Now we add another name -- Katelynn Sampson.
The little girl with that poignant middle name: Angel.
She was just seven years old when she was found dead, Aug. 3, at the home of her caregiver. Mourners at her open-coffin funeral
visitation wept as they reported the grotesque injuries the child had suffered -- including being scalped shortly before she
Donna Irving and Warren Johnson have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death. Katelynn's mom,
Bernice Sampson, gave over care of the child to them in January so she could sort out her own "personal problems."
So another angel slipped between the cracks of our child welfare system and was brutally killed. The two people accused of
her murder are the very people a court trusted to care for her -- despite the fact that there is, according to police, a history
with social services and a record of violence.
New Democratic critic Peter Kormos has slammed the judge's decision to give custody of the child to the pair without asking
if they had a criminal record.
The Welland MPP says there are serious problems with the child welfare system.
"We have provincial courts and their judges signing off on their transfer without even making basic inquiries, not only as
to why that child is being transferred over, but as to who the people are who are taking custody of her," he told reporters
Conservative Leader John Tory says it is scandalous a child could be handed over to a couple without a criminal background
"How many more little girls have to die before we say we are going to issue a directive to say in every case, without exception,
there will be a criminal background check?
"The judge in this case, based on what we know so far, didn't know about the criminal record and therefore couldn't use that
as part of making her judgment on the custody of this child and that to me is a complete scandal," Tory said.
The province's newly-appointed provincial child advocate, Irwin Elman, attended little Katelynn's funeral and hopes her tragic
death can be a turning point.
"This can be a turning point for the entire system -- the family court system, the child welfare system, the community's understanding
of protecting children and duty to report, the professional understanding, the supports we have in place for families and
children," he said.
Elman says the system is "not very fluid or seamless" in helping youngsters like Katelynn.
If a society is judged on how it protects the weakest and most vulnerable in its midst, we should hang our heads in shame.
In Katelynn's case, there are simply too many questions:
Didn't any alarm bells go off at her school? Classmates said Katelynn had been absent for at least a month.
How many other parents use informal custody transfers like this one to circumvent the Children's Aid Society?
And who, in court, was there speaking for Katelynn? Come to think of it, who ever speaks for the children?
If, in this case, it was the judge, why didn't she ask for a home inspection, so she could be sure Katelynn was going somewhere
Just how gullible are the courts in situations like this, that they take people at their word? These were two families fraught
with troubles. But a civilized society surely ensures that a fragile seven-year- old child isn't a victim of the iniquities
of the adults around her, isn't shuffled like so many papers in a courtroom.
Will Katelynn's death be a turning point? I doubt it. There are too many holes in our sloppy child welfare system.
We are a wealthy, educated society. We have the resources to protect all these little angels -- not consign them to the hellish
kind of death Katelynn suffered. What we seem to lack is the willpower to say, "No more."
Suffer the little children? Too often, that's what happens.
Christina Blizzard is the Queen's Park columnist for Sun Media. Contact her at christina.blizzard@tor. sunpub.com.
Monday: Osprey Writers Group columnist Michael Decter.