Dedicated to battling injustice of any form against children, youth, persons with disability and the elderly. Family-Centred Care Practice is the most ethically viable and cost-effective approach of service delivery.
January 9, 2014 Honourable Manmeet Bhullar, My name is Velvet Martin. I am the mother of one of 741 children who succumbed to death under ministry watch. I come to you asking to listen since not one member who proceeded you demonstrated the integrity to do so. I am no longer asking this for myself alone. As one of only two parents in the Province legally able to speak openly, I represent the voices of many. When I came forward seeking answers, closure, justice, I was genuinely hopeful that officials would benignly assist, but it was sadly an awakening to learn otherwise. Taught from a young age to respect authority figures and rely upon the judicial system should harm arise, it was a struggle for me to reconcile how differently the world actually functioned. This, perhaps, is by far the most shocking aspect that affected me... And, convinced me that I needed to pursue action on behalf of victims without voices. As I stepped forward to divulge my family’s story, I was suddenly inundated with requests for assistance; others sharing equally tragic accounts of harm and fatalities striking loved ones. I had thought I was alone. Once again, this cemented my belief that I needed to become actively involved in speaking and teaching to prevent other young lives from being lost. Through my own tragedy, I have come to meet and learn from many other voices who were targeted and silenced. Victims of the Residential School Era, those institutionalized within the Sterilization movement, parents of children with medical needs erroneously sentenced to the Child Welfare Intervention Model, parents with developmental and medical issues targeted upon birth of their own child simply because they utilize a wheelchair, young single mothers who have had children apprehended at birth not due to deed, but solely because of age and marital status.... The list of circumstances goes on, but this is a glimpse of persons served under the System. Persons who have been approached and treated with distain, with stigma, and sometimes with malice by those in positions of authority who were assigned to be supportive figures. I have attended vigils and court sessions for other fallen children and cried alongside the parents of other victims. One of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever encountered was in witnessing a grieving mother at her child’s service, need to stop the ceremony and request media to stop filming lest she be held liable for publicly speaking the name of her own baby girl. Can you imagine what it must be like to know that another human being is responsible for taking the life of your child, yet it is you and your child who is penalized; prevented from disclosure of identification. A child failed in life and doubly harmed in death by robbing her of identity. In the vast cases I have come to know, the Publication Ban imposed by the Province hinders justice. It further harms measures to prevent history repeating through imposed silence which disallows open inspection to offer resolution, closure, means to better protect others through education. Alberta is one of the most restrictive Provinces in Alberta and it is time to remove the veil of secrecy. Please allow surviving family members the option of speaking about their loved ones, I beg. I feel that my voice is a crucial one to be present within Roundtable discussion hoping to serve our children and families more effectively, humanely, and safely. Throughout the years, prior to, and since my little girl’s passing 7 years ago this past December, I have strived to improve circumstances by bringing my knowledge into different arenas where I can best effect change. I have been Co-Chairing with our Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital and a member of Council for more than 8 years. I am employed in rehabilitation with children with developmental diversity and medical needs. I am the Spokesperson for the organization which spans across Canada and has members across the globe, Protecting Canadian Children. And, I am the Founder of Samantha’s Law for the Province of Alberta. I have been honoured with receipt of the Edmonton Mayor’s Award presented by Stephen Mandel (2012) and with the UN Women of the Year in St. Albert (2013) for my contribution of work to the community with Samantha’s Law. Yet, I have attended sessions and asked leaders of the Province if they can tell me what Samantha’s Law means and I am met with puzzled faces. Once again, I am disenchanted because it pains me to know that my child’s life is not being honoured with respect as it should be when Ministers have not been educated. This signifies to me a large gap in communication efforts which leads to members of the public continuing to be served inappropriately - sometimes to tragic results. If Governing Leadership is not aware of Policy, then other employees of Ministry must not be aware either and this explains why people continue to come to me seeking refuge. Samantha’s Law indicates that loving families tasked with extraordinary medical and developmental issues, are not to be served by Child Welfare Intervention Authorities. Children are not to be referred to out of home care, nor are parents to be coerced into relinquishing custody in effort to attain needed medical supports. In imposing such conditions on families, we are continuing to silently state that people with diversity are not respected... No differently than days of the past where Institutionalism was deemed an acceptable arrangement. Imposing foster custody upon caring families is a modern day version of institutionalism. Natural families must be offered the same degree of service support as offered to those employed by the ministry to care for children. It is not only ethical, but research indicates that it is financially viable. Under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, the Family Support for Children with Disabilities Act, Section 2-3 was amended retroactive to my daughter’s death, December 2006 to read: “The Family Support for Children FSCD Program to have separate legislation from that of child protective services.” This is my daughter’s gift. Through Samantha’s short life of 13 years, she has taught outstanding lessons to experts around the world who contact me regularly to learn how to develop similar protocol within their communities. Yet, we here in the Province are largely still not utilizing the knowledge effectively because frontline staff continue to advice erroneously. We often hear that more studies are required, more funding, more talk. These are not the solutions. We have wonderful, well-researched Policy in place, the problem is lack of adherence to it and lack of consequences for negligence. The next argument offered in response is that we will lose employees who are afraid to be held accountable. My answer: Good! We want suitable employees, those with true vested interest in children who are knowledgeable and kind to interact with care for children who truly are in need of alternate placement. True, we will lose workers and thus lack of foster homes and caseworkers will lead to a tasked system - which will lead to less children being needlessly taken into custody - which will lead to funds redirected into prevention rather than reactive means. Less is MORE! It is not my intention to simply moan, I have viable solutions to offer and I feel that it is necessary for the voice of one who has lived through both sides of the foster care system to sit and openly divulge what is working and what is not in order to move forward. Yes, I have also held the position of a foster parent! A few years ago, I was approached by the government to provide care for two children with special needs that I was working in rehabilitation with whose family was in crisis. Fearing that the children could end up with a horrendous fate as that of my child, I accepted the role - which was to be “a few days”, but instead turned into a half year venture before reunification could transpire. It was through this hands on experience that I glimpsed how and why children can and do fall through the cracks and come to harm. Despite public assurance that foster homes are cautiously selected and well-monitored, I know otherwise. No visual inspection was ever performed on my residence. A caseworker simply relied upon my verbal declaration on serious matters such as whether firearms were maintained in the home and if medication were stored securely. The children were initially left with me and the worker chose to leave prior to retrieval of criminal record check clearances available in an adjoining room because it was a Friday afternoon and they wanted to be done for the day. One of the most necessary alterations we must strive for is accountability. CHILDREN’S LIVES DEPEND UPON ADULTS TO TRULY PRESERVE THEIR BEST INTERESTS. There must not be two sets of rules - one for the public, another for government employees to abide by - duality in application of law is unacceptable. In closing, I leave you to read a difficult letter. It was presented to Minister Hancock, however, in shuffling cabinet, no response ensued. As successor, I hand this off to you. And, please remember, while these statements are hard facts to accept, they are truthful and are not intended as a personal attack. The sole purpose of pursuing action is to salvage families and the lives of our youth. And, to honour the 741 who fell. I look forward to speaking with and working alongside you. Sincerely, Velvet Martin
Velvet Martin's insight:
Dear Mister Hancock: You proclaim that it has been "hurtful" to hear revelations about how poorly the foster care system in Alberta is functioning. Let me tell YOU what pain is: Watching one's 8-year-old son, take it upon himself to write a letter of "good-bye" to his sister; walk up to a podium to courageously read the tribute aloud amongst hundreds of onlookers also mourning; return to his seat and collapse into one's arms, sobbing so intensely that the chapel is wracked with the sound of his distress... And, feel completely inadequate because nothing, not a thing can be done to alleviate such utter hurt within that small child. (Our youngest son was 8 years at the time of loss of his sister - however, suffering helplessly alongside were our 3 other young boys ages 10, 12 and 15.) To know true pain is to believe in the expertise of ministry representatives who direct to what would become an only daughter's descent into hell and be helpless to retrieve her because the caseworker refused to acknowledge the situation was amiss. Pain is pleading with a caseworker, urging one's child presentation for medical consultation and being denied. Instead, told that I was only "one voice" in my daughter's life (blocking legal right as one's child guardian); coaxing that my child was routinely being taken for medical examination and the placement well-monitored... Hurt consists of having every worry confirmed ten-fold as one finally gains access to the truth with medical and educational documentation demonstrating that others, too, had been voicing concern to no avail. AND, find out that the caseworker who had made reassurances had, in reality, not laid eyes on my child for 14 months. Pain stems from being failed by a system in which the entire purpose for one's child to be under ministry direction was to receive extraordinary medical supports. Pain exudes with revelation that the caseworker had not followed through in duty to ensure that my child was presented for medical intervention as directed; instead relying upon word of mouth of a foster person who failed to take my child to a physician for periods lapsing 3 years. You want to know what is also hurtful? Learning that the social-worker now holds the position of Provincial Criminal Record Checker. What is painful is standing in a courtroom while having to serve as legal counsel for one's own deceased child because none was made available to represent her voice within a Public Fatality Inquiry; which, by the way, I - the mother - needed to strenuously pursue because the Province refused to do so on its own. Pain is hearing how one's child's remains - sample of brain tissue - was not preserved for evidence. Hurt is, despite severity of proceedings, listening to the laughter and watching the smirks of a foster female who shows no remorse for failing to follow-through to seek medical attention for my now dead child. Pain, worry and horror stems from knowledge that the same individual continues to foster other medically fragile children. So, Minister Dave Hancock... If you are "hurt", so be it; this is the truth. If you wish to alleviate yourself from pain, take action to prevent other deaths immediately. Start with admitting a problem exists. Denial utterly demoralizes and diminishes the beauty of the life of a child... To know true pain is to witness a beautiful little girl blossom within mere months of exposure within natural family home amongst siblings who loved her. To see a child gain 12 pounds - or in better context - 20% of her body mass as she grew from a 50 pound shell in weight at 13 years when she left the foster system. To hear a child begin to speak after being non-verbal her entire life. To watch the pride in that lovely face as she became self-reliant at using the bathroom following a life-time of incontinency. Witnessing all the gains which took place in so short a time and then watching it all crumble with her sudden collapse. Pain is to always wonder how far one's little girl may have gone in her individual growth had she opportunity to grow into adulthood. Pain is never being able to hold or smell or smile with one's precious child. Hurt is seeing the loss extend to loved ones, affecting health so intensely that within 2 months a grandfather's heart failed... Without the experience of closure through judicial accountability, loss of granddaughter resulted in the other grandfather's collapse. Next, an only aunt/Godmother would succumb and a grandmother also died; leaving one remaining grandmother. My mother, who suffers from dementia. Pain is viewing one's mother trapped continuously in a state of anxiety, asking over and over and over whether anyone has been held accountable for the death of her only granddaughter and unable to bring her relief. Mr. Hancock, your hurt pales in comparison. That you would publicly use that particular terminology - comparing one's "hurt" at attention finally being duly given to 145 children who died under Provincial direction - can only be viewed as an effort to detract from accountability at the exposure to truth. Frankly, on behalf of all who survive the deaths of those young lives, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. The loss that I describe is but one family's tragedy, imagine how many lives are destroyed stemming from those 145 children lost? I feel you ought to be deeply ashamed of a Ministry that refuses to acknowledge that a problem exists or apologize for those losses of vulnerable lives. Instead of saving face, please strive to save our most vulnerable. Sincerely, Velvet Martin, mom of Samantha angel
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