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DOCFS denies blame for 'damaged' teen's death

Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services is defending itself from a lawsuit filed by the family of a girl who hanged herself at the Brandon jail by calling the youth "damaged" and accusing her mother and grandmother of bad parenting.

DOCFS argues that if the family suffered any loss or damage, it was the family or corrections fault.

It claims the girl had been apprehended from the mother at birth and placed with another agency, and at one point lived with her grandmother but then moved to another foster placement.

"As a result of the foregoing, neither (the mother) or (grandmother) provided (the girl) with any, or any adequate, parental support such that she was permanently damaged from a physiological perspective before she came to the care of DOCFS," the agency claims in its statement of defence.

The Brandon Sun removed the names of the defendants in the above quote because the Youth Criminal Justice and Child and Family Services acts prevent the girl from being identified.

The agency’s statement of defence doesn’t specify the "physiological" condition that made the girl "permanently damaged" prior to coming into its care.

The 16-year-old aboriginal girl hanged herself in her cell at the Brandon Correctional Centre on Sept. 28, 2013, and died in hospital four days later from extensive brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

She hanged herself using a bed sheet looped through a ceiling grate in her cell.

At the time, she was a ward of DOCFS and a resident of Specialized Foster Homes (which is not named in the lawsuit.)

In October 2015, the youth’s family filed the lawsuit against DOCFS and the Manitoba government as represented by the Commissioner of Correctional Services.

The family claims damages, the amount to be determined at trial, due to the loss of the girl’s guidance, care and companionship.

DOCFS filed a statement of defence and a crossclaim against the government in February 2016.

In its lawsuit, the family argues that, quickly after her arrest, the defendants should have returned the girl to humane accommodation at her placement or CFS agency, ensured her well-being and responded to calls for help when the suicide attempt began.

They asserted that a fellow inmate in a different cell yelled to alert guards to the suicide attempt, but no one came (although this account wasn’t later borne out by testimony at the inquest).

The family also asserts that the defendants failed to follow policies and procedures for inmate safety, suicide risk, access to mental health professionals and counselling.

They also claim the defendants failed to remove objects from the girl’s cell which she could use to commit suicide.

In its statement of defence, DOCFS disputes that it breached any standard of care or duty, or jeopardized the girl’s well-being.

It acknowledges the girl was apprehended at birth and then made a permanent ward of another agency before it took on the girl’s file in September 2010.

DOCFS wants the family to prove any loss and argues that, if there is one, it was caused or contributed to by the girl’s mother and grandmother.

It states the girl was apprehended shortly after birth due to the "instability" of her parents, including her mother, who voluntarily signed guardianship over to the other child welfare agency.

DOCFS states the mother failed to provide any parental support for her daughter, and that in May 2010 the girl had been placed with her grandmother before being moved to another foster placement.

The girl was then in a series of placements with relatives and agency foster homes, according to DOCFS.

Lack of adequate parental support led the girl to be "permanently damaged" before she came into DOCFS care, according to the statement of defence prepared by DOCFS’s solicitor.

DOCFS’s crossclaim against the government and corrections commissioner argues that the government should pay for at least some of the damages if the agency is found liable.

If the family suffered any loss as claimed, they were due to negligence by the government and corrections, DOCFS asserts.

DOCFS executive director Doreen Moellenbeck said on Wednesday that the agency and its legal counsel can’t comment on the lawsuit due to privacy directives under the CFS Act and because the case is before the courts.

The girl’s family also declined comment at this time.

The lawsuit was mentioned during an inquest into the youth’s death that began in late December and has been adjourned to spring.

Testimony at the inquest by one of DOCFS’s own employees revealed the girl’s complex and troubled history.

Her former social worker confirmed that the girl had been apprehended by child welfare authorities on the day she was born.

The worker said the girl was initially in a long-term placement with a family that broke down when she found out they weren’t her biological family.

The DOCFS worker indicated that the girl’s file had been transferred from that agency to another CFS agency when she was placed with that first family. After leaving that family, she remained in care in 2010 when her file was transferred back to DOCFS. Between 2010 and 2012, her life spiraled out of control.

For two years, she was rotated through a dozen placements as she "acted out" trauma she suffered during those years. That included being sexually assaulted, domestic violence and sexual exploitation.

A habitual runaway, she also had a number of mental health disorders and she abused substances.

She stabilized when moved from Winnipeg to a placement in Brandon with Specialized Foster Homes in early 2013, but started to run again and got into trouble with the law. She was pending on charges of bail breach, mischief, theft and liquor offences when she hanged herself.

The inquest heard that, during her admittance eight days before, the jail had assessed her as a low suicide risk even though it knew she’d tried to hang herself at her home 20 months before.

The same computer system that contained that information would have also recorded that the girl had been deemed a high suicide risk during a prior admission to the jail three weeks before the hanging.

The provincial government hasn’t submitted a statement of defence.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @IanHitchen

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 5, 2017

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Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services is defending itself from a lawsuit filed by the family of a girl who hanged herself at the Brandon jail by calling the youth "damaged" and accusing her mother and grandmother of bad parenting.

DOCFS argues that if the family suffered any loss or damage, it was the family or corrections fault.

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Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services is defending itself from a lawsuit filed by the family of a girl who hanged herself at the Brandon jail by calling the youth "damaged" and accusing her mother and grandmother of bad parenting.

DOCFS argues that if the family suffered any loss or damage, it was the family or corrections fault.

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