EDMONTON — An Alberta judge says the death of a foster boy from abuse was a direct result of the failure of provincial child welfare to deal with his case properly.
Kawliga Potts was three-years-old when he died in 2007 of extensive head trauma in Edmonton. His foster parent, Lily Choy, was later sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter.
A fatality inquiry report says Choy’s application to be a foster parent wasn’t properly completed or reviewed and case workers were aware of abuse, but failed to take action.
“Kawliga Potts’ death was a direct result of the fundamental failure of everyone connected with this child to do their jobs,” provincial court Judge Ferne LeReverend wrote in her report released Friday.
During Choy’s trial, the Crown argued that the boy’s death was a case of “near murder.” Court heard that Choy hit the boy, denied him food and left him wearing only a diaper in an unheated garage.
The report said the Indigenous boy had developmental problems and may have suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.
LeReverend said Choy, a single parent with two children of her own and three other foster children, was not qualified to care for Potts.
When evidence of abuse came to light, no one reported it to the child advocate or police, she said.
“Evidence of abuse was present. It was known to five different case workers involved in Lily Choy’s home. None of the workers addressed their minds to what needed to be done to save Kawliga Potts.”
LeReverend recommends the province disclose the names of children who die in care and establish a committee to investigate the deaths of all such children.
She also recommends the province expand the mandate of the child and youth advocate to act on behalf of families in the child-welfare system.
LeReverend said police should be notified immediately when staff suspect criminal activity and the government should provide whistleblower protection for families and officials.
The judge said her recommendations are based on comments made by Tim Richter, CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, about the need to reform child welfare.
“When a child is taken into care, Albertans become that child’s de facto parents,” her report said.
“We have to pressure government to act urgently to eliminate preventable injury or death in our child-welfare system and to make improving that system a priority.
“We have to do better. And we have to do it now.”
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the government is reviewing the recommendations. She said the system has substantially improved since Potts’s death.
Hoffman said the government has bolstered how foster parents are trained, monitored and screened.
“As Judge LeReverend notes, while the rules and procedures necessary to ensure appropriate foster care were in place, they were not followed. This is unacceptable,” she said in an email.
“When our child protection system falls short, we need to ask ourselves why, and take action to prevent tragedies from happening again.”