Family continues to fight for answers surrounding foster care death
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Apr. 11 marked the one-year anniversary of four-month old Delonna Sullivan’s death while in foster care.
More than a year later, Delonna’s mother and close relatives are continuing their efforts to get their voices heard in hopes of bringing change to the province’s foster care system.
Marilyn Koren, Delonna’s grandmother, along with her daughter Jamie Sullivan, Delonna’s mother, were two of the advocates present at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Apr. 11 in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Delonna’s death.
“Today we still have no answers as to what happened to Delonna,” explained Koren.
To get Delonna’s name released to the public, Sullivan went to court to get the publication ban lifted and continues to fight for more transparency regarding foster care in Alberta.
According to Koren, two social workers from Leduc along with a Leduc RCMP officer arrived at Sullivan’s house with an apprehension order for the children of Sullivan’s roommate on Apr. 5, 2011. Delonna was also taken from the house by the social workers and RCMP, but without an apprehension order, said Koren.
“There was never an apprehension order that was filed or a complaint against my daughter. I went out to my daughter’s place and we pleaded to the RCMP that we could take Delonna, but they flat out refused,” explained Koren.
But an affidavit signed by a social worker two days later on Apr. 7, 2011 claimed the child needed to be removed because “the infant has been subjected to disharmony in the home and the child is left with inexperienced babysitters” and her mother “appears to suffer from an alcohol addiction.”
Koren said the reason the social workers refused to allow her to take custody of Delonna was because of a previous involvement with social services.
“When Jamie was six years old, her father abused her and I called the police on him. Seven or eight months later we reconciled, but a year and a half later there was an isolated incident where he abused her again. They ended up apprehending her and she was stuck in a group home for six days,” explained Koren.
“That was their reasoning as to why they didn’t allow me to take Delonna.”
Koren also said her son and his wife also asked if they could take Delonna, but were also refused. Unlike the reasoning they gave Koren for not allowing her custody of Delonna, Koren said the workers did not give any reason as to why her son and wife couldn’t take her.
On Apr. 8, 2011 Koren and Sullivan visited Delonna at the foster parent’s house and were distressed by what they saw. Koren claims Delonna had severe diaper rash and feces on her due to three straight days of diarrhea.
“I asked [the foster parent] how long she had diarrhea. When we saw her on Friday she had diarrhea for three days. And I asked if she had taken her to a doctor and [the foster parent] said ‘no, if she’s not better by Monday I’ll make an appointment.’ Monday she died. She let that baby lay there and suffer for five days without taking her for any sort of medical attention,” remembered Koren.
On Apr. 11 around 2 p.m. Delonna was taken to the hospital and at 4 p.m. she was pronounced dead. Sullivan wasn’t notified of her daughter’s death until 10 p.m. that evening.
Recently, the Alberta government released the full number of children who died while in provincial care.
The government reported — between Apr. 1, 2011 and Mar. 31 — 10 children died while in care. 13 died the year earlier. Children who died due to illness while in care were included in those numbers.
The cause of the death for the 10 children were:
Five children died due to medical conditions
One youth died due to head trauma (sustained at a house party)
One child died due to homicide
The cause of death for one of the children is undetermined (according to the Medical Examiner’s report)
The cause of death for the remaining two children is pending
Delonna is included in the 10 deaths last year, but it is unknown what her official cause of death is.
“We can’t comment on any of the specifics,” said Roxanne Dube Coelho, spokesperson for Alberta Human Services.
In the past, Alberta Human Services only reported deaths that occurred due to a serious injury or homicide. Under that system, the department reported two confirmed deaths last year, and six deaths the year before. There are about 8,700 children in care in Alberta at any one time.
The new reporting system was created to increase transparency and public accountability.
“It will provide more context for Albertans so they can really see it’s not just a statistic and there is a story behind it as well,” explained Dube Coelho.
At the end of June or early July, Alberta Health Services is going to release their annual report with information on the number of deaths for all children in care, regardless of cause of death
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