Former foster mom of killed Port Alberni boy says child welfare agency needs change

CHEK

A former foster mom of Don-Tay Lucas says when he was with her, he was safe and happy.

So she’s questioning why the family protection service, which was meant to protect him, allowed him to go back into the care of his mother and stepdad, who killed him within days of his return to their Port Alberni home.

Karen Ruttan has fond memories of caring for Lucas during the first three years of his life.

“A sweet kid. When he smiled, it lit up the room. We just loved him to pieces,” said Ruttan.

She was Lucas’ foster mom until he was suddenly moved to another Port Alberni home. “It was horrible,” she said.

A process she says wasn’t in Lucas’ best interest.

“We loved him, and I’m hoping by standing up for the rights of these children and for their families that things can change because this can’t keep going on,” said Ruttan.

Lucas was six years old when he transitioned back to living with his mother and stepfather. He died on March 13, 2018, seven days after moving in with them full-time.

Rykel Charleson and Mitchell Frank pleaded guilty to killing him last week and are awaiting sentencing.

“Very sad. It’s been many years now, but I even dreamt last night that I held him. He sat close to me. I had him longer than anybody had him,” said Ruttan.

USMA, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s child welfare agency, placed Lucas back into his mother and stepfather’s home.

The Ministry of Children and Families did an audit at USMA nine months after Lucas’ death.

It found high staff turnover and long-term vacancies leading to higher caseloads and stress. It also found that USMA developed a care plan for children in just 14 per cent of the cases and documented investigations following alleged abuse or neglect in a family-care home in just 17 per cent of cases.

Ruttan says she fully supports children going back to their families but says she has seen a lot of issues in her many dealings with USMA with numerous foster kids over the years.

“A lot of times we report back that it’s not safe, but we’re ignored because the mandate has been to return them to the families, and I’m all for that when it’s safe, but we do need to stand up for these children,” said Ruttan.

She says USMA needs more accountability to ensure it’s protecting kids.

USMA has not responded to questions about how it’s changed since that audit. Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s president told CHEK News last week the Ministry of Children and Families investigated how USMA handled Lucas’ case and found no wrongdoing.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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