‘The family deserves answers’: Critics question how 6-year-old died, four days into foster care


News that a six-year-old Victoria boy died after only four days in foster care has reached the top levels of B.C.’s government. On Thursday, the leader of the opposition called for answers, while Jennifer Charlesworth, the Representative for Children and Youth, said the case has some major red flags.

Meanwhile, Oliver Ratchford’s family continues to grieve.

“I’m just heartbroken about what happened,” said Stephanie Paquette, a family friend who has organized a GoFundMe to help the family financially navigate their grief.

Oliver’s mother, Jade Ratchford, says he and his sister were taken from her home Thursday, Feb. 22. Four days later, on Feb. 26, Ratchford says she got a call that her son had drowned in a body of water in his foster family’s backyard and was on life support.

On the morning of Feb. 28, Oliver took his last breaths.

“They took my baby. They killed him…MCFD killed my son,” Ratchford told CHEK News in a statement Wednesday. “How is this child protection? How is this right? How is this the government’s idea of what safety is?”

READ MORE: ‘How does that happen?’ Victoria family says 6-year-old son drowned in foster care

The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) says foster parents and their properties undergo thorough checks. Family friends say MCFD staff clearly failed when it came to Oliver.

“He’s gone because someone didn’t put a fence around his pond or pool or supervise these children. How does that happen?” family friend Colleen Hopkins told CHEK News Wednesday.

Ratchford says she was given no reason why her children were taken from their home. So far she and family friends tell CHEK News they haven’t heard from MCFD, other than at the hospital when they asked Ratchford to appear in court for a custody hearing.

“I said, excuse me, there’s a boy in there that may die and you’re asking these people to leave the hospital to come to court for a custody hearing? I think you better tell them to back off,” said Hopkins.

Opposition response

B.C.’s Leader of the Opposition says Oliver’s treatment while under provincial care amounts to “child neglect.”

“The family deserves answers but so does the public about what on earth is going on in that ministry,” said Kevin Falcon, leader of BC United.

MCFD says a child is removed from their family as a last resort, and kids who do come into their care should be safe.

“I cannot speak to specifics but it is my expectation that everything is being done to ensure children are safe, and when that doesn’t happen that we are getting to the bottom of what happened and what steps we need to take,” said Grace Lore, Minister for MCFD.

B.C.’s representative for children and youth says the circumstances around Oliver’s death raise some major concerns.

“These kinds of situations where there’s a death of a kid that’s in care, especially so soon after being brought in care, it does raise a lot of red flags on a lot of fronts,” said Charlesworth. “Was there an adequate assessment done? Was there a physical review of the environment? Did they know what the children would need?”

Charlesworth’s office is already conducting a systemic review of the current foster care model in B.C. She says Oliver’s death will be looked at individually and as part of the larger audit.

“We’ve got to take a look at the model of care that we have that’s really about protection, safety, and removal,” said Charlesworth.

The review is looking at solutions like move-in care and counselling that could prevent kids from coming into care in the first place.

It’s too late for six-year-old Oliver, who took his last few breaths Wednesday, leaving family and friends trying to grapple with the death of their little boy gone far too soon.

“He was just a lovely kid and I will miss him so much,” said Paquette.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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