On Friday, a 5-person jury probing the death of seven-year-old Katelynn Sampson released 173 recommendations, the majority of which focused on the rights of children in Ontario’s child welfare system. Katelynn was abused and killed by her guardians in 2008. Although numerous adults fought over her and took an interest in her care, none of the adults entrusted with her safety ever asked her if she wanted to live with her guardians or whether they were abusing her.
The recommendations included a call to overhaul the child welfare, judicial and education systems to listen to and value the opinions and wishes of the children involved. It might seem self-evident, but it amounts to a major shift in the way child welfare is handled in Ontario. In Katelynn’s case, her guardians, Donna Irving and Warren Johnson, were able to obtain custody of the girl despite having lengthy criminal records and previous involvement with child welfare agencies and despite the fact that Katelynn herself did not appear in court to express her wishes.
The recommendations made by the jury are non-binding, and include the following:
- Standard compulsory training for all child protection workers and supervisors
- A new protocol allowing police to release their records to children’s aid societies
- Changing the operating hours of children’s aid societies from standard business hours to 12-hour days, seven days a week
- Consolidating Ontario’s 43 child protection agencies into one provincial structure
Courts in Ontario have a duty to make custody and child welfare decisions that are in the best interests of the child, a concept enshrined in both legislation and case law. The province should take the jury’s recommendations seriously, and begin by enshrining “Katelynn’s Principle” in law – placing the child at the centre of the child welfare system.
To speak with an experienced family lawyer in Windsor about child custody or child welfare, please contact Jason P. Howie online or at 519.973.1500.