Initially published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, March 27, 2015. 

The day is foggy and grey. Somewhat sad except that I’ve always loved the rain and its plaintive reminders. As I do the usual ruffling through the news I come across the case of a 21-month-old toddler who, two years ago this month, died while in foster care. Too sad for words, but upon reading the entire story, several more shades of darkness pile up.

The mother, who had her baby taken away by social services just two months after birth – she was deemed unsuitable to be a parent due to a learning disability – is now suing the B.C Children’s Ministry for the death of her daughter.

The toddler was found to have several arm fractures, old and new, as well as bruises on face, arms and legs, the coroner’s report stated, yet the cause of death was deemed as unclear.

That a child is dead is unacceptable. Parenting is hard work, everyone knows that, but this is not about parenting and its hard trials. This is about a system failing to step in, and it is also about the failure to present the birth mother with an answer as to why her baby died, having her fight to shed some light which, as of now, has not been the case.

Instead, she had bureaucrats shrugging and filling the space with empty words. There is nothing that can ever fill the space where a child once was.

A life is a life. We simply cannot shrug, call it sad and move on. We are approaching new elections and thus we will have a chance to change things. Will we know what needs to be changed? What can we ask for? The basics to start with. Respect and care for our most vulnerable, children and the elderly, as well as other categories, the ones that cannot always speak for themselves.

We should be asking that our collective children are cared for, that every one of them is properly accounted for and that the system will not fail children or parents, but rather engage into helping them be looked after and/or reunite when the situation allows for it.

In the last few years I have heard of more than one case of parents struggling to keep their children only to end up losing them to foster care, or extended families trying to keep in touch with children yet having their pleas completely ignored.

Truth is, raising children, whether by natural or foster parents, should be a team effort. It provides accountability of some sort. Someone in the network that we strive to create around each child will be able to notice when things aren’t right. Then, of course, comes the objectivity in assessing the facts and taking appropriate measures.

If we allow for learning disabilities to become reasons for losing the right to parent a child, we enter a grey area that would have many children ripped from the people who love them the most. Yes, they may need support and guidance, yet that would be a much better use of resources and a significant gain for our society as a whole.

While some parents are truly unsuitable, as sad as that is, we cannot allow for those who want to be good parents to be deemed unfit and have their children thrown into a system that dangerously lacks proper screening criteria for foster parents.

At the same time, there are many foster families out there going above and beyond in striving to provide a loving home to children other than their own, and they do not deserve to be painted with a tainted brush at any time.

It comes down to being responsible for one’s actions. Good or bad, if actions are accounted for properly, there is high hope that fewer children will fall through the cracks. Proper assessments of those in charge of children, control measures and not filling the space with empty words but action that sees the bad corrected.

When children are cared for and raised in ways that help them learn kindness and compassion from those who care for them, they’ll grow up to pay it forward and the entire society will benefit from it.

A society is as strong as its care for the most vulnerable is. Striving to do our best where best is needed – the purpose of a job is not just to be done but to be done well – will allow us to weave the kind of societal fabric that will not allow for anyone to fall through.

Shutting down a foster home after a child dies like the one where baby Isabella died, if not followed by an inquiry, misses the point of obligatory due diligence that we owe to all those who our yet imperfect system failed. Closure is not a word but should be a set of actions with a common denominator: now we know better.

A child’s life, as so many along the way, has been lost and that cannot be undone. Let’s not allow today’s news to just wash over it with no lessons learned. Hugging our children should be a constant reminder that life is precious and we are all bound by the high purpose of protecting it. All we have to do is live up to that purpose.