NEWS

Child Welfare System Failed 12-Year Old Impregnated By Stepdad: Report

The girl was assaulted for over two years.

08/23/2017 14:04 EDT | Updated 08/23/2017 15:13 EDT
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — She was 12, and seeking an abortion after being sexually assaulted and impregnated by her stepfather.

In a report released Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate says the child protection system responded inadequately to her case, and missed opportunities to intervene.

Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh says questions weren't asked, risk wasn't assessed, and consents were not appropriately obtained when the girl sought and ultimately obtained an abortion after saying she had become pregnant through consensual sex with her teenaged boyfriend.

"She received inadequate screening and assessments, which potentially enabled the sexual abuse of the child to continue," Kavanagh wrote.

"Had appropriate measures been taken when this child presented to terminate her pregnancy, or when child protection concerns were reported, the abuse may potentially have been detected and stopped."

The report said the family lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for about five months before later moving to another province, where the girl told authorities two years later that she had repeatedly been sexually assaulted by her stepfather over a period of 26 months, resulting in two abortions.

Had appropriate measures been taken when this child presented to terminate her pregnancy, or when child protection concerns were reported, the abuse may potentially have been detected and stopped.Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh

The stepfather pleaded guilty in the case and to other offences including sexual assault on other individuals, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

The report says that shortly after arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador, the stepfather took the girl to a Planned Parenthood medical clinic seeking an abortion.

The man claimed to be the girl's biological father even though he wasn't — the girl's mother lived outside the province and wasn't involved.

The report says although the girl said she had consensual sex with her boyfriend, questions were't asked about his age and the stepfather's guardianship status wasn't verified.

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The child was referred to the Eastern Health Authority for an abortion where again, age-appropriate screening and counselling services weren't offered.

"The surgery was performed despite two sections of the consent form being incomplete, one of which included the legal capacity of the stepfather to sign for consent," the report states.

The child was discharged from the hospital with her stepfather with no further followup.

The surgery was performed despite two sections of the consent form being incomplete, one of which included the legal capacity of the stepfather to sign for consent.

The report says officials with the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development (CSSD) became involved a month later, after multiple protection referrals, including one that alleged the stepfather had physically abused the 12-year-old and one of her siblings.

Although the CSSD conducted some followup interviews, the child's grandmother and stepfather eventually became unco-operative, with the stepfather claiming harassment and the grandmother refusing to allow the children to be interviewed.

There were many opportunities to intervene with this little girl and her siblings; but they were missed.Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh

The family moved out of the province after four months of sporadic contact with authorities.

"There were many opportunities to intervene with this little girl and her siblings; but they were missed," writes Kavanagh. "The children's rights were not adequately protected. Based on the experiences and lessons from this case, a collective effort is required to do better for and by these children."

Kavanagh said any child who goes to a community agency or health authority to terminate a pregnancy should not be treated as an adult and should be the subject of specialized child-focused screening.

The report says the province's health care system needs better co-ordination of services, while health care professionals need better knowledge of child protection legislation and the CSSD needs "appropriate protective intervention and follow up."

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