Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gage's final 15 months in hands of troubled kin

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Internal child welfare documents which examine the system's involvement in the life and death of two-year-old Gage Guimond show the toddler and his older sister were taken from foster care and placed with family members social workers knew were unreliable, had criminal records and addictions problems.

The documents - obtained by the Free Press and believed to be part of ongoing reviews of Gage's July 2007 death - itemize the last 15 months of Gage's life. They show, sometimes in horrifying detail, how the system failed to ensure the safety of the Guimond children.

On July 20, 2007, Gage was rushed to Children's Hospital in Winnipeg with severe head trauma after allegedly falling down the stairs at the home of his great aunt, Shirley Guimond.

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He was taken off life support two days later, the day after his second birthday.

His sister, who cannot be identified, was apprehended from the same home covered in bruises. She was treated in hospital and released.

Shirley Guimond, is charged with manslaughter in connection to Gage's death.

Gage and his sister were placed in foster care in August 2006 after their mother abandoned them with various relatives. They were initially placed in foster care with a couple in Selkirk but Sagkeeng was determiend to find them a family placement.

First that was to be with their paternal grandmother despite the fact repeated entries in the children's files document the grandmother as being unreliable, unstable and likely an alcoholic.

The grandmother repeatedly failed to show up for scheduled visits with her grandchildren, or cancelled the visits at the last minute in order to visit with her probation officer. On one scheduled visit she left the children alone with two men listed only as "an older gentleman and someone sleeping on the floor." The social workers never bothered to find out who those men were or where the grandmother was during that visit.

The files are also missing evidence that Sagkeeng Child and Family Services ever obtained the requested alcohol assessment on the grandmother prior to placing them in her care in March 2007.

Just two months later, in May 2007, a visit to the grandmother's home found the children living in the "aftermath of a drinking party."

"Beer bottles on coffee and kitchen tables, by couch, people sleeping in the living room and other areas in the home, an intoxicated man. . ." is the notation in the file.

The kids also both had lice and had often been cared for by a 15-year-old uncle.

On June 19, 2007, the children were placed with their great-Aunt, Shirley Guimond. A safety assessment of her home identified the aunt as a low-risk despite the aunt having a criminal record for stealing a car, mischief and assault. She spent six months in prison for an assault charge in 1987.

Guimond's home also had cats, which posed a medical risk to Gage who had severe asthma which had required previous hospitalizations.

A notation in the documents made during the death review says "it appears Gage's medical conditions was not taken into consideration. ie. The presence of cats is not a good environment for an asthmatic, is that not correct?"

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said the province needs to call an inquest into Gage's case to look at what happened and investigate the sensitive issue of placing kids with family members at all costs.

"There are a lot of things swirling around on this case," said Gerrard. "We need a calm, careful look at what happened. This is not about laying blame, this is about learning and making things so it doesn't happen again."

A spokesman for Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh said it's up to the chief medical examiner to call an inquest.

Jim Compton, spokesman for the Southern First Nations Child and Family Services Authority which is responsible for the Sagkeeng agency, said there has not been any policy changes due to factors in Gage's case and won't be for at least another three months.

"All I can tell you is there is a section four (review) being done on the case," said Compton. "That's not going to be done until June. We wouldn't have acted on anything policy wise (yet)."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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