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This article was published 9/7/2009 (3847 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Bad communication between the web of child welfare authorities within Manitoba and beyond the province's borders may have contributed to the chronic abuse and death of a Manitoba toddler.
Venecia Audy, 3, died three years ago after suffering multiple injuries including a fractured skull, lacerated liver, bruised ribs and 13 fresh, deep bite marks all over her body.
In a Swan River courtroom Wednesday, Venecia's mother, Melissa Audy, pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life and was sentenced to a year in jail.
Audy's former boyfriend, Jason Allen Kines, is charged in the killing. He is also facing charges of aggravated sexual assault related to Venecia's case.
Venecia's death was one of several child deaths that sparked a $48-million overhaul of the province's teetering child welfare system. But the nature of Venecia's involvement with CFS has always been murky, made even more confusing by the province's refusal to discuss details of the case.
Originally, the Doer government said Venecia's CFS file had been dormant for more than two years. The province later said the department uncovered more recent contact with Venecia, but there was no child protection involvement and no home visit during the 12 months before her death.
The court heard Wednesday that Venecia may have been living with extended family in Regina during much of that period.
Provincial officials said Thursday that Venecia was never formally a ward of the child welfare foster care system. Instead, in the summer of 2003, the courts granted formal guardianship to Venecia's aunt, who took the baby and possibly some of her three siblings to live in Regina. Later, a bitter custody battle erupted between the aunt, Leila Campeau, and Melissa Audy, each of whom accused the other of child abuse. In March 2006, a Saskatchewan judge granted Audy custody of Venecia. Five months later, Venecia was dead.
Reached at her home in Regina Thursday, Campeau said she hadn't heard that Audy had pleaded guilty and didn't want to rehash the past.
"What's done is done," she said. "Talking about it won't change anything."
It's unclear whether social workers in Saskatchewan ever called to alert Manitoba child welfare staff that Audy had regained custody of Venecia.
But Manitoba Children's Advocate Billie Schibler, who completed a special investigation of Venecia's case, said one of her 11 recommendations called for improved communication between provinces.
"There needs to be better co-ordination," Schibler said. "That was a very significant issue. It's still an outstanding issue, actually."
Shortly after Venecia's death, the provinces agreed on a new protocol to better share information on child welfare cases and make sure people don't lose their services by moving, said Carolyn Loeppky, the assistant deputy minister at Child and Family Services.
In her report — which the province refuses to make public — Schibler also called for more training, especially on risk assessments done on children.
Schibler said communication between the agencies fell short. She recommended officials ensure information on each child welfare case gets entered in the province's computer database in a timely way so it's accessible to all social workers.
Although CFS may not have had any contact with the Audy family the year before Venecia's death, Schibler said three of the province's four child welfare authorities — the umbrella groups that watch over native band-run agencies — were involved with the family's file at one point or another in the past. That suggests some confusion about who was ultimately responsible for the family.
As part of the $48 million Changes for Children initiative to overhaul child welfare, the province has improved the case database system and co-ordination between agencies and authorities.
Loeppky also said it's not uncommon for cases to be closed once a family has received services and appears to be functioning well. Often, it's a tip or complaint from a neighbour, family member or teacher that prompts CFS to reopen a file.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
A coroner's inquest may be called into the death of Venecia Audy.
Chief medical examiner Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra must call an inquest into the death of every child who dies in care. But as Audy wasn't in provincial foster care at the time of her death, he has discretion to decide whether an inquest is warranted.
Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky, who acted for Venecia's mother Melissa, said he expects an inquest to be called, likely once the remaining and most serious charges against Melissa Audy's boyfriend are dealt with.
"This is an awful case. It shouldn't be put to bed," Brodsky said. "This went terribly off the rails."
An inquest is usually held before a provincial judge to determine the cause and manner of death. The process isn't meant to find fault, but to determine how to prevent similar deaths from occurring.