In addition to the police investigation that began immediately, the sisters’ deaths triggered a preliminary review by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), as the girls had service involvement with the ministry in the previous 12 months (a criteria needed for a review).
“In circumstances like this we would cooperate fully with investigations that involve the police or coroner’s office,” said a ministry spokesperson. “Where there is ministry involvement, a preliminary review is conducted by the ministry to determine if an in-depth review is appropriate. The Office of the Representative for Children and Youth is also notified and may also conduct its own review.”
Court documents show that Andrew Berry, the girls’ father, was investigated twice by MCFD, once initiated by the mother Sarah Cotton for suspected inappropriate touching (MCFD concluded that Berry had not acted with criminal intent), and once after a large soft spot was found on Aubrey’s head. The documents say Cotton did not call MCFD about the soft spot and she that assumes a social worker at the hospital misread the notes and contacted MCFD.
For the ministry review, the Provincial Director of Child Welfare must decide if an in-depth case review is warranted. There are a number of factors that contribute to the decision: whether the child was in government care or not; the nature and severity of the incident; the history and nature of prior ministry involvement; any apparent link between services provided and the outcome for the children; and the need for public accountability.
“Once a review has been initiated it can take three to eight months to complete,” said a ministry spokesperson. “Case review reports include confidential information so cannot be made public. It is the ministry’s practice with all case review reports to publicly post an executive summary.”
Summaries are posted twice annually. The next posting is expected in summer 2018.
The Office of the Representative for Children and Youth also receives notice of critical injuries or death of children who have received services from MCFD. They act as a watchdog and an independent advocate for children and youth in B.C., monitoring and reviewing the ministry’s services and conducting independent investigations when there are critical injuries or deaths.
“If there’s any indication services or lack of services might have played a role, then clearly I think it would be a significant interest for us to investigate,” said Bernard Richard, British Columbia’s child and youth representative. “Sadly, we receive roughly 2,200 reports every year of what are called critical injuries or deaths of kids in care or recently out of care. About 70 a month are determined to be related to mandated services in some way. About four or five a month get a more in-depth review. We end up investigating perhaps three or four a year.”
They are currently gathering information about the Berry case, however, they couldn’t begin an investigation until the police and coroners have completed theirs or after a year has passed, whichever comes first.
“Clearly given the tragic nature of the events, we want to make sure we’re diligent in starting the process,” said Richard. “We always look for ways to learn lessons from an event and to contribute to the prevention of similar events in the future. An investigation can cost in the vicinity of $200,000 but if we think there’s lessons to be learned, if we thing there’s a possibility of avoiding tragedy in the future … we make that determination.”
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