Alberta care system ‘horribly broken,’ brother of slain worker says
Teen accused of murder should have been in hospital, not group home, he argues
In the days before her brutal slaying, Dianne McClements, a 61-year-old caregiver who worked at a Camrose group home for older teens, told her brother she was worried about one of the boys in her care who had symptoms of schizophrenia.
Doug Culbert, who works as a college administrator in Qatar, says his sister was a dedicated professional who respected the privacy of her clients and never mentioned them by name. But she had expressed repeated concerns about one of the young men who lived at the Marler Supportive Living home, where she worked alone on the night shift.
“He was borderline psychotic and she feared he was becoming delusional,” he says. “She told me he was seeing zombies.”
Culbert says his sister told him the boy was refusing to take his anti-psychotic medication and she had no legal power to make him do so.
Culbert believes the teen is the same 17-year-old group-home resident who has been charged with second-degree murder in her stabbing death. The teen’s identity is protected by the privacy provisions of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act and the provincial Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.
His first appearance in Camrose youth court is scheduled for June 7.
Culbert says even though his sister was concerned the young man wasn’t getting proper medical care, she never refused to look after him.
“She felt she couldn’t say, ‘I’m feeling unsafe, I’m not going to work.’ She had no job protection whatsoever. How could anyone speak up if you felt your contract wasn’t going to be renewed? But she shouldn’t have been working alone and that young man should not have been there.”
McClements’ brother says his sister tried hard to help the teen, who also had symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. But he believes the boy should have been in a hospital, not a community group home.
“If someone needs his mental health addressed, it needs to be done in a timely manner. He’d had a very troubled childhood. Certainly, she had empathy for him. She was very open, very understanding. She didn’t judge anybody. She realized that he’d been kicked around and that he didn’t have much of a chance.”
Gerry McCracken, director of Camrose Community Connections, the not-for-profit agency that ran the group home under contract to the province, says he knew of no concerns regarding the young man’s mental health.
“That’s news to me. I’ve never heard that before.”
McCracken says he’s not sure if the young man received a psychiatric evaluation.
“Even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you because he’s a minor.”
McCracken says the accused had lived in the home for “well over a year” without incident.
“We have a very very good intake process. His placement had to be approved by both Children’s Services and our organization,” says McCracken. “We had no concerns.”
McCracken compares the killing of McClements to statistical chance — “like winning the Lotto 6/49.”
It’s not a comparison likely to offer much comfort to McClements’ friends and family, who are mourning the loss of the woman they remember as a warm, calming and dedicated mother, sister, daughter and professional.
McClements was born and raised in the small town of Sedgewick, where her family has lived for 60 years. One of six children, she married at 20 and raised two children.
When she went back to work, she upgraded her education with night classes and correspondence courses, and dedicated herself to looking after handicapped children.
Barb Glasgow has seven children. One of her sons was born with severe cerebral palsy, which left him unable to speak or walk. McClements spent almost 10 years with Glasgow and her family as an in-home support worker and classroom aide.
“She was like another mom to my kids,” says Glasgow. For a time, Glasgow says, McClements left the child-care field and tried running an antique shop and selling real estate. Later she returned to the social services.
She had been an employee of Camrose Community Connections for 12 years and was the team leader for the Marler House group home. Glasgow says her friend enjoyed working at the group home, where she saw herself as a den mother, helping teens learn to live independently.
Glasgow is angry about the chain of events that led to her friend’s murder. She wants to know why there wasn’t a more thorough psychiatric assessment of the young man charged in the death. She wants to know why McClements was working alone, without support. She wants to know, too, why the youth workers in the home weren’t given panic buttons or alarms in case something went wrong.
McCracken says there were no panic buttons or alarms because there had never been a need for them. The home, he says, wasn’t for teens with severe behavioural problems.
“It wasn’t the type of situation. We didn’t feel that anything like that was needed.”
McCracken says McClements was “very experienced and very knowledgeable” and particularly adept at handling teens with fetal alcohol syndrome. There was no way, he says, to foresee what happened.
But for Doug Culbert, the issue isn’t the specific working conditions his sister faced. For him, the true underlying problems that led to her death are the breakdown of the underfunded mental-health-care system and the way the province has spent the past decade outsourcing and privatizing the child welfare system, contracting out care on a competitive basis to private agencies, which in turn have to cut costs to make ends meet.
To him, it’s an economic model that doesn’t protect the interests of vulnerable children or vulnerable caregivers.
“The system is horribly broken,” he says. “The business model has no place in the social services. Some of these children, the state is essentially raising. Would you raise your child on a business model? Or course not. It’s absurd.”
Until the mental-health system and the child welfare system are properly funded, he argues, workers like his sister will continue to be put at risk.
“The people who are dedicated and working in the system should not be put in a situation of potential danger. My wish out of this is that nobody else be put in harm’s way. That way, my sister won’t have died in vain.”
26 May 2012