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Victoria boy, 6, died days after being placed in foster care

The coroners service and the Children and Families Ministry are investigating the death of Oliver Ratchford, who was found face-down in a backyard garden pond.
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Oliver Ratchford and his sister were placed in foster care on Feb. 22. VIA JADE RATCHFORD

A Victoria family is devastated after their six-year-old son died Wednesday, just days after being removed from his home and placed in foster care.

Mother Jade Ratchford said Oliver and his eight-year-old sister, Lucy, were taken from their home and placed in foster care on Feb. 22.

Four days later, on Monday, Oliver was found face-down and unresponsive in a backyard garden pond. He was on life-support at Victoria General Hospital for two days before he died, she said.

“I am destroyed,” said Ratchford. She said the children were removed without “adequate explanation to this point” by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Steph Paquette, a close friend, said Oliver was left playing unsupervised with his sister in a backyard with an unfenced pool and pond and fell in.

Paquette said despite the efforts of emergency responders and hospital staff, the boy “never woke up” and died at 3:55 a.m. Wednesday.

Paquette described Oliver as a sweet, fun, smart and very curious little boy. “Everyone who meets him falls in love with him,” she said. His parents were awaiting a diagnosis for suspected autism, said Paquette, who has set up an online fundraising campaign for the family.

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed Thursday it was notified of the death and is in the “very early stages” of its investigation.

Children and Families Minister Grace Lore, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, called Oliver’s death “every parent’s worst nightmare.”

“I can’t imagine what the family of this little boy is going through and their community,” said Lore. She said she couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case or confirm if a child is in ministry care for privacy reasons.

“I can, though, say what my expectations are as a minister, as a mom — if a child dies while in care, then our ministry takes absolutely every step necessary to get to the truth of what happened and why.”

Lore said she has asked for a full audit to get the family answers immediately, and if there are steps and actions needed as a result of that investigation, “I will take them.”

As for foster parents and caregivers, she said the approval process includes screenings, assessments, criminal background checks for working with vulnerable youth, and a home safety assessment and home study.

Lore couldn’t confirm if Oliver’s sister had been removed from the foster home, but said in general, if a child dies in care, action is taken to remove any other children still in that home and to provide supports such as counselling to those siblings.

B.C. representative for children and youth Jennifer Charlesworth offered her “deepest condolences” to the family and said her office will review the case.

“We will be doing everything we can to ensure that we understand what’s happened and to address the issues that gave rise to this so the actions are taken to prevent similar deaths,” she said.

Charlesworth said a child’s death automatically triggers several reviews, including investigation by the ministry and coroners service.

“All of us have a responsibility to do that as quickly as possible in order to identify anything that raises flags where we could take action, and then to make that commitment to act on anything that speaks to how this could have been prevented.”

The minister has the authority to enact policy, request regulatory changes, enact practice guidelines or support staff to better understand their responsibilities, she said.

“There are many things that a ministry can identify and act on right away,” said Charlesworth. “There’s nothing stopping the ministry — if they see things, they can act now.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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