APTN National News
The Indigenous child welfare agency that placed Amy Owen in an Ottawa group home is questioning how the 13-year-old, who is suspected of dying by suicide, was able to do so when her father says she was under 24-hour, one-on-one supervision.
Tikinagan Child and Family Services’ Executive Director Thelma Morris spoke to APTN National News Monday and was asked if she questioned how Owen’s died if she was believed to be under 24-hour supervision.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Morris. “We do have questions around that.”
But she refused to specifically address what care Owen was receiving citing confidentiality.
Owen, of Poplar Hill First Nation near Kenora, Ont., was placed in the care of Mary Homes around Jan. 8 after being transferred from another group home in Prescott, Ont., about an hour south of Ottawa.
She is believed to have died by suicide in the early morning hours of April 17 in an east end home operated by Mary Homes, which is an independent business licensed by the province.
Owen’s father, Jeffrey Owen, said he was told she was under 24-hour care.
“Amy was supposed to have one-on-one care with 24-hour supervision. How could she take her own life if she was under constant supervision?” said Jeffrey Owen last week.
One-on-one means a staff member is supposed to be with a child around the clock, including being outside their door when they sleep checking on them regularly.
APTN has confirmed Owen was under 24-hour supervision at her previous home in Prescott, the Beacon Home.
Beacon Home owner Esther Aiken said Owen kept threatening to kill herself by running in front of a moving train on nearby train tracks.
Aiken said she made the “difficult” decision to transfer Owen to Mary Homes to get her away from the tracks.
She doesn’t know what care Owen was receiving at Mary Homes but she recommended that Owen continue to be under 24-hour watch.
“I can’t speak if that was lifted,” said Aikens, but she feared for Owen’s life. “I knew this was going to happen. She was determined.”
APTN has put questions to Mary Homes but they have not responded.
A photo posted online shortly before her death shows Owen with dozens of stitches in her arms from suspected self-harming and even more scars from cuts on her arms.
APTN also knows Owen tried to die by suicide about two months before her death when she tried to run into on-coming traffic on Montreal road in Ottawa.
Morris did say that Tikinagan Child and Family Services provides additional costs to have extra resources in place for 24-hour care and the homes do not need to apply.
“If there is a need to have a one-to-one we approve automatically,” said Morris. “That is written into our agreements.”
The death is currently being investigated by the province which is mandatory in any child welfare death said Morris.
“I haven’t received any word that the most recent incident has wrapped up,” said Morris.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Child and Youth Services is looking into what steps can be taken right now.
“In this specific situation, the ministry is looking into immediate steps that can be taken to strengthen safeguards and oversight of licensed residential services,” said a spokesperson for the ministry.
Owen spent most of 2015 in the Prescott group home. Aikens’ said during that time she wasn’t suicidal. It wasn’t until she returned a second time in late 2016 that she noticed a change in her behaviour.
When she heard the news that Owen was suspected of dying by suicide it broke her heart.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god. I made the wrong decision. I made the wrong choice,’” she said breaking down in tears.
Owen was one of three First Nations girls to die in group homes in the last six months.
Kanina Turtle, 15, died Oct. 29 in Sioux Lookout. She was also of Poplar Hill First Nation.
Courtney Scott, 16, of Fort Albany First Nation, died in an Ottawa group home April 21 when a fire broke out in the home. That fire is still under investigation.
All three girls were from First Nations that are part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which has called for an inquest into the deaths.
“We are calling for the Office of the Chief Coroner to exercise discretion and call an inquest as quickly as possible to fully address the issues behind these tragedies,” Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said last week.
“This inquest must encompass the full range of systemic issues that led to the tragic deaths of these youth. We are calling for legislative change to the Coroner’s Act so that any death of a youth in a group home setting will result in a mandatory inquest.”