Less than a week after her daughter’s death, a St. John’s woman is speaking out about their treatment by Child Youth and Family Services.
Maryann Miller of St. John’s says she hopes no other family will endure the emotional stress that she and three-year-old Chancey faced, especially in the last few weeks of her daughter’s life.
Chancey, a petite blond-haired girl, was less than three months old when she was diagnosed with heart problems and had to undergo surgery in Halifax to have a pacemaker implanted.
Miller said she and Chancey always had a close relationship, so close that she was a naturally shy child who would cling to her mom anytime she was around strangers.
In June, Chancey was removed from Miller’s home by the province’s child protection division. Miller said a social worker saw a photo that her older daughter took of Chancey with her father, who had been ordered to only have supervised visits.
“They said they had proof that she was left alone with her father,” said Miller, who disputes that allegation, but said she was never even given an opportunity to explain anything in court.
Miller said Chancey fretted about being removed from her home and it broke her heart, too.
In August, Miller said doctors at the Janeway Hospital in St. John’s referred Chancey to the Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto because of problems with her pacemaker. It was determined that she would need surgery to have a new pacemaker implanted.
Child protection services in Newfoundland arranged for Miller to accompany her daughter to Toronto in mid-August where the surgery was performed. She was accommodated at a nearby hotel.
But, Miller said, two weeks and a day after she arrived there, a nurse informed her that a foster parent was coming to the hospital for a meeting about Chancey.
Miller said she went to the meeting and found out that this foster parent takes in sick children. She said she asked whether she could visit Chancey there and the woman told her she doesn’t normally have visitors in her home.
“There was one lady from Ontario that said they only have six hours of a week … She said one child don’t see their parent, another child only gets a couple of hours … I was cracking up,” Miller said.
From there, she said she phoned a Newfoundland social worker she had been dealing with and was informed child protection services wouldn’t be supporting her stay any longer in Ontario, that she would have to return home.
“I said this is all crazy. I left the hospital and had to go for a breather because I felt like I was going to pass out,” Miller said. “They just said they were not going to support me up there because the lady doesn’t have it in her home and they weren’t going to give me the times because they don’t have that up there, visiting. That’s the Ontario rules up that way for child protection.”
In the meantime, Miller said, she begged the doctors to keep her daughter in hospital longer because she had lost weight, still had a feeding tube inserted and didn’t appear well.
Miller said she was giving Chancey her heart medication at hospital because she was so shy around the nurses, she wouldn’t take it for them, so she figured she wouldn’t eat well around strangers either.
“I said she’s going to be fretting, she’s going to end up getting worse. I said something was going to happen to her, who’s going to be responsible? Nobody would answer me,” Miller said.
After the meeting, she saw Chancey again. “She was screeching, ‘Mom, don’t go,’” Miller said, her own emotions uncontrollable, while recalling her daughter’s tearful cries for her to stay.
Miller said a social worker from Newfoundland came to Toronto to transition Chancey into the new foster home.
“I stayed in the hospital and cried for a few hours because I couldn’t leave and then when I went to the hotel, I couldn’t get in. I was locked out,” she said.
Not knowing what to do, Miller returned to the hospital, where she said an employee at the front desk was able to reach the Newfoundland social worker, who then made arrangements for her to stay at the hotel another night.
Miller said she spoke to Chancey by phone that night and she was still “crying and screeching,” saying “Mommy, I want to come home.”
She said she was allowed to see Chancey for two hours the next day and then had nowhere to go but walk the streets before meeting up with the social worker to travel to the airport and return to Newfoundland.
Just a little more than two weeks after she left Toronto, Miller said social workers showed up at her home in the centre of St. John’s Saturday with a box of tissues. They were there to break the news to her that her daughter had passed away in Ontario.
Thursday, Miller was still trying to find out the truth of what happened to her daughter and when she died because she said the information she’s received has been conflicting.
Miller said she was told by social workers that Chancey died in the hospital from an infection, while a doctor in Toronto said she died at the foster home. She said she also saw a report from the Toronto hospital suggesting that Chancey’s condition was getting worse and talking about a possible heart transplant.
Miller said the way she was treated was wrong and by speaking out, she hopes it will prevent other families from going through this.
“I’m hoping it will help some other families because I should have never left the hospital and she should have stayed in the hospital because she was still sick,” Miller said.
While she was in Toronto, Miller said was only given $20 a day for food, so many days she went hungry, but she didn’t complain. She said child protection services didn’t even have to keep her in a hotel because she would have been happy to stay in cheaper accommodations as long as she could be near Chancey.
St. John’s lawyer Brian Wentzel has been speaking out on behalf of Miller and a close friend has set up a Friends of Chancey Facebook group.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she’s also planning to establish a trust fund and fundraise to help Miller with the funeral expenses.
As of Thursday, Miller said autopsy results had not been disclosed to her and she was still waiting to hear when her daughter’s body would be returned to the province for a funeral service.
The provincial government doesn’t speak about specific child protection cases because of privacy legislation, but Child Youth and Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson stated publicly this week that she doesn’t believe workers in her department did anything wrong.