A six-year-old Port Alberni boy killed by his mother and stepfather would be alive today if USMA Nuu-chah-nulth Family and Child Services had acted on reports from a concerned neighbour, says the child’s grieving father.
Don-Tay Patrick Lucas was failed by the child-protection agency when he was returned to his mother’s home, despite numerous reports that she and her partner were partying every day, and children could be heard screaming in the house, said Patrick Lucas.
The neighbour also called the RCMP numerous times, he said.
“My boy shouldn’t have been there. They had alcohol and drugs going on in the home,” said Lucas. “But nothing was done about it.”
Don-Tay died on March 13, 2018 from blunt-force trauma injuries to the brain. His mother, Rykel Charleson, and stepfather, Mitchell Frank, pleaded guilty to manslaughter this week. The couple were initially charged with first-degree murder.
Staff at the boy’s school noticed bruises on the boy, according to an agreed statement of facts read into the court record. Lucas said both Don-Tay and his sister told a school counsellor they were being hit and abused at home but they weren’t believed.
“They said they were too young and didn’t know what they were talking about. Nothing was done about that,” he said.
Don-Tay was also failed by the legal system, which “downgraded” the murder charge to manslaughter, said Lucas, adding that he and his family are upset that the Crown did not proceed with the murder charge.
“I met with Crown twice and they said: ‘It will save us six weeks of trial, maybe longer, and it won’t be much of a difference if they get charged with first-degree murder or manslaughter,’ ” said Lucas.
The agreed statement of facts revealed in horrifying detail how Don-Tay was brutalized by his mother and stepfather over four months.
The couple hit him, bit him, deprived him of food, water and sleep and made him hang from his knees from the top of a door until he fell.
Lucas, 32, said he and Charleson were in a relationship for nine years and also have two daughters. Don-Tay was born on Dec. 31, 2011 and was immediately removed from their care in the hospital because they were both drinking heavily, he said.
“We did everything we could to prevent it from happening but it was all processed and pretty much decided that he would be taken from us,” said Lucas, who is now sober.
Don-Tay was placed in a foster home in Port Alberni and did well, said his father.
Lucas and Charleson split up around 2016. She met Frank while Lucas served a two-year jail sentence for domestic violence.
Lucas was living in Victoria when Don-Tay was being transitioned back into his mother’s care from November 2017 to March 2018. He said the last time he saw his son was Dec. 17, 2017, three months before he died.
“I had a hunch he was being mistreated. He was pale and closed off,” he said.
Lucas said he complained to his social worker that he was concerned about his son. She left USMA after Don-Tay’s death, he said.
On Tuesday, Nuu-chah-nulth president Judith Sayers told CHEK News that there was no wrongdoing by USMA and that Don-Tay’s death “was just a very tragic set of circumstances.”
Lucas, however, called that “total bull——.”
Sayers could not be reached for comment.
An audit of USMA child and family services by the Ministry of Children and Family Development was completed in January 2019, nine months after Don-Tay’s death.
The audit found that the agency faced high staff turnover and long-term staff vacancies, resulting in higher caseloads and stress levels.
The audit, which is based on 77 child-service records, revealed that USMA had only 17 per cent compliance with its requirement to investigate alleged abuse or neglect in a family-care home.
The audit also found USMA had only 14 per cent compliance with developing a comprehensive plan of care for its wards.
More troubling, the audit found USMA had only one per cent compliance with the requirement that a social worker visit the child.
“Documentation of the social workers’ private contacts with children/youth in care met the standard in 1 of the 77 records. Of the 76 records rated not achieved, 12 did not have confirmations that the children and youth had visits of any kind with their social workers,” said the audit.
The report concludes that overall compliance with child service standards was 56 per cent.