We are profoundly affected as in many ways we helped raise Chris over the years through the FASlink global family. He was our child too and also embodies the concerns we have for our own children at home. Who will be next?
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Thursday, June 30, 2005
This is a letter I've sent to the minister of family services here in Winnipeg.
Honourable Minister, Christine Melnick.
Dear Minister Melnick:
My name is Val Surbey and I am mom to Christopher Surbey, the 17 year old boy who was murdered in the early hours of Monday, June 6, 2005.
At that time, Christopher was under a VPA with Child and Family Services, with his case being contracted out to MacDonald Youth Services and currently in the Transition program through MYS.
Several negative things are happening as a result of Chris' death, not the least of which is our grief and anger at how the system failed him miserably. At present we have a pressing issue that I hope you can help us with.
For slightly over two weeks now, we have attempted to retrieve Chris' CFS files from Winnipeg Child and Family Services. I emphasize that my husband Vince and I never relinquished guardianship of Christopher and were so at the time of his death. Therefore, we are entitled to the files. First we were told that they had to collect the files from MYS. We learned yesterday that the files are still sitting in the offices of MYS. They have been organized and are ready for collecting, however, no one from CFS has bothered to pick them up.
Secondly, we have continually been stalled, put off, some calls unanswered (which has been a pattern over the five years Chris was in care), and downright refusal to give us a straight answer as to why they have to "read" the files before they give them to us.
Late yesterday afternoon, my husband received a call stating that we would "get a letter by Monday" to tell us what they planned on doing. I can't believe that an agency who let our son down so badly that it resulted in his demise, is now putting our family through more trauma because they seem to be conducting a "cover up". My husband met with the assistant to the Executive Director of CFS this morning, and again we are no further ahead.
We learned that information about Chris that was on file was never shared with the programs he entered. The only time staff learned about Chris' disabilities (and he had some, notably FASD) was when we told them. The staff were told that he was there because "we couldn't handle him at home." We were forced to place him in care in order to access the necessary treatment he required to grow to a productive person within the community.
We also learned that several meetings, both team and transitional meetings were held without our being notified and the teams were told we were unavailable. We learned that Chris had been removed from his treatment home early in the year, spent 10 days in a hotel and then moved to the apartment on Talbot (where, by the way, they plan on putting another child in there), which then resulted in his death.
We are not out to "get anyone" over Chris' death. We have stated that over and over again, however, we are beginning to lean towards having to secure some legal advice in terms of what we should do. I can't understand what CFS is afraid of or why they continue to put us through this. Our lives have been open books with that agency since we started fostering for them in 1988. We have adopted three children through CFS (all with disabilities) and we currently foster a child (although he has been transferred to the aboriginal authority) with disabilities. I might add that we had no adoption subsidy, nor had we asked for any.
We are prepared to make this public. I don't like to threaten things like this, however, it seems that the agency is leaving us no room for movement. They are entirely uncooperative, refuse to speak to us, except through the social worker, and refuse to acknowledge our loss in terms of even calling us to express its sympathies.
It's very plain that CFS dropped the ball in terms of our son and his safety. Some days before his death, we had a team meeting with Chris at his apartment. He had been encouraged by a program director at MYS to stop his meds a year prior, which he did. He was totally out of control. We had to stop the meeting.
A few days after that, the transition coordinator and myself met with the CFS social worker to request more support time for Chris, particularly overnight.
Who, in their right mind leaves a 17 year old, disabled, totally impressionable and totally vulnerable boy alone in an apartment in a horrible section of the city night after night? This boy had no consequential learning, only functioned in the present, and did not consider the possible results of action he might take. He needed 24/7 supports, plain and simple. He was set up for failure.
This was what was happening to Chris. On the Thursday before his death, the new CFS worker met with Chris and his support staff person. At that time, Chris himself asked for more support and more staff time. This, from a boy who never, ever considered himself in need of help of any sort. I think he was beginning to realize that things were not going well for him, and his life was generally coming apart at the seams. During that last meeting (which was the last time I saw him and it was a nightmare), he indicated to me that he wanted to go back on his meds again. He knew that they at least helped him to stay more level than he was doing.
I'm in tears as I'm writing this, because I can't imagine how anyone can relate to having to bury one's child before themselves. This was a totally needless death because our son had no system to protect him. I have talked to ministers including yourself, people within government, other organizations and to all I indicated that without those 24/7 supports our son would have one of three things happen to him:
1. He would
be one of the youngest people living on the street.
In conclusion, as I said previously, we are not out to "get" anyone, but rather by reviewing the files ourselves, we can assist agencies and government in devising programs, particularly in the transition time for young people with disabilities like Chris' to keep them safe, yet let them become productive members of the community.
Thank you for your time.
It is with profound sadness that Vince and Val Surbey announce the untimely and sudden passing of their son Christopher David Surbey at 1:00 a.m. on Monday, June 6, 2005. Chris was born on October 13, 1987 and joined our family on December 26, 1989.
We want to remember our son as a unique and delightful young man who struggled with the issues of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and RAD (Reactive Attachment disorder). In December of 2000, we were forced to voluntarily place him under the care of Child and Family Services in order to acess treatment that was so neccesary for his life to develop into a full and productive adult. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
Vince and Val want to express their deep appreciation for the tremendous support they have received from their friends and family during these very difficult times.
Chris is survived by his parents, extended and immediate family and numerous friends and acquaintances touched by him during his all too brief stay here on earth.
A memorial gathering was held on Saturday, June 11, at 1:00 p.m. at Cropo Funeral Chapel, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
With a Cry
In my time of understanding, the thought can never be that I see the blade that took the life of someone like me, Christopher Surbey. My eyes close and then I see the hands reaching out of Christopher Surbey, the cry “I Don’t Want To Die”. I hear so clear as this echoes with so much fear. The streets so cold and the perpetrator so bold, takes Christopher Surbey’s life and his future now untold.
Listen to the cries from Chris, don’t just put his death on another list. Keep Christopher Surbey’s memory alive with the rest of us. Those who are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders need special security, for without this you see the result will always be just like our precious Christopher Surbey. Chris, we never met, but my heart does mourn, I never had a chance to laugh or share a moment or two out of the norm.
Vince and Val, no words can express the emptiness since the passing of Chris. Please take hold of the thought that is your son. Christopher Surbey left you with a kiss. We will keep Chris’s memory alive, and in his name other FASD’ers will survive.
I have lived
but never lost.
June 20, 2005
Two weeks ago today, two police officers came to our door and informed us that our 17 year old son, Christopher had been stabbed to death somewhere around 1 am.
My first reaction was "was he alone" and "he must have been so frightened" and "did he ask for me?"
Our next reaction was anger. This is a 17 year old boy with disabilities, notably FASD, who was left to fend for himself overnight, night after night, with no supports. The reason? Because he wasn't funded for such support. His support worker had left him at 10pm, watching a movie. For a reason unknown to any of us, he left his apartment after that, and the rest is history.
Many of you know how long and hard we fought for sufficient and appropriate services for Christopher. You also know that in order to access the only treatment in town, we had to place him in the care of Child and Family Services. This was done under a Voluntary Placement Agreement, which enabled us to retain guardianship of Chris and receive full reports on his progress.
As it turned out, those reports proved to be almost non-existent. We were rarely consulted with any action they took with Chris. The usual calls we received from his home was during the melt down times, because one or both of us were able to calm him down.
When he was accused of inappropriately touching his housemate with whom he had lived for four years, they summarily removed him from the home and placed him in a hotel for 10 days. By the time I was able to track him down, they had established him in an apartment on Talbot and he had been there for two weeks. No one informed us of the allegation much less anything else that transpired after that. We discovered that there had been transition meetings held without us being present. When others wondered where we were, they were told we weren't able to come. We were never informed of the meetings.
Thus, we arrive at the point where Chris had his 24/7 supports removed, and was in an apartment in a very dangerous section of the city and a very vulnerable young person who fell prey to everyone who befriended him, was left overnight night upon night, and ended up being stabbed, and dying in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
His last words were "I don't want to die."
I can tell you, it is heartbreaking for his father and I to even begin to think what might have been going through Chris' mind as he lay dying. I torture myself night after night, wishing I could have been there to at least comfort him. I have visited the site where he was attacked several times to try and get a feeling for what he was going through. I walked his last walk, many times. I contacted everyone I knew who had been there with him when he died. I tried to glean every bit of information I could just to fit the pieces together and make some sense of all of this. It's a grief that will never fade.
The systems let Christopher down. There is no system for him in our society. There is no system for others like Chris in our society. There are no safeguards for our kids and they are often thrown on the mercy of the community and expected to know how to live within that community without supports. Chris had some supports, but when he turned 18, those would have been pulled. We had been told that. We had also been told that he had more supports than was traditionally given to kids when they are transitioning to adulthood. That amazed me, seeing as Christopher had diagnosed disabilities and surely would have qualified for something. But, he qualified for nothing.
Now we are left to wonder what sort of life he might have had if those supports had been put into place. He loved to work, and earn money. He loved to spend it; however, much of it went to pay drug debts incurred during those hours when there was no one there for him. If there had been a job coach, a person staying with him overnight, we firmly believe our son would be with us today.
I'm writing this on Father's Day. My husband is grieving the loss of a child that should have been with us as we spent the day together with other family members to honour the fathers in our family. Someone was missing, and the gaping hole left by his departure is something that will never, ever be filled.