Police investigating after infant dies moments after youth protection workers leave Joliette home

A young child in Joliette died from sudden respiratory distress last week, just moments after youth protection workers had visited his home and determined he and his siblings needed to be removed, Radio-Canada has learned.

Around 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, two intervention workers from the youth protection agency, the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ), tried to enter a home in Joliette. The residents were reluctant to let them in.

The DPJ workers insisted and inside discovered an unkempt home and four children — a six-year-old boy, a two-year-old boy and twin six-month-old girls — showing severe signs of physical neglect, three sources with knowledge of the case told Radio-Canada.

At 2 p.m., the DPJ workers decided to place all four children in emergency protection. The workers left the home, according to Radio-Canada, to alert authorities, find a host family and gather car seats to transport the children.

When they returned an hour later, around 3 p.m., there was an ambulance parked outside the home and several police officers present.

The two-year-old boy was unresponsive and in respiratory distress. He died of cardio-respiratory arrest upon his arrival at hospital, the sources said.

Initial report filed in January

The family's situation was first brought to the DPJ's Lanaudière unit in January. The case was classified as a "Code 3," meaning the lowest level of priority.

The DPJ is normally required to evaluate Code 3 cases within 12 days of their classification. But it took workers more than two months to look into the Joliette case.

Graham Hughes/CP

According to Radio-Canada sources, the DPJ first called the family a few days before their visit to the home. During the phone call, the youth-care worker felt the parents were being uncooperative and found that worrisome.

The sources also said the deceased two-year-old had been taken to a doctor and diagnosed with a respiratory infection a few days prior to his death and was prescribed antibiotics.

After his death, the boy's siblings were placed with their extended family in an Atikamekw community north of the Lanaudière. The children now fall under the jurisdiction of the Atikamekw Council's child protection unit.

The provincial police major crimes unit has opened an investigation into the incident. Investigators will be meeting with both the family and DPJ intervention workers.

"The CISSS de Lanaudière would like to extend our most sincere condolences to the family," Pascale Lamy, a spokesperson for the regional health authority, wrote in an email.

"Considering confidentiality rules, we cannot give any information related to this situation."

Criminal investigation and autopsy

The case comes as a provincial commission is examining child protection services in the province.

The commission was created in May following outrage over the death of a seven-year-old in Granby, which many felt was preventable because the child was being monitored by social workers. 

Last week, the head of the commission, Régine Laurent, warned the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak heightened the risk of children being mistreated. 

"The prolonged confinement, drastic change in daily routines, limit of interpersonal contact, isolation of families, job and revenue losses, fear of contracting the virus, uncertainty surrounding the situation, are all factors that lead to unparalleled levels of stress for families," Laurent said in a news release.