Vancouver family 'devastated' after YMCA found not at fault in alleged neglect of child with Down syndrome

·4 min read
Katie Jameson said the finding that Kenzie was not neglected while in the care of the YMCA represents a missed opportunity for the organization to create a more inclusive environment for children with disabilities. (CBC - image credit)
Katie Jameson said the finding that Kenzie was not neglected while in the care of the YMCA represents a missed opportunity for the organization to create a more inclusive environment for children with disabilities. (CBC - image credit)

A Vancouver family that pulled their daughter out of a YMCA-run child care program, alleging neglect, says they are devastated that an investigation conducted by Vancouver Coastal Health Child Care Licensing found that the program was not at fault — despite the YMCA acknowledging it failed to provide an adequate level of care.

Katie and Andrew Jameson enrolled their two six-year-olds, Kenzie and Wally, in YMCA's after-school outdoor program at Malkin Park in September 2021.

Their daughter Kenzie has Down syndrome and is non-verbal, so the family secured external funding through the B.C. Centre for Ability for the YMCA to hire a care worker for her, and created instructional videos on how to communicate with Kenzie.

The YMCA never hired the external care worker, and Katie Jameson said she became increasingly concerned when, on one occasion during pickup, she found her daughter far from the rest of the children in an outdoor setting.

She was also called to pick up Kenzie early after she wet herself, and was told by YMCA staff none of them were equipped to help Kenzie use the bathroom.

Jameson ultimately pulled her daughter out of the program when, on one cold day in October, she found Kenzie freezing and alone, her hair matted, her face covered in mucus, without her shoes on.

At the time, the YMCA issued an apology, writing in a statement they "did not provide an adequate level of care for Kenzie — and failed to meet [...] our own standards" and said an internal investigation would be conducted.

Katie Jameson
Katie Jameson

Jameson asked VCH Child Care Licensing to investigate the case. In March, after asking for an update into the investigation, she received notice that the YMCA was found not to have neglected or discriminated against Kenzie.

'We feel invisible'

A heavily redacted copy of the investigation, accessed through a Freedom of Information request, reveals that staff members were interviewed, the grounds at Malkin Park were inspected, and emails exchanged between the Jamesons and YMCA staff were reviewed.

The reason the program was not found to be at fault is redacted in the document. However, several times throughout the document it is stated that "based on a balance of probabilities, it is unsubstantiated the incident occurred as alleged."

Jameson said the finding that Kenzie was not neglected while in the care of the YMCA was "devastating" for her family, and represents a missed opportunity for the YMCA to create a more inclusive environment for children with disabilities.

"I'm angry, I'm frustrated. We feel invisible," she said.

"People keep telling you that what you see happening isn't happening. But it's so clear to families in the disability community."

'Incident highlighted valid issues and concerns'

In a statement, Roberta Haas, child protection lead and vice president, people of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, said that "this incident highlighted valid issues and concerns to the YMCA. Although we sought to care for this child with the compassion and expertise upon which we've built our decades-long reputation, this situation has exposed gaps in our service.

"We recognize and are deeply saddened by this incident and the resulting impact on the family."

Haas said that since the incidents leading up to Kenzie being pulled from the program, YMCA has ordered a series of staff training sessions, and is looking to host awareness workshops with external partners. She said the YMCA also hired an external consultant to "to make recommendations on policies, procedures and practices."

A written statement from Vancouver Coastal Health said "we recognize how difficult this situation must be for the family involved," but did not comment more directly on the case, or answer a CBC question about what qualifies as neglect in a Child Care Licensing investigation.

Jameson said the incident, and resulting investigation, have been a "soul crushing" reminder of barriers faced by children with disabilities.

"It feels like it wasn't worth the investment for them to have Kenzie in their program, it wasn't worth the investment in learning and time for their staff so that Kenzie could be there with other kids," she said.

"Discrimination happens more time before lunch for a family like mine than it does for another family in a whole year."

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