Mom of boy who died in East Vancouver writes to Christy Clark 'from one mother to another'

Apr 6 2017, 8:41 pm

The mother of a boy who died in an East Vancouver home, thought to be an unlicensed daycare, has written an open letter to Christy Clark.

The boy, who has not been officially identified, is believed to have been Macallan Wayne Saini, who was just a day away from turning 16 months old when he died in January.

While the BC Coroner’s Service and the VPD are still investigating the boy’s death, both of Mac’s parents have been outspoken in their need for change to BC’s childcare system.

Back in March, the boy’s father Chris Saini shared his family’s pain over the death of his son, and launched a campaign calling for $10/day daycare.

Then, this week, his partner and Mac’s mother, Shelley Sheppard, penned an emotional open letter to the BC Premier, appealing to her “from one mother to another.”

Sheppard told Daily Hive she hopes her letter reaches across BC to every person, regardless of if they are a parent or grandparent.

“The citizens of BC deserve safe, affordable and licensed daycares run by professionals that are held accountable for their practice,” said Sheppard.

“I am hoping that the daycare crisis across BC becomes a serious conversation and hopefully that conversation will lead to change.”

Her letter, originally posted on Facebook, is reproduced here in full with the permission of Sheppard.

Editor’s Note: This matter is still under investigation. None of the allegations made here have been proven.

Dear Honourable Christy Clark,

I am writing this letter as you are one of the most powerful women in our province and your voice dictates the direction of our public policies. This letter is a personal appeal from one mother to another. I am sharing this with you with the hope that it can make a change in British Columbia’s child care crisis. I am calling on you to reform our child care system and make BC the best province for children to grow up safely and with the skills needed to contribute to our society.

My beautiful son, Macallan Wayne Saini, my only child, the most precious person in my world, died at an unlicensed day care on Wednesday, January 18th in Vancouver, BC. Mac was my sweet, cuddly baby and he was one day short of being 16 months old. No, I will never get over it; no, time does not heal all wounds; and no, I will not get through this. There are no words or platitudes that will make this tragedy go away. I am Mac’s mommy and I now have to live the rest of my life without my son. The bond between a mother and child is the strongest bond that there is. As a woman and a mother, take a moment to think about my life now that Mac is no longer by my side.

I desperately do not want my son’s life to be defined by his tragic death but I want to hope that his death will help other children to grow up safely. So, although I don’t want his death to be the only thing people remember about him, there are things that need to be said to prevent this from happening again and to hopefully fix or change our child care crisis in British Columbia. This hope for change is the one thing I can hold on to that will help me cope with the loss of Mac.

I am a Métis woman and Mac is my Métis son. I have been a guardianship social worker with an Aboriginal agency and a member of the BCGEU [BC Government and Service Employees’ Union] for the past 10 years. I work with beautiful Aboriginal children and youth in the foster care system, a job that I find challenging and rewarding.

Once I had completed my year of maternity leave and returned to work on September 27, 2016, my partner Chris Saini and I felt lucky to have found a licensed spot for Mac. Unfortunately, from the beginning, there were issues with this licensed day care such as lying, being unreliable and leaving Mac with strangers, etc. Mac’s father and I expressed our concerns to our child care provider in the hopes that we could resolve the issues but by December 15, 2016, we were not satisfied and we decided to start looking for a new space.

We had planned to keep Mac in this day care until we were able to find a new reliable and safe spot for him. However, on January 2, 2017, we ended our arrangement abruptly when Mac was injured at day care and we needed to take him to the hospital. I have reported this incident to MCFD [Ministry of Children and Family Development] and to the licensing officer who initiated an investigation. I have since asked for the outcome but three months later I have not received an answer.

Due to the dire need for a new space for my son, I searched and left messages with countless licensed family child care providers and only two providers returned my call. Both of these day cares had seven children and were run by people that I strongly felt were not able to safely manage that many children. We wanted a day care where Mac would have had more one-on-one time with a caring provider.

With no other options and because we could not afford a nanny or to take more time off of work, we went with our only option and we placed Mac in an unlicensed home day care. Mac died on his second full day at this day care and it was entirely preventable. I would never had placed Mac in this home if there had been other licensed options or if I had reliable information about the history of this day care.

Mac’s death is still being investigated by the Vancouver Police Department and I obviously cannot comment on the investigation and all the details surrounding his death. All I will say is this: I wish that other parents could report their past experiences and concerns about a day care and that prospective parents could have easy access to this information in order to make an informed decision.

I believe that all day care providers need to be registered so that we as parents can make the best decisions for the safety of our children. That registration could protect children from being unknowingly placed in homes with unfit day care providers. Anyone caring for our children, our most vulnerable, our most valuable resource, should be held accountable for their practice. We should have a system where information (positive or negative) about any given day care provider is open and accessible to all parents.

Otherwise, parents are left to make rushed decisions with limited child care options and with little or no information about a child care provider. It is also concerning that when complaints arise, there is no timeframe in which investigations need to be complete, leaving children who are accessing this service at risk of harm, or in our case, death.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development released a survey in 2015 stating that parents are generally satisfied with their day care arrangement. With all due respect, I find this incredibly hard to believe. In my personal life, I have a large community of unsatisfied friends, family and now many strangers, who are coming to me with their valid concerns and fears about the day care crisis.

Professionally as a social worker practicing in the child welfare system, I see what those in the public do not. I see the limitations and legitimate concerns with the systems that are set up to care for our children and families. I believe that my experience as Mac’s mother and as a social worker provides me with enough validity to confidently say that the current child care system in BC does not work for the majority of working families. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the child care system is failing and my son has paid the ultimate price.

The latest stat shows that BC has 104,000 licensed day care spots available right now and the Liberal government has pledged to create 13,000 new licensed child-care spaces by 2020. However, this does not even keep up with the projected birth rate in BC.

With approximately 44,000 new babies born every single year in BC, how are 13,000 new day care spots going to fix the day care crisis in our province? From 2017 to 2020 that is 132,000 new babies and only 13,000 new spots.

This puzzles me as it does every other nervous parent in BC. Working families deserve support. A few spots in an unaffordable day care system is not supportive and leave our children at risk. I know not all of these babies will need day care as some are cared for by family etc. but …and this is important…. of those children that need day care, only 20% are in licensed spots.

Clearly, there are not enough spaces now and there will still not be enough spaces with an added 13,000! In addition, the costs and fees for day care are becoming unmanageable. Chris and I are both educated professionals and our budget was stretched. Child care is unaffordable for many in our province.

Again, I am respectfully and sincerely asking how is this promise of insufficient spaces supportive to struggling and worried families? Children are our most precious resource and they deserve to be protected.

I strongly do not believe that merely creating some extra day care spaces is the answer. The system needs to change. Once you drop off your child and that day care door closes, you have no idea what is happening to your child. This is a very real fear for most parents and a fateful reality for Mac.

The push to find a day care is an unfair struggle that so many parents deal with. I am not rich, I do not have nearby family, and I cannot afford to stay at home. Safety, accountability, quality, and affordability need to be the cornerstones of a new child care system.

I do not pretend to have all the answers; I just know that this system and our children deserve better. As a mother, I know you wanted what was best for your son and as an MLA you converted a room in your office building into a nursery. Your son is the most important thing in your life and he always will be and being near you kept him safe and protected, as any mother would want. What about my son? What about other BC children? Don’t our children deserve the best too?

If children are our future, why are we not investing in them? By investing in children and families, we set them up to be competent, contributing members of society. We would all clearly benefit from that. As a social worker, I see the children and families that fall through the cracks; I see how extra prevention programs can and do help.

It starts with an investment into newborn babies and their families, an investment into regulated and affordable day care and an investment into their education. There would be better outcomes and the province would actually save money if programs and services for children and families were a priority.

Yes, it will help our province save money in the long run.

Healthy, happy, educated families and children would mean fewer children in foster care, fewer youth getting caught up in the legal system and fewer adults in our prisons. More people and parents in the work force means more tax dollars to go towards our government and towards needed programs such as day care and education.

I know and recognize that there are countless amazing licensed and unlicensed day care providers. I recognize that we were the “unlucky” ones. However, my precious son did not deserve to die. He deserved to be in a safe and nurturing day care. He deserved to live a full, happy life and become a strong Métis man.

Most of all, Mac should have come home that awful, life-destroying Wednesday night. Mac should have sung and laughed while playing peek-a-boo with me. Mac should have had his macaroni and cheese with chicken and avocado for dinner. Mac should have played with his favourite toy piano that he got from his beloved grandma for Christmas, read his animal books while making his animal noises (horses and lions were his current favourites) and had me read his Dr. Seuss ABCs book for the thousandth time.

Then Mac should have had a bubble bath with his cowboy rubber ducky and yellow starfish while his daddy and I talked to him about our day. His daddy should have put him in his dinosaur ‘jam jams’ and his sleep sack covered in lions, elephants and colourful balloons while singing “Hey diddle diddle” to him as he giggled and laughed.

Macallan Wayne Saini (Shelley Sheppard)

Macallan Wayne Saini (Shelley Sheppard)

I should have cuddled and kissed him while he nursed and fell asleep as I sang “Edelweiss” and rocked in our glider. Mac should be safe and warm with his mommy and daddy right now.

Instead, he has been dead for 11 weeks. Instead, I sleep fitfully with his ashes and toys by my bed while I cuddle up to one of the last things he wore which was his red plaid jacket, hoping to catch even the faintest whiff of his sweet smell.

Mac was a sweet happy boy always eager to smile and make friends. He loved to explore and with his curious nature he wanted to learn and know the names of everything that he would see. Mac loved being outside, he loved birds, swings, dancing and running. Mac was a little boy that wanted to laugh and make others laugh. There was rarely a day that Mac was grumpy and whiny. He was completely a pleasant, happy, healthy boy. A pure smiley joy. This is how I want him to be remembered.

I wish I would have had day care choices that worked for our little family. Every moment of every day, I wish that I could turn back time and bring Mac home to me. Every second without my son is a second in the most unimaginable pain. I thought because I loved him more than anything that I could protect him from every bad person and every bad thing in the world. I often spoke to Mac about how he would have a happy, long life and I promised him that I would protect him.

I promised Mac I would protect him and I couldn’t. This is hard and agonizing to live with.

Please put yourself in my shoes. I am a hard working Metis woman and BC citizen. I was trying to do what I thought was best for my family. Instead I placed my beautiful, perfect boy and my misplaced trust into a day care and he was killed. I stood over his dead body, screaming and hoping he would wake up. Praying please don’t let him die. I begged and pleaded but I knew he was gone. I pray that no other parent or beautiful child will go through a preventable tragedy like this.

I speak for Mac and for all of the children in our beautiful British Columbia for our government and you as our Premier to please endorse the $10aDay Child Care plan. Let us strive to be better, let’s push for real change, and dream of a better future for our children. It is in your hands.

All my relations,

Shelley Sheppard

Jenni SheppardJenni Sheppard

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