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Questions remain in child neglect case: 'Unfathomable how this could happen'

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick authorities are committing to reviews of a severe neglect case that saw five children with little food, and living in a home smeared with feces.
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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick authorities are committing to reviews of a severe neglect case that saw five children with little food, and living in a home smeared with feces.

The children lived in filth, missed weeks of school and suffered from a lack of food and serious tooth decay before being removed from the Saint John, N.B., home in 2016.

The Department of Social Development had been involved with the family since 2012, but the children weren't removed from the home until sheriffs — delivering an eviction notice — reported on conditions in the home.

"It is important we get answers,'' Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman, who has asked for an internal review, said Thursday. "We must do everything possible to ensure situations such as this one described by the court does not happen again."

On Wednesday, provincial court in Saint John heard details of the case and was shown pictures of the deplorable condition of the home, including holes in the walls and a lack of beds.

"The Crown described it as feces with small hand prints.  There was animal feces and human feces. One of the children was completely undressed in one of the back rooms," said Norm Bosse, the province's Child and Youth Advocate, who attended the hearing.

Their home was in such bad condition, the landlord had it torn down after the family was evicted.

"They were completely under the radar. It's unfathomable as to how this could happen over such a long period of time," Bosse said. 

The children were removed from the home and placed in foster care.

The parents, who cannot be identified, have pleaded guilty to five counts of failing to provide the children with the necessaries of life and will be sentenced on April 18.  

Horsman said he only learned of the case this week when he read media reports. He said the internal review also needs to look at why he wasn't briefed on the case sooner.

The minister said the results of the internal review will be made public, but Bosse said such a review is best done by an independent body such as his office.

"My honest and professional opinion both as the Child and Youth Advocate and as a lawyer, is that you want complete independence when you do this," Bosse said.

"There's no doubt in my mind, I'm doing a review. Whether or not I do a full scale investigation will depend upon what I first learn. I can't prejudge anything. I'm going to ask for the documents," he said.

Both Horsman and Bosse stress that everyone has a responsibility to report any cases of suspected child abuse or neglect to Social Development or police immediately.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press