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Child deaths Authorities off the hook over Flaach family tragedy

Report author, court psychiatrist Frank Urbaniok (left) and Jacqueline Fehr, Zurich’s justice minister (middle) at the press conference in Zurich on Friday

(Keystone)

The deaths of two children, killed by their mother, sparked massive criticism of the child protection authority in 2015. The Zurich authorities said on Friday that they could find no “causal link” between the deaths and their handling of the case.

Jacqueline Fehr, Zurich’s justice minister said at a media conference that this had been the conclusion of two independent reportsexternal link into the affair but that there were lessons to be learnt from the case in Flaach. Measures to further improve the Zurich child protection authorities’ work have been put forward.

The Swiss child protection system underwent large-scale reform in 2013 when decision making in child welfare cases, which used to take place on a local level, was transferred to a more professionally based structure at cantonal level.

The 27-year-old mother, from Flaach, near Zurich, killed her children, aged five and two, on the evening of January 1, 2015, while they were at home for a two-week Christmas visit. Earlier that day she had received the news from her lawyer that an appeal to have the children returned to her care pending a definitive decision about their welfare had been rejected. Eight months later she committed suicide in her prison cell.

Court psychiatrist Frank Urbaniok looked into the mother’s mental state and concluded that it was an “an extreme act” due to the personality of the mother. His report found that she had an “instable relationship with reality and a craving for recognition”. The authorities could not have foreseen the escalation in her behaviour, he said.

The second report stated there was no relation between the child protection authorities handling of the case and the mother’s crime. But it pointed to weaknesses in procedure, especially in communication with those involved.

Timeline of events

The children had been initially taken into care on November 4, 2014, when their parents were arrested on suspicion of fraud. The mother was released without charge within a week. The authorities said there had been separate reports of concerns about the children’s welfare.

The grandparents had been very vocal about their frustration with the child protection authorities, claiming in a letter to newspapers that the authorities “hounded mother and children to death”. The grandparents’ repeated attempts to have the children handed over to their care, from the first day of their parents’ arrest, came to nothing.  

The mother informed the police of the deaths. The father was in prison at the time of the incident. 

While the child protection office in charge of the case received numerous threats and was placed under police protection, several newspaper editorials pointed out that it was the mother who killed the children, not the authorities.

On August 7, the mother, who was receiving psychiatric support, strangled herself in her prison cell. She left behind a letter but the contents were not disclosed.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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