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New Brunswick mother seeks answers, support after disabled son goes missing for hours from school

A mother spent her day on March 24 driving around Cocagne, N.B. asking people if they’ve seen her 11-year-old son who went missing during his school hours.

It’s a terrifying experience that Jacqueline Petricca doesn’t want to go through again, knowing her son, Anthony, who has ADHD, Tourette syndrome, OCD and may be on the autism spectrum, is a flight risk.

“Anthony has a common reaction to flee, which is very common with kids with his groups of disabilities, to be a flight risk,” said Petricca.

But the risk of him fleeing would be much less if only he gets access to the resources “he desperately needs,” said Petricca, who’s still waiting for her son to get a “complex case status.”

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After Anthony went missing for two hours, Petricca said she got a call from him and found out that Anthony had gotten off Highway 11 on foot and was now in a sawmill.

“He thought he could walk home and walked one entire highway…Now, while he was doing that the whole time, this is a disabled child wearing a bright green shirt with a snowman and Christmas pants,” said Petricca.

“So he is visibly someone that’s probably in distress wearing Christmas pajamas in March and was in grave danger. He doesn’t really understand the enormity of the situation when they found him, his feet were covered in blisters,” she said.

Since then, Petricca had contacted the psychologist at Blanche-Bourgeois School, where her son goes for three hours a day, to discuss what can be done to make sure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

Jacqueline and Anthony Petricca.

Jacqueline and Anthony Petricca.


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According to the mother, the psychologist has told her that since Anthony is not classified as a complex case, all of the supports that are recommended and required are not going to be paid for until he gets that classification.

She already applied for the complex case classification a year ago, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process hasn’t been completed.

Petricca said they already have a child protection social worker, a disability social worker, someone from the integrated service delivery team through the school, a psychologist, and the hospital as part of Anthony’s care team.

“In my understanding, all of these services have to get together and create a referral…believe that we have been in that process for so long. It’s at a complete standstill. And now we’re waiting for the supervisors of the agencies that I listed to move it along,” she said.

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Anthony has been a student at Blanche-Bourgeois School in the Francophone School District South since the fourth grade, and Petricca said they’ve had different levels of support over the years.

“Sometimes we have more support than others. In February 2020 and the months prior, he actually had a full time aide and attended school full time. But we were told at that point that he no longer qualified and we would have to apply for different funding source for his aid,” the mother said.

Petricca has found the lack of support frustrating, especially since it has led to an ongoing number of incidents where Anthony flees the school.

She said Anthony went missing the day the school decided he couldn’t access his phone because it is becoming a distraction in class.

Petricca explained that Anthony’s reports include a non-confrontational or collaborative decision-making, so that would have been a good way to deal with the cell phone issue instead of taking it away.

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“After they took his phone, which would have made it a lot easier to find him, he left the school, and we have a pre-plan with my son if something happens and he flees, I would find him in certain locations,” said Petricca, but on that day she couldn’t find him in the usual meeting places.

She said Anthony was “supposed to be under the care of the school,” so at this point she hasn’t sent her son back to school because “there is no plan in place to keep him safe.”

In the past, he has crawled into drainage ditches, gone in the forest and put himself at risk.

“I’m very scared on what’s going to happen to him. My son is approved for the federal disability. And one of the main points for him being approved for the disability was that here he’s a flight risk and he made some calls of decisions that he doesn’t understand,” said Petricca. 

“If the school is aware of this, why are we letting it happen? It’s really terrifying as a parent. And I am utterly exhausted with the school system,” she said.

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She said it’s a lot of work on her part meeting up with the school to make sure Anthony is getting the support he needs, and even found in her recent meeting that the school had not implemented the occupational therapy report that they completed the summer of 2020.

“It really should not be up to a parent to be doing so much of all of this organizing when we do have special education teachers and teams and school board members and all. I just wish they were all coordinating properly and putting the funding where it needs to be.”

Petricca said that as of last week she’s hasn’t heard back from the school board regarding the incident.

Global News has reached out to the Blanche-Bourgeois School and the Francophone School District South by email for comment, but have yet to receive a response. 

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