EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally indicated Serenity died while in kinship care. However, on Oct. 6, 2017, Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services clarified that although it was through the kinship care program that she was put in the care of the man and woman now facing charges, they were later given permanent guardianship, meaning Serenity was no longer in kinship care. It was at some point after this development that Serenity died.
Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean called for an emergency debate and answers from Premier Rachel Notley Monday, criticizing what he called a “system that operates in secrecy” after a newspaper report found the Alberta government withheld key details about the death of a child after being in kinship care.
“This goes beyond partisanship,” Jean said. “We need to make sure we get to the bottom of it so something like this cannot happen.”
The NDP said it supported the motion for an emergency debate and the speaker of the house acknowledged there was unanimous consent to proceed.
Four-year-old Serenity died in 2014 after being taken to hospital with a head injury. According to the Edmonton Journal, hospital staff noted she had bruises all over her body, including her pubic and genital area. Global News has not been able to independently verify these claims. A report by Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate also said doctors noted Serenity had bruises at various stages of healing and was “significantly underweight.”
Kinship care involves children being taken from parents and placed in the home of other family members.
Watch Below: The tragic death of a four-year-old girl was the focus of an emergency debate on Monday at the Alberta Legislature. MLA’s put regular business on hold and opposition members questioned kinship care in our province. Kendra Slugoski explains.
Last week, Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff released a report into the death. It called for, among other things, more comprehensive home assessments and training for caregivers.
For example, Serenity’s grandparents had to undergo background checks to be able to take her in under the kinship program – but other adults living in the house did not have to pass those same tests.
Graff’s report said Serenity was taken from her birth mother at a young age because of concerns about domestic violence and drug use.
The autopsy details were not included in that report.
“After being placed in kinship care, and despite the repeated warnings of her birth mom – Serenity died. Bruised, beaten, malnourished and suffering from hypothermia at only four years old,” Jean said to other MLAs during the emergency debate.
READ MORE: Alberta’s child advocate calls on province to do more to protect kids
“Where was the report from the medical examiner?” Jean asked in question period. “Where was the report from the justice department? And why didn’t the Child and Youth Advocate present the full picture of Serenity’s life in care?”
Notley said the details were withheld in order to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation by police. Notley also said that while nobody who read about Serenity could help but to be “moved and deeply troubled” by the girl’s story, her government was addressing concerns about children in government care.
“We are continuing to do the work that we think is necessary to improve the role of the provincial government in protecting all young people in the province,” she said. “A lot of work has already happened since that particular tragedy took place but it doesn’t mean that it’s done. It’s not done. It’s ongoing and we all have to work together to bring about success.”
Minister of Human Services, Irfan Sabir, said his department acknowledged the seriousness of the report.
“We accepted recommendations from the Child Youth Advocate around making improvements to the system and we are working on that,” he said.
He added Serenity’s untimely death happened in 2014, and since then the NDP has funnelled more money into child intervention, “so our front line has the supports they need to provide those services,” as well as the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.
“Serenity was not taken care of,” Jean said in the legislature. “Serenity was physically and sexually abused by those who were supposed to take care of her.”
-with files from Sarah Kraus and The Canadian Press.