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.
The mother of a four-year-old girl who died after being in kinship care spoke out on Wednesday about the case that triggered an emergency debate in the Alberta legislature and raised serious questions about how Alberta manages the treatment of children in government care.
The mother of the late girl cannot be identified to protect the identity of Serenity’s siblings, who were also in kinship care and so will be referred to as Jenny.
Jenny said her children, including her daughter known only as Serenity, were taken away from her after she was assaulted by Serenity’s father. According to Jenny, Serenity and her two older siblings were put in the care of a family member on a central Alberta reserve under the kinship care program.
She alleged the social worker who was assigned to her file suggested if she didn’t put her children in the care of her family member, they would adopt her children out separately and she may never see them again.
Serenity’s case emerged publicly last month when Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate called for better safeguards in kinship placements after the girl died in 2014.
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.”
“I’ll be honest, at first I thought it was OK because I was spending nights out there and I was visiting my kids,” Jenny told Global News Wednesday evening. But soon after, she said she became concerned.
“I basically noticed that my kids were getting skinny and losing weight. Then they started having bruises on them,” she said,
“Then I was basically like, ‘Maybe this is not a good idea.’ I went back to child welfare and showed them videos and pictures… they completely ignored me and told me that my kids were fine.”
Jenny said she wants to see kinship care homes more frequently visited by social workers and for the system to take allegations of abuse more seriously.
Last week, the Alberta government announced it was forming an all-party committee to explore the circumstances surrounding Serenity’s death.
“It’s good to see that they’re trying to do things to prevent this happening again,” Jenny said. “But that doesn’t bring justice to my daughter.”
After her massive brain injury, Serenity was put on life support and died soon after.
Her guardians said she fell off a swing.
A criminal investigation into Serenity’s death is ongoing. Jenny said she is upset that to date, no charges have been laid.
Jenny told Global News the day Serenity died “was the worst day of my life.”
She said she regained custody of Serenity’s siblings three years ago.
Jenny explained she thinks many social workers and kinship care homes do a good job of caring for children – just not the ones that were assigned to her family when Serenity died.
-with files from Sarah Kraus and The Canadian Press.
Watch below: A rare emergency debate was called in the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 21, 2016. MLAs discussed how to protect children in the care of the government. Sarah Kraus has more and explains what sparked the debate.