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Alberta moves forward with non-partisan panel to review child deaths

Click to play video 'Panel will review Alberta’s child intervention system' Panel will review Alberta’s child intervention system
WATCH ABOVE: The panel tasked with making improvements to Alberta's child intervention system will begin its work in a couple of weeks. Tom Vernon tells us who is on it – Jan 18, 2017

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 Notley government released details Wednesday about its non-partisan panel tasked with finding ways to improve the province’s review process when a child who is in government care dies. The news comes two months after a report looking into the death of children in government care in Alberta provoked a public outcry.

The NDP government said the panel is scheduled to hold its first meeting in February and also released the names of the 13 people who will form the group.

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“There is nothing more heartbreaking than the death of a child, and no task more important than preventing these needless tragedies,” Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir said in a statement. “It is our responsibility as legislators and as a society to do more, and to do better, for our children.

“This panel’s work is critical to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to be safe, nurtured, and to thrive.”

Sabir and his government first announced plans to create the panel on Dec. 1 after media reports and the child and youth advocate suggested that for two years, there had been little action taken after a four-year-old girl, known as Serenity, died.

READ MORE: Alberta government setting up all-party committee to examine child’s death in kinship care

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.”

In a report, Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff said the warnings signs of mistreatment were investigated but dismissed.

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READ MORE: Mother of 4-year-old Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out – ‘They completely ignored me’

Watch below: The case of a four-year-old Alberta girl who died while in kinship care has sparked outrage across the province. In December 2016, Sarah Kraus spoke with the girl’s mother about the tragedy.

Click to play video 'Mother of young Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out' Mother of young Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out
Mother of young Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out – Dec 8, 2016

After the story emerged publicly, Sabir promised his government would take action but was also called on to resign by several members of the opposition. Initially, all four opposition party leaders said they would boycott the panel unless the NDP promised to commit to an open process and to protect bureaucrats who speak out. They later said they were satisfied with the NDP’s commitment to meeting those standards and agreed to end their boycott.

READ MORE: Some Alberta MLAs reject proposed panel on children in government care

Watch below: On Dec. 13, 2016, Tom Vernon filed this report as Alberta’s opposition parties demanded the government meet certain conditions before supporting a panel to look into the province’s child intervention system.

Click to play video 'Alberta opposition parties reject proposed panel on children in care' Alberta opposition parties reject proposed panel on children in care
Alberta opposition parties reject proposed panel on children in care – Dec 13, 2016

The Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention will be chaired by Peace River NDP MLA Debbie Jabour. It will be called upon to make recommendations to improve the province’s child death review process, come up with suggestions for how to strengthen the child intervention system and to look at systemic issues that lead to children ending up in government care.

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All five political parties will be represented on the panel, which also includes experts on child intervention and indigenous issues.

Aside from Jabour, the other 12 members of the panel are:

Maria Fitzpatrick, NDP MLA for Lethbridge-East
Nicole Goehring, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs
Graham Sucha, NDP MLA for Calgary-Shaw
Heather Sweet, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Manning
Cameron Westhead, NDP MLA for Banff-Cochrane
Jason Nixon, Wildrose MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
Ric McIver, Progressive Conservative party’s interim leader and MLA for Calgary-Hays
David Swann, Alberta Liberal party leader and MLA for Calgary-Mountain View
Greg Clark, Alberta party leader and MLA for Calgary-Elbow
Dr. Peter Choate, Mount Royal University
Dr. Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Native Counselling Services of Alberta
Dr. Bruce MacLaurin, University of Calgary
Irfan Sabir, minister of Human Services and NDP MLA for Calgary-McCall (Sabir will sit as an ex-officio member on the panel)

The panel’s first meeting will be held on Feb. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Government House in Edmonton. The meeting will be open to the public.

-With files from The Canadian Press.

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