*Editor’s Note: This story previously stated Irfan Sabir would sit as an ex-officio member on the panel, but was later corrected with Danielle Larivee in the position. This story also 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 first meeting of a non-partisan panel tasked with finding ways to improve the province’s review process when a child who is in government care dies is taking place Wednesday.
“We all feel these losses in some way,” Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said. “I think I can speak for all of us in this room when I say that we are here today because these losses move us. We are here because we share, in some small part, the pain that too many Albertans have felt over the loss of a child.”
However, the panel is focused on how to improve things from now on, rather than looking at the past.
“There have been panels and committees that have met before in the past,” Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon said. “So, I am concerned.
“As you start to do the reading to prepare for this panel you realize how many people have tried to tackle this in the past and it’s an astronomical project.
The panel was formed two months 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.
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. The news provoked a public outcry.
READ MORE: Mother of 4-year-old Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out – ‘They completely ignored me’
The Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention meeting at Government House (12845 102 Ave.) runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to the public and media.
About three dozen members of the public were in attendance Wednesday morning.
The province said the morning will be focused largely on procedural details. After lunch, the panel will move on to an introduction to Alberta’s child intervention system and current child death review process.
READ MORE: Alberta moves forward with non-partisan panel to review child deaths
The NDP government unveiled the 13-member panel two weeks ago. It 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.
Watch below: The panel agrees its work must improve the lives of children in care. There is hope the all-party panel will succeed, but some MLAs have concerns. Fletcher Kent explains.
Phase 1 will look at streamlining the child death review process and Phase 2 will look at systemic changes.
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
Danielle Larivee, minister of children’s services and NDP MLA for Lesser Slave Lake (Larivee will sit as an ex-officio member on the panel)
READ MORE: Alberta government setting up all-party committee to examine child’s death in kinship care
– With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News, and The Canadian Press