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Serenity’s mother at Alberta legislature as UCP reintroduces child welfare bill

WATCH ABOVE: The mother of a young girl who died after being placed in kinship care three years ago is demanding the government take action to prevent similar deaths from occurring. Tom Vernon reports.

The 2014 death of a child named Serenity has put child welfare in the spotlight in Alberta and on Tuesday, with Serenity’s mother at the legislature, the United Conservatives reintroduced a private member’s bill that would make it mandatory for any adult to report to police when they believe a child is in need of intervention.

“I thought it was important because she’s my daughter,” Serenity’s mother said when reporters asked why she decided to come to the legislature.

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A 55-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman have been jointly charged with one count of failing to provide the necessaries of life after four-year-old Serenity died while in their care. She died in Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital in September 2014 after she was admitted with a head injury. A report later described her as malnourished, bruised and severely underweight at the time of her death. She was put in the care of the two accused through the government’s kinship care program although they later became her permanent guardians before she died.

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READ MORE: Serenity’s caregivers facing criminal charge

Watch below: On Oct. 6, 2017, Chief Supt. George Stephensen with RCMP “K” Division said the investigation into Serenity’s death was complex. He added that his thoughts are with the young girl’s family and those who knew her.

RCMP investigation into Serenity’s death ‘complex’: officers
RCMP investigation into Serenity’s death ‘complex’: officers

The child’s death became public last year after Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate called for better safeguards in kinship placements. Last year, Serenity’s mother told Global News Serenity and her two older siblings were taken away from her after she was assaulted by Serenity’s father. After spending a brief time in the foster system, the children were left in the care of family members under the kinship care program.

Alberta’s government decided to create a non-partisan panel tasked with finding ways to improve the province’s review process when a child who is in government care dies. On Tuesday, Serenity’s mother said she was disappointed with what she sees as a lack of progress made by the panel.

“No action,” she said. “You actually see more children dying the further we go without any kind of law to protect them.

“They’re still not taking the right steps to prevent children from being hurt in care. It’s still the same from what I’ve seen.”

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The bill that was reintroduced Tuesday by UCP MLA Mike Ellis has been dubbed “Serenity’s Law” and would see adults who fail to report when a child is in need of intervention faced with up to six months of jailtime or a fine of up to $10,000.

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“We’re talking about kids that are potentially at risk of requiring immediate intervention,” Ellis said. “In other words, they might be on the verge of death.”

Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said she worried about “unintended consequences” of the legislation. The NDP says people already are required to report when children are in danger, but that it may be more helpful to children who aren’t in immediate threat of harm to have those calls put directly to child intervention staff.

“Our law enforcement partners, including the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, have suggested to us that they have some concerns with this proposal,” Larivee said.

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“And we continue to have concerns.”

Larivee said she will continue to work with Serenity’s mother and with police to keep kids safe.

Serenity’s mother expressed some frustration about her discussions with Larivee.

“Every time I asked her if she supported Serenity’s Law and the children in Alberta, she refused to say ‘yes’ every time,” she said. “She basically made up excuses every time.”

Reporters asked Serenity’s mother if her daughter’s death was being used for politics,

“I believe that in good ways, yes, and in bad ways, yes…. it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing.”

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-With files from The Canadian Press’ Dean Bennett and Global News’ Tom Vernon and Caley Ramsey