November 27, 2013 6:28 pm
Updated: November 27, 2013 9:31 pm

Alberta to review how it investigates, reports foster child deaths


EDMONTON – Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said a public review of the foster care system will include how the deaths of foster children are investigated and reported.

“I’ll push for a full, open discussion among the people in the system and others – so parents can give us their views on it,” said Hancock. “This is not an easy question; this is a very important question.”

He said everyone in the system wants to make sure they’re doing everything they can to keep kids safe.

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“Over the past few days, a number of our community partners and staff have been in touch with my department to share their concerns about the negative image of frontline staff, caregivers and the child intervention system as a whole that is being portrayed as a result of the stories in the media and the discussions that are happening.”

On Monday, a joint investigative series on foster care deaths in Alberta by the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald was published. The series took more than four years to research and complete.

The investigation found 145 children have died in government care since 1999. The government has only publicized 56 deaths over that period.

“I’ve been receiving many, many emails and letters from foster parents and kinship care parents who are really affected by this media that’s been happening regarding the deaths of children in care,” said Katherine Jones of the Alberta Foster Parent Association, who was also part of Wednesday’s news conference.

“We all are aware that children die in care. It is heartbreaking for everybody when that happens,” she said. “We also understand that there are things in the child welfare system that need to be improved on and we have seen a lot of work being done in that area.”

“The people that work in this field are dedicated – committed – to keeping children safe and to improving the lives of the children and families that we serve,” added Bruce Armson, with the Alberta Association of Services for Children and Families. “Unfortunately, that seems to have been overlooked at this time.”

(Above: Raw video of Wednesday’s news conference with Human Services Minister Dave Hancock)

“It’s not like the situation that you’ve seen now is news, to be honest,” said Hancock. “People who’ve worked in the system know that they’re dealing with… children in very difficult situations, they’re dealing with children who are medically fragile and come from tragic circumstances. People know that children die and that they die in care.”

Hancock went on to say the media coverage of the child intervention system has portrayed it “as one of despair,” but that it is also about hope.

“We need to say, ‘yes, we can always do better,’ and we need to say, ‘yes, there are tragedies’ because we are dealing with a very difficult and tragic population, but we also need to say ‘there’s hope.’ There’s a lot of good things happening, and there are a lot of good people doing it.”

Hancock reiterated his plan to form a roundtable with stakeholders, opposition members, and experts in children and youth services in the new year. That roundtable, he said, will come up with recommendations.

He also committed to reviewing Alberta’s Child Death Review system and the publication ban.

“What is the right balance of information to make sure we learn from every tragedy, we make sure families are treated properly and respectfully, and we protect the rights of all the others involved in the process?”

Opposition members insist only a full public inquiry will get to the bottom of what went wrong.

(Watch: Wildrose MLA and former Children’s Services Minister Heather Forsyth read her statement in the legislature Wednesday, urging the government to hold a public inquiry into the deaths of children in care.)

NDP Human Services critic Rachel Notley said she will ask members of the standing committee on legislative officers to support an NDP motion to give the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate further and immediate resources to investigate the deaths or serious injury of all children receiving government care.

The committee meets Friday.

With files from The Canadian Press

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