“WHEREAS the Government of Alberta recognizes that children and youth are our greatest resource…blah blah blah”—Child and Youth Advocate Act
One hundred and forty five children died in government care since 1999. The government reported 56 deaths. The rest sank below the radar because they were the result of “natural causes”.
But the numbers don’t work.
Here’s why. If 145 children died and the government reported 56 deaths, that would mean that 89 died of natural causes, right? Wrong. The government says 68 died of natural causes. So what happened to the remaining 21 children?*
And while we’re counting dead children, what about those who died of “natural causes” like malnutrition and those who died in their own homes under government supervised protective service?
Can the government tell us how many of these children died since 1999? Or have they simply disappeared because their parents are forbidden by law to speak their names in public?
Human Services Minister Hancock responds
Mr Hancock was furious with the investigative reporters who exposed the government’s failure to protect our most vulnerable citizens. He said the headline “Fatal Care” was “very unfortunate.” Tell me, is it possible to describe government care that results in 145 deaths as something other than “fatal”?
The minister was outraged when Danielle Smith (Wildrose) reminded him in Question Period that he told reporters that the number of children who died was “not significant”. He said Ms Smith took his comment out of context. I’m sorry Mr Hancock, but there’s simply no context in which the words “dead children” and “not significant” is even remotely appropriate.
No public inquiry
The opposition parties are demanding a public inquiry to find out what went wrong and what can be done to prevent future deaths.
The PCs rejected the idea. Instead of “wasting” Alberta’s time and money on a public inquiry Mr Hancock will host (his word, not mine) an expert roundtable to “hear all the necessary voices” (parents? social workers?) and create the “best policy in the country”.**
Oh, and the roundtable experts will review what information should be public, who should make it public, and how death reviews should be conducted*** (based on what?). This will allow Mr Hancock to be confident that the right information is being reported and the right processes are being followed.****Maybe then he’ll get the numbers right.
So that’s that: There will be no public inquiry, just a roundtable report that may or may not be tabled in the Legislature.
The child death review process
Let’s examine those processes, shall we?
Mr Hancock’s process is this: the Quality Assurance Council reviews every incident of serious injury and death and every death must be reported to the Child Advocate.
Does this process work? No. In 1998 the Child Advocate asked the government to develop a comprehensive multi–disciplinary child death review process. In 2010 and 2011 two independent review panels added their voices to that of the Child Advocate. Their requests have been echoing through the halls of the Legislature ever since.
Here’s the problem: As many as six bodies may be called upon to review a child’s death—the Quality Assurance Council, the Child Advocate, the Fatality Review Board, the medical examiner and the Pediatric Review Committee. There may also be a criminal investigation.
These bodies operate under three different sets of laws, under two ministers (one of whom was Alison Redford in her role as justice minister prior to becoming PC leader in 2011) and in accordance with an internal policy document and unwritten conventions that may or may not be followed.
These bodies report their recommendations piecemeal. To date, there are 258 recommendations floating around, none of which has been collected, tracked or monitored to ensure proper implementation.
Bottom line: there is no comprehensive review process and no way to track recommendations to ensure that the system improves and fewer children die in the future.
The government takes “immediate” action
Take heart, Mr Hancock just received a recommendation from the Quality Assurance Council suggesting that the government publicly track all of the recommendations that have come forward. Mr Hancock says he’ll act on the recommendation immediately. Whew! That’s one less thing for the expert roundtable to worry about.
Furthermore Ms Redford says she acted immediately to protect children by passing the Children First Act in 2012. However, the Act was not proclaimed until Nov 1, 2013…just a few weeks before the “unfortunate headlines” appeared in the Journal and Herald.
And, the sections that support interdepartmental cooperation by making it legal to share information that could protect a child before he dies are not yet in force. Only Mr Hancock, the Act’s sponsor, knows why.
We value our “resources”
It’s taken the PCs 14 years, 258 recommendations and 145 dead children to decide that we need another expert panel to discuss the problem of abused and neglected children.
It took the PCs three years and one task force to “streamline” the regulatory approval process to ensure the speedy approval of energy projects (bulldozing the rights of land owners, environmentalists and the public in the process).
So tell me, which does the government value as our “greatest resource”? Children or energy producers?
NOTE: The reference to Mr Hancock’s letter in the Calgary Herald has been clarified. He said he wants to have confidence that the right information is reported and the right processes are followed. He appears to believe the roundtable will provide this assurance, however his refusal to hold a public inquiry means that no one will really know why these children died, which means we won’t be sure we’ve fixed any systemic problems that may contribute to further deaths in the future.
* Hansard, Nov 26, 2013, 3095
**Hansard, Nov 28, 2013, 3195
***Hansard, Nov 27, 2013, 3154
****Calgary Herald Nov 30, 2013, A11