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Another Attack on Elman

March 13, 2009 permalink

Many newspapers in Ontario have printed criticisms of the report by Irwin Elman of 90 deaths in the care of children's aid societies in one year. The Orangeville Citizen joins in under the byline of a columnist, really a letter to the editor by Trish Keachie, executive director of Dufferin CAS. Comments follow the article.



Orangeville Citizen, March 12, 2009

Elman report on children's deaths needs rewrite

With Your Permission

Constance Scrafield- Danby

I would like to comment on the editorial of Thursday March 5th, regarding the recent report released by the Ontario Children's Advocate Irwin Elman, entitled '90 Deaths, Ninety Voices Silenced'.

First I would like to applaud the Citizen for putting the focus of this editorial on Elman's key issue which spoke strongly to the need for greater access to information in the case of child deaths.

However, the editorial failed to set the record straight with respect to the misleading claims and false contentions contained in the report that reflect poorly on Ontario's Children's Aid Societies.

These false and chilling claims were of course what caught the headlines across the country when the report was released. And of course, even though the media now has the facts, these are not creating headlines. So the public is left with the perception that 90 children died unnecessarily while in the care of CAS's.

Mr. Elman's report states that '"90 children died while in the care of Children's Aid Societies" and that "most of the deaths were preventable." The facts are quite different.

Of the 90, natural causes took 14 and the CAS had no prior involvement with 36 of them. Thus, in 50 of the 90 cases, the CAS was clearly not in a position to prevent the deaths.

Of those 90 children, only four were in the care of CAS, and none of those four deaths were deemed preventable. Moreover, the investigators within the Coroner's Office who reviewed the pediatric deaths declared that CAS involvement "is not a factor" in the "vast majority of child deaths in Ontario" and cautioned that most of the few deaths of children receiving CAS services "could not have been foreseen or prevented by a CAS".

It remains to be understood why Mr. Elman chose to make such misleading and sensational public statements. If he was looking for attention, he certainly got it — but at what cost?

How might this report affect the public's confidence in a service so vitally important in protecting our children and supporting families?

How might it affect a person's decision to report suspicions, or a parent's responsible decision to approach the CAS when they recognize that they need support and help?

And consider the impact of such reporting on the dedicated foster families across this province who, on a daily basis, provide a home and nurturance to thousands of our most vulnerable children.

A public apology to the CAS community and a thorough rewrite of Mr. Elman's report is called for.

Trish Keachie Executive Director Dufferin Child and Family Services

Source: Orangeville Citizen

Comments: We should ignore the 14 deaths from natural causes? Why? When Statistics Canada reports the death rate for the whole population, those deaths are included. Likewise for deaths not deemed preventable. The one adjustment that may be justified is the one where Mrs Keachie, and Jeanette Lewis (pdf), say 36 dead children had no prior CAS involvement. Spreading Mr Elman's reported 90 deaths over 19,000 foster children gives a death rate of 474 per hundred thousand child years, seventeen times the rate for the general population. Excluding 36 cases cuts that to only ten times as deadly.

What, CAS involvement "is not a factor" in the "vast majority of child deaths in Ontario"? Of course. There are a hundred times as many children at home. The tiny proportion of children in care accounted for 90 of the annual 706 non-neonatal child deaths in Ontario, or 54 with Mrs Keachie's adjustment. Rates indicative of death camps either way. (The 706 comes from Statscan Deaths 2005 (pdf) after subtracting neonatal deaths).

Children's aid societies could clear the air by releasing the names of the 90 dead children. They won't because that would show for sure how deadly foster care is.