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See No Evil

July 7, 2011 permalink

The Alberta Ministry of Children and Youth Services has a way of reducing child fatalities — not reporting them. Opposition MLA Rachel Notley found that a death reported to her privately did not appear in the ministry's annual report.



Death of Alberta baby omitted from report

NDP calls for better transparency in system

Rachel Notley
New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley
Photograph by: John Lucas,

EDMONTON - The death of a four-month-old child in the province’s care, which was not mentioned in the Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ annual report, prompted NDP opposition MLA Rachel Notley to call Wednesday for more disclosure regarding children in care.

Notley said she became aware of the death in December 2010, when the child’s family contacted her office. She said the family told her that what was initially ruled as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was later reported to be due to unknown causes. The death, Notley said, was left out of the annual report, released June 11.

Notley said the case is just one example that illustrates the government’s approach of “secrecy first, disclosure only when absolutely required. By keeping it hidden ... we ensure a low level of accountability.”

The system in British Columbia is far more efficient, with more consistent and frequent reporting, she said. B.C. reports all deaths in care when they occur. In Alberta, the ministry does not report deaths that are considered of natural causes.

“At what point does neglect contribute to natural causes?” Notley asked.

There were six reported deaths of children in care in Alberta from April 2010 to March 2011, compared to 93 in B.C.

Minister of Children and Youth Services Yvonne Fritz said while she was not familiar with the death Notley referred to, the report was clear and factual.

“If there is a death that is not reported in the annual report, the death is not an injury-related death,” Fritz said. “We report the death of all children to our medical examiner.”

Fritz said they ministry continually looks to other jurisdictions for improvement, including B.C.

She said the ministry doesn’t immediately report on deaths of children in care because it would interfere with police investigations and ongoing court cases.

“I think it is important to follow the legislation that we have,” she said.

Alberta also does not have an independent child welfare advocate. In the province, the advocate has to report to the minister of Children and Youth Services and anything that is published must first be approved.

The advocate is not allowed to launch independent investigations on specific cases or conduct audits on the child welfare system, powers afforded to advocates in B.C.

“In the B.C. model ... the child representative operates fully independently,” Notley said. “What that means is you have a much more engaged, quality, informed conversation about how we are taking care of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Source: Edmonton Journal