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New Advocate Same as the Old

December 4, 2011 permalink

Alberta is changing its law to make the child advocate responsible directly to the legislature, to keep him independent of the minister of human services. So who will fill the new job? Del Graff, the same man appointed by the ministry before the law was changed.

The Alberta press has for years been restrained by confidentiality laws from using the names of children dying in foster care. Now, thanks to the determination of Jamie Sullivan, who got permission to say her daughter's name in public, they can illustrate their stories with the case of the late Delonna Sullivan.



Independent child advocate long overdue, critics say

Jamie Sullivan and Marilyn Koren
Jamie Sullivan (left) flips through photos of her daughter Delonna, as her mother Marilyn Koren looks on.

People who work for children in care are hailing a new Alberta law that will make the child and youth advocate independent of cabinet.

Bill 25, which is expected to be passed next week, makes the advocate an officer of the Alberta legislature, a change critics should have happened years ago.

Bob Rechner
Bob Rechner served as Alberta Child Advocate from 1997 to 2001.

"I'm very very pleased that our new premier has the courage to proceed with something like this," said former child advocate Bob Rechner. "I think it's vitally important. It's long overdue."

Rechner pushed the government to make the position more independent while he was the advocate from 1997 to 2001. But nothing happened.

"I think government was fearful that an advocate who really had independence would embarrass them," he said.

After years of criticism about secrecy surrrounding deaths of children in care and problems in Alberta's foster care system, critics say it looks like the government is finally listening.

Current advocate appointed by minister

Jamie Sullivan's four-month-old daughter Delonna died in foster care on April 11, six days after she was taken by social workers who had gone to the home to apprehend children of an unrelated person who also lived there.

Sullivan, who successfully won a court order allowing the media to publicly identify her daughter, still doesn't know the circumstances around her Delonna's death or why she was removed in the first place.

Sullivan hopes the new legislation will open up the province's child welfare system to allow people like her to get answers.

"They can no longer keep these things to themselves and that's one of the biggest things is that they cover up and that they hide everything that goes on that's bad, so nobody ever knows and nobody ever sees and they just continue," she says.

Opposition parties welcome the new legislation but they question whether the current advocate, Del Graff, can be truly independent because he was appointed by the minister responsible for child and youth issues.

They want an all-party committee to hire a new advocate — something Rechner agrees should happen.

"I don't know the person that's currently in the role. I couldn't say if they're doing a good job or not a good job, I don't really know," he says. "But I think this job then becomes substantially different. A person should be recruited to it by an all-party committee of the Legislature."

However, Premier Alison Redford says that won't happen. Graff just started his five-year term in June.

Source: CBC