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Alberta Foster Deaths

April 14, 2012 permalink

The province of Alberta says that ten children died in foster care last year, and thirteen the year before. The two year death rate over 8700 foster children is 132 deaths per 100,000 child years, 4.7 times the general population. According to our statistical analysis, this is safer than any dependable report of foster death rates. Either Alberta has the world's safest foster care, or the report leaves some things out.



All child deaths in care revealed

For the first time, the Alberta government has released the full number of children who died while in provincial care, and the number is much higher than previously reported.

Ten children died in the year that ended March 31, and 13 children died the year earlier, including those who died from illness.

"That's unbelievable. I had no idea there were that many," said Bernadette Iahtail, whose group Creating Hope Society holds a candlelight vigil every time they hear of such a death.

"There's a lot that don't even hit the news. That's just shocking," she said.

In the past, Alberta Human Services reported only deaths they confirmed happened because of a serious accident or homicide. Under that system, the department would have confirmed only two deaths last year, and six deaths the year before. There are about 8,700 children in care in Alberta at any one time.

The new, fuller reporting system is an effort to increase public accountability and transparency, said department spokeswoman Roxanne Dube Coelho. "Now we're going to be reporting all the deaths."

The deaths last year include five children who died for medical reasons and one youth who died from a blow to the head suffered at a house party. One child died from an alleged homicide, but it's unclear which case the provincial records refer to.

The information released contains only a few words about each death.

The medical examiner ruled the cause of one death could not be determined, and the causes of two deaths are still pending.

Jamie Sullivan's daughter Delonna, who died in care when she was four months old, is included in the 10 deaths last year.

Sullivan went to court to get the publication ban lifted from her daughter's name, and has been fighting for more transparency.

Her daughter died six days after being apprehended without a court order last April.

But Sullivan expected the numbers to be much higher, based on cases she's heard of in the news or through activist channels.

More information needs to come out about how each child died, she said.

"It's unacceptable how many children are dying. I want people to see the numbers so they become as horrified as we are."

Del Graff, the provincial Child and Youth Advocate, said he will investigate more deaths in the future since his office got increased independence April 1.

More information statistics on deaths and injuries will allow his team to compare Alberta's performance with other jurisdictions, he said.

"Our interest is really to look at the situation so we can learn how to prevent deaths in the future."

Source: Edmonton Journal

Addendum: The reporter provided the raw data for the figures in the article.



From: Robert T McQuaid [mailto:rtmq at]
Sent: Saturday, April 14, 2012 7:46 PM
To: Stolte, Elise (Edm Journal)
Subject: Alberta foster deaths

April 14, 2012

Elise Stolte
Edmonton Journal

Subject: Alberta foster deaths


In an article you wrote for the Edmonton Journal (copied below) you cite a report from the Alberta government giving details of ten deaths in the last year in foster care, and thirteen more the year before. It sounds like you have a copy of that report. Are you able to share it, such as by pointing to a location on the internet where it can be found?

Thank you for your attention.

Robert T McQuaid
558 McMartin Road
Mattawa Ontario P0H 1V0

phone: 705-744-6274
email: rtmq at

Hi Robert,

The numbers will be in the annual report to be released this summer, but they gave me the numbers in an email ahead of time because they were ready and I asked.

But here's what I have (copy and pasted from the email). Hope it's helpful,


A reminder from our phone chat that up to 2010/11, the criteria we reported on was the percentage of children receiving child protection services who sustained an injury that led to overnight hospitalization or death, and did not include deaths due to natural causes and medical conditions as well as those that were the result of undetermined causes.

As part of our commitment to greater transparency, in the upcoming 2011/12 annual report the number of deaths for all children in care, regardless of cause of death, will be reported.

To be clear, children are classified as "in care" if they were receiving services under Emergency Apprehension, Apprehension Order, Custody Order, Custody Agreement, Temporary Guardianship Order, Permanent Guardianship Order, or Permanent Guardianship Agreement. They are not receiving services while in parental care.

  • Between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012, there were 10 deaths of children in care, including those due to injuries (homicide, suicide, or accident), medical reasons or unknown causes:
    • Five children died due to medical conditions.
    • One youth died due to head trauma (sustained at a house party).
    • One child died due to homicide.
    • The cause of death for one child is undetermined (according to the Medical Examiner's report).
    • The cause of death for the remaining two children is pending.
  • Under the previous criteria, the number that would have been reported publicly is 2 deaths.
  • Between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011, there were 13 deaths of children in care, including those due to injuries (homicide, suicide, or accident), medical reasons or unknown causes:
    • Seven children died due to medical conditions.
    • Three children died due to homicide.
    • One infant's death was ruled by the Medical Examiner as cause and manner undetermined.
    • One youth in permanent care overdosed on methadone.
    • One youth in permanent care was hit by a car.
  • Under the previous criteria, the number that was reported publicly was 6 deaths.

Addendum: Three days later the same reporter follows up with more on the foster death story.



Fatalities of children in care symbolic of ‘broken system’

couple who cannot be identified
This couple who cannot be identified, had their baby taken away about a month ago and are worried about his welfare and unable to get any information in Edmonton, April 18, 2012.
Photograph by: Ed Kaiser ,

EDMONTON - Over the past decade, children apprehended by the Alberta government have been almost twice as likely to die as children in the general population, according to numbers made public for the first time Wednesday.

That’s a painful number for people who feel like their children are trapped in the system.

It “scares the hell out of me. I’m more concerned about him dying than anything else,” said Scott, a 24-year-old from the Edmonton area whose infant son was apprehended one month ago.

“There shouldn’t be any deaths. They should have way less injuries because (child care workers) are supposed to have all this extra training,” said Scott, who can’t be identified under Alberta law.

Scott is fighting for access through the courts. His son was apprehended at a hospital after he and the boy’s mother brought him in, concerned he wasn’t keeping food down.

The numbers of deaths of children in care since 1999, both medical and accidental, were released to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees under a freedom of information request.

About 10 children die in care on average each year, a rate of 0.08 per cent. That compares to 0.05 per cent for the general population aged under 18, as tracked by Alberta Health and Wellness.

Prior to this year, the provincial government had refused to release statistics on all child deaths in care, listing only those who died of serious injuries.

Guy Smith, president of the AUPE, said the number of deaths highlights broken system where too much responsibility has been contracted out, especially since the system was restructured in the mid-1990s.

“There’s way more potential for children to fall through the cracks,” Smith said. “When (the child welfare system is) not fully public, the lines of accountability get blurred.”

Front line staff are underpaid, see a high turnover, and have few ways to advocate for changes when they see substandard care, especially since contracted staff aren’t unionized, Smith said. “Advocacy and the ability to speak up is so important for people on the front line.”

But the numbers of deaths does not show an increase or decrease over time, and Jean Lafrance, a former child advocate, said blaming contracting out of services is too simplistic. “There are issues around case loads, issues around the complexity of the system,” said Lafrance, a University of Alberta professor who now works with community groups to help families navigate the system.

Government case workers spend the majority of their time on paperwork, leaving those with less training to work on the front lines, he said. For the parents, “we tend to give them a lot of hoops to jump through, never addressing the core problem.”

Mark Hattori, assistant deputy minister for Alberta Human Services, said contracting out has nothing to do with the death rate.

“The kids we serve are already in what we consider a vulnerable population,” Hattori said. “Sometimes kids coming into our care already sustained an injury.”

He gave the example of a shaken baby who dies within days of being taken into care.

Other children are exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb, resulting in heart abnormalities and other problems, and still others have genetic disorders, he said. “Parents are unable or unwilling to care for these kids, then they die (as children in our care).”

Over the past three years, the department has been signing larger contracts, giving community organizations responsibility for all families in a sub-region through a project called “outcomes-based service delivery.”

They will evaluate that project in one year, said Hattori, and children’s safety will be part of the review.

Source: Edmonton Journal

Addendum: A memorial for the deceased children.



Honouring aboriginal children in care

Hundreds of Edmontonians are honouring aboriginal children in the care of the child welfare system this weekend.

Bernadette Iashtail, executive director and founder of the Creating Hope Society of Alberta, says the event "Blanket of Remembrance" is to honour those who have died while in the system and also to find solutions for the problems that continue to exist.

"Some of them who are placed or gone into homes where they are hurt or abused and some of them have died," says Iashtail. "One of the biggest things, it's not about blaming. It's about how do we do things differently? How do we work differently with our families and our communities?"

The organization says about 67 per cent of children in care are aboriginal, and in the past two years there have been 23 deaths of children in care.

A traditional round dance ceremony is being held from 2:00pm until 9:00pm Sunday at Churchill Square. Iashtail says the organization is expecting between 500 to 1,000 people to come out. (ks)

Source: iNews880

Addendum: The only Alberta government publication mentioning the child death numbers is Human Services Annual Report 2011-2012 (pdf) and local copy. By our arithmetic on pages 35 and 36 they are giving 11 foster deaths.