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Ten Alberta Foster Deaths

July 9, 2013 permalink

Alberta Human Services minister Dave Hancock says that in the year ending March 31, 2013 ten children died in provincial care. Based on past experience, numbers like this have low credibility.



Ten children died, 21 suffered injuries in care in Alberta: report

Ten children died, 21 suffered injuries in care in Alberta: report

Dave Hancock
Human Services minister Dave Hancock said Monday he believes the annual report, with its brief summaries of the causes behind injuries or deaths, is now more open and honest. “Every incident we have to learn from,” Hancock said. “We have to understand whether something could have been done.”
Photograph by: Larry Wong, file , Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Alberta’s Human Services department says 10 children in government care died in 2012-13.

Another 21 children under the province’s protection suffered serious injuries that needed an overnight stay in hospital in the 12-month period that ended on March 31, 2013.

The department reported those statistics in its 2012-13 annual report released at the end of June, along with brief descriptions of the causes.

“Two of these deaths were due to pre-existing medical conditions (cerebral palsy and complications from premature birth), three were due to suicide, two were the result of accidents (drowning and motor vehicle accident), one was classified as a homicide, one is still pending determination by the medical examiner and one cause of death was classified as undetermined,” the report says.

This is the second year that the province has provided a more complete picture of the number of deaths of children receiving protective services. In the past, the government only reported deaths it confirmed were the result of a serious accident or homicide.

That approach came under intense criticism, as some families, advocates and opposition MLAs demanded a more accurate picture of what happened to children under the age of 18 in government care.

Human Services minister Dave Hancock said Monday he believes the annual report, with its brief summaries of the causes behind injuries or deaths, is now more open and honest.

“Every incident we have to learn from,” Hancock said. “We have to understand whether something could have been done.”

In 2011-12, Human Services said there were about 8,700 Alberta children in care at any one time. That annual report detailed 11 deaths, including five attributed to medical conditions, two to fatal injuries and four others where the cause of death could not be determined or were still pending when the report was written.

Hancock said there were 8,283 children in care as of March 31, 2013.

Though the 2012-13 report offers a brief explanation for all deaths of children and youth removed from their homes, Human Services says it will no longer report on the percentage of children receiving protective services who received an injury that sent them to hospital or who died.

The 2011-12 report noted the department’s target was zero deaths or serious injuries, “the highest possible standard for practice.” It reported 0.14 per cent of children and youth in care suffered an injury that lead to hospitalization or death. That compared to the 0.49 per cent rate among the general population in 2009-10.

The 2012-13 report says the measurement was removed from the ministry’s business plan, “but a commitment was made to continue to publicly report all injuries and deaths of children and youth in care, regardless of cause.”

Hancock said the goal of zero deaths and injuries remains, even if it is not stated in the annual report.

“It goes without saying the target in the area of serious injury and death is zero serious injuries and zero deaths. That’s a given for anyone working in the child welfare system,” Hancock said.

But other opposition MLAs said they have questions about the decision to remove some of the statistics tied to these tragic deaths and serious injuries.

“It’s an indicator as to whether or not what you’re doing is working,” Wildrose Human Services critic Jeff Wilson said. “They’re really reducing the number of litmus tests they will execute on themselves. It’s an accountability measure.”

NDP MLA Deron Bilous said the government also should be including more information about the number of children in care from aboriginal backgrounds since they make up a disproportionate number of the children in care.

“I’d be curious to know of the 10 children lost last year, what are their backgrounds?” said Bilous. “This information used to be pulled out and I find it interesting that this year they didn’t.”

Liberal MLA David Swann said MLAs from all parties need more details about the number of children in care who are harmed so they can perform their job as a check and balance on the system and ask appropriate questions of the Children and Youth Advocate, who became an independent officer of the Legislature last year.

“We know most of these are preventable, said Swann, who serves as Liberal critic in the area.

“If one identifies the level of risk and particular type of risk and puts in place approaches that will either reduce the interpersonal conflict that might be there or the environmental risks that they’re putting themselves in or the psychiatric-psychological risk that needs to be identified earlier,” he said. “All those are at least theoretically preventable. If we’re not looking carefully at those circumstances, we’re not doing a job.”

Hancock said much of the work currently being tackled by his department, such as adopting the Children First Act and developing new policy framework, are all connected to improving the conditions of children under government protection and helping families prevent crisis in the first place.

“This is our mission,” Hancock said. “The premier has indicated that protecting vulnerable people and supporting early childhood development is one of our goals. There is a huge amount of effort being put into this area.”

Of the 21 injuries reported in 2012-13, two children were injured by cars, one child suffered an accidental abdominal injury and another received a head injury fighting with a sibling.

The province also reported that five children went to hospital after suicide attempts, two children went to hospital with self-inflicted injuries not c onnected with suicide attempts, and three were admitted due to intoxication. Another five children had accidental bone fractures.

Two children suffered head injuries. One of the head injuries was the result of an assault by an unknown person, while another was connected to a pre-existing medical condition, according to the report.

Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate and the Council for Quality Assurance were notified of the 10 deaths as well as the two head injuries.

Advocate Del Graff exercised his office’s new powers to investigate and publicly report on the circumstances of a death in care for the first time last week, releasing the office’s first investigative review. The report, called “Remembering Brian” examined the circumstances around a 16-year-old Métis boy’s suicide in the summer of 2012, one month after he was placed under a permanent guardianship order. The report included six recommendations.

Tim Chander, a spokesman for the Child Advocate’s Office, said he expects the office to release investigative reports on deaths of two other children in 2012-13 by the end of the year.

Source: Edmonton Journal

The numbers mentioned are in the Alberta government Annual Report (Volume 1) 2012 – 2013 (pdf) and local copy on pages 30 and 31.