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Skeletons in the Alberta Closet

November 25, 2013 permalink

An investigation by the Edmonton Journal shows that the death rate of Alberta foster children is a lot higher than shown in official reports available heretofore. The foster death toll over 14 years stepped up from 56 to 145. Either one is a lot higher than the deaths reported in the press as collected by fixcas. Expressed charitably, the provincial reports previously understated the deaths in foster care. Expressed candidly, Alberta child protectors have continued the tradition of lying about the foster death rate. Owing to the length of this series, it is on its own page, Fatal Care.

Addendum: Alberta's parliamentary opposition is asking for an emergency debate on the foster deaths. In a lame excuse, Human Services minister Dave Hancock explains that the 89 unreported dead foster children were omitted because they died of natural causes.



Wildrose Seeks Emergency Debate On 145 Alberta Foster-Child Deaths

EDMONTON - Alberta's Human Services minister, reacting to reports the government kept under wraps the deaths of 89 foster children, said those cases weren't published because the children died of natural causes or by accidents.

"There was no attempt to hide (the numbers)," Dave Hancock told the legislature during question period Monday.

"The numbers that weren't published were those children who died tragically of natural causes."

Both Hancock and Premier Alison Redford also stressed that the province must publicly report all child deaths and has created a new independent children's advocate to look into the deaths of all kids in government care.

"We did that because I worked in the family justice system and I worked in child welfare, and I am a concerned Albertan just as every other Albertan is," said Redford.

The remarks follow an investigation by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald newspapers that found 145 children have died in government care since 1999.

The government has only publicized 56 deaths over that period.

The report lists youngsters who have died by hanging, malnutrition, hypothermia, head trauma, drowning, disease, fire, and stabbing.

They have overdosed, been asphyxiated, died in car crashes or because of sudden infant death syndrome.

A third of the children died as infants and another third were teenagers. Most were aboriginals.

The report also found that those in the system struggle with secrecy, bureaucracy and privacy rules that don't even allow parents to publicly identify their dead children.

It found the government also lacks a mechanism to track recommendations made from death investigations to improve foster child safety.

NDP critic Rachel Notley told the house that while Redford created a new Child and Youth Advocate last year to explore the deaths of foster children, the rules triggering an investigation have narrowed in order to lessen the number of investigations.

"Having a death reported to you is not the same as doing an investigation about how that death happened and how it can be stopped," said Notley.

"The fact of the matter is the Children's Advocate has done two reports so far. It's just not good enough."

All three opposition parties asked Speaker Gene Zwozdesky to grant an emergency debate on the issue, saying they need to get to the bottom of why the deaths were not reported and to make sure the children currently in care are being treated well.

Zwozdesky rejected the debate, noting that while it is a critically important issue, there were already 42 questions and answers on the topic during question period alone, not to mention member statements on the topic.

The newspaper report was the result of a four-year legal battle between the newspapers and the province, which declined to release the information until ordered to do so by Alberta's privacy commissioner.

Hancock told the house that they fought the release of the information to protect the privacy of the individuals involved and to prevent collateral harm to people connected to those in foster care.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith called for a public inquiry into the deaths and the state of the system. That was rejected by the government.

"It's not another inquiry we need," said Hancock.

"We've actually had the inquiries, and now we're implementing the results of those inquiries."

Hancock said the deaths of children in care are not only reviewed by the Children's Advocate, but also by a quality assurance council, and the medical examiner.

"It's not one investigation. It's three," said Hancock.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said he fears the death numbers are only the tip of a much larger problem.

"If the number of deaths of children in care is this grossly under-reported, then the number of children seriously injured while in government care is very likely under-reported as well," said Sherman.

Source: Huffington Post

Alberta's Human Services Minister minister Dave Hancock wants an investigation of the province's foster care system. Of course, he wants the investigation to be under his control. A news article is enclosed, followed by the opinion of mother Velvet Martin, who had a daughter die of neglect in Alberta foster care.



Alberta to review how it investigates, reports foster child deaths

EDMONTON - Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said a public review of the foster care system will include how the deaths of foster children are investigated and reported.

“I’ll push for a full, open discussion among the people in the system and others – so parents can give us their views on it,” said Hancock. “This is not an easy question; this is a very important question.”

He said everyone in the system wants to make sure they’re doing everything they can to keep kids safe.

“Over the past few days, a number of our community partners and staff have been in touch with my department to share their concerns about the negative image of frontline staff, caregivers and the child intervention system as a whole that is being portrayed as a result of the stories in the media and the discussions that are happening.”

On Monday, a joint investigative series on foster care deaths in Alberta by the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald was published. The series took more than four years to research and complete.

The investigation found 145 children have died in government care since 1999. The government has only publicized 56 deaths over that period.

“I’ve been receiving many, many emails and letters from foster parents and kinship care parents who are really affected by this media that’s been happening regarding the deaths of children in care,” said Katherine Jones of the Alberta Foster Parent Association, who was also part of Wednesday’s news conference.

“We all are aware that children die in care. It is heartbreaking for everybody when that happens,” she said. “We also understand that there are things in the child welfare system that need to be improved on and we have seen a lot of work being done in that area.”

“The people that work in this field are dedicated – committed – to keeping children safe and to improving the lives of the children and families that we serve,” added Bruce Armson, with the Alberta Association of Services for Children and Families. “Unfortunately, that seems to have been overlooked at this time.”

“It’s not like the situation that you’ve seen now is news, to be honest,” said Hancock. “People who’ve worked in the system know that they’re dealing with… children in very difficult situations, they’re dealing with children who are medically fragile and come from tragic circumstances. People know that children die and that they die in care.”

Hancock went on to say the media coverage of the child intervention system has portrayed it “as one of despair,” but that it is also about hope.

“We need to say, ‘yes, we can always do better,’ and we need to say, ‘yes, there are tragedies’ because we are dealing with a very difficult and tragic population, but we also need to say ‘there’s hope.’ There’s a lot of good things happening, and there are a lot of good people doing it.”

Hancock reiterated his plan to form a roundtable with stakeholders, opposition members, and experts in children and youth services in the new year. That roundtable, he said, will come up with recommendations.

He also committed to reviewing Alberta’s Child Death Review system and the publication ban.

“What is the right balance of information to make sure we learn from every tragedy, we make sure families are treated properly and respectfully, and we protect the rights of all the others involved in the process?”

Opposition members insist only a full public inquiry will get to the bottom of what went wrong.

NDP Human Services critic Rachel Notley said she will ask members of the standing committee on legislative officers to support an NDP motion to give the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate further and immediate resources to investigate the deaths or serious injury of all children receiving government care.

The committee meets Friday.

Source: Global News

Mother of foster child says roundtable discussion just a runaround ploy

Samantha Martin

Amid the public furor over successive Alberta government’s failure to report the deaths of eighty-nine children in care deaths over the last fourteen years, a mother of a former foster child is speaking out, almost seven years to the day her daughter died of so-called “natural causes”.

But the 2012 fatality inquiry report into the death of Velvet Martin’s daughter Samantha also found she was severely malnourished, weighing just 51 pounds at the age of 12, suffered numerous unexplained fractures and bruises, and rarely saw a doctor while in foster care.

During the inquiry, Martin says her own legal battle to get legal aid representation for her daughter was fought by taxpayer-funded lawyers representing the Redford government.

“The ministry had a team of lawyers, the foster placement had their own renowned lawyer, and Samantha had no one but me to be her voice,” Martin says.

“And there’s something definitely, definitely wrong when the person who’s the subject of a public fatality inquiry, that we are supposed to learn from, has no legal representation.”

Meanwhile, Martin says she’s concerned the roundtable discussion proposed by Human Services minister Dave Hancock for January, is another case of the government hoping the public will have lost interest in the story by then.

“Are we waiting until January just so we can perhaps forget that a 145 children died? Maybe we’ll just go away? That’s not happening, sorry,” Martin says.

“If the ministry truly cares, they’re going to do it now, act now.”

Martin accused Hancock of being the latest in a line of children services ministers who claimed the foster care system works, and is getting better.

Source: CHED 630

Child Welfare System entrance cartoon
Malcolm Mayes cartoon - November 25
Photograph by: Malcolm Mayes , Edmonton Journal