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Alberta to End Secret Child Deaths

March 1, 2014 permalink

In an editorial published this Wednesday Alberta newspapers urged Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar to repeal the ban on publishing information about children who die in foster care, including their names. Today minister Bhullar publishes his own opinion in which he promised to grant the request.

We note the long tradition of higher-ups in the social services system making a public statement while doing the opposite in private. The law may not be amended at all, or an amendment may be enacted allowing publication but with onerous exceptions that can hardly ever be met. Or, as we all hope, the minister may keep his word and allow the world to know who dies in foster care and how.



Editorial: An open letter to Minister Bhullar

We urge Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar to amend Alberta legislation to give grieving families the right to speak the name of their children in care, or show their photos, in public.

Earlier this month, Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar invited us to the Alberta legislature to discuss the province’s publication ban regarding children in care. During this discussion, he asked for our input on this legislation, what might be done to amend it, and why. Here is our reply.

Dear Minister:

We thank you for asking for our thoughts on the province’s ban on publishing the identities of children in care.

Following our joint Fatal Care investigation last fall, you took over one of the government’s most complex and challenging portfolios, and we applaud your efforts to date in lifting some of the veil of secrecy within the system.

We believe that the government has a right and a responsibility to protect the children in its care.

We respect in principle existing laws such as those regarding young offenders. But we also believe that Albertans deserve a more accountable, more transparent child death-review system.

As the spring session nears, we urge your government to lift its publication ban on children who have died in care, or who have died following prior contact with the ministry.

Our current legislation does not allow grieving families to speak their child’s name in public, or show their photos. They must fight the government in court for that right.

Our child advocate is also bound by this law, resorting to death reviews with pseudonyms, initials, carefully obscured facts. An Alberta judge has called it “dehumanizing.”

We urge you to amend this legislation so that — as in the majority of provinces of this nation — anyone who suffers the loss of a child has the right to make the public aware of what has happened.

Why is this so important?

Because Alberta’s children should not be dying faceless and nameless.

Because it counters the groundless stigma and shame unfairly cast upon those within our child-welfare system.

Because — most critically — publication bans shroud the truth, and shelter the system from public scrutiny. Society must learn from its mistakes, and do all it can to prevent future deaths.

The law was supposed to be there to protect children in care, but for children who have died, that protection only stifles caregivers, families and authorities, and ultimately hampers investigations.

We urge you to restore to those children the only power they have left: Their stories.

Respectfully, the editorial boards of the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald

Source: Edmonton Journal

Opinion: Minister vows to lift ban on naming children who die in care

Empowering those who matter most

Manmeet S. Bhullar
Alberta Human Services Minister Manmeet S. Bhullar.
Photograph by: Bruce Edwards , Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Earlier this week, the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald published an open letter to me detailing their concerns with, and hopes for, the province’s laws that govern what information can be shared about the tragic deaths of children under the care of Alberta Human Services.

The editorials noted that Alberta’s current legislation “does not allow grieving families to speak their child’s name in public, or show their photos.” The papers’ editorial staff called on me to lift the publication ban on children who have died in care or who have died following prior contact with the ministry.

I agree.

As I have said publicly, I believe we must empower those who are closest to these children to speak or not to speak; it is their right as human beings. If we don’t have the right to speak up about justice as human beings then we have taken away too much.

Therefore, in order to increase greater transparency and restore the rights of children and those closest to them, I will introduce legislation to amend the publication ban.

I believe it is a basic right of each and every one of us to express grief publicly. At the same time, however, families and the children themselves should be able to protect privacy in a period of tremendous sadness. This decision is not one for the government to make, it is one for them to make in the best interests of the child.

Almost immediately after Premier Redford appointed me Minister of Human Services, I made the decision to share all of the data on the deaths of children over the past 14 years. I have made it a priority to investigate and improve the level and quality of information available to experts and the public on children who have passed away while under the care of the province or who have had prior contact with Human Services. I believe that we need to honour each child, learn from each and every one of them and by doing so we will develop a culture of continuous improvement.

As Minister, I am committed to driving real change.

We launched a five-point plan in early January to enhance information sharing, address the root causes that bring children into care, and support collaborative research to improve services to children and their families.

As part of that plan, the government brought experts, policy-makers, aboriginal representatives and those with lived experience in the system together at a roundtable. Over two days, we discussed how to best investigate and review the death of a child and how to strike a balance between transparency and privacy.

My goal is to create a system that is accountable and transparent with a foundation of continuous improvement, not fear. Families should feel comfortable to reach out to the system for help and they should know that there are supports available to them; they are not in this alone.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the child intervention system is a system of human beings working with other human beings in extremely difficult situations. I want staff to be able to work without fear so they can make the best decisions possible when dealing with what are often heart-wrenching situations.

We have made progress, but our journey has just begun.

We have a duty to always make our system better and we have a duty to ensure that every child has the opportunity to live their greatness.

Greatness is not limited for those living in ideal situations. The children involved in our system have the right to experience and live their greatness. That is my focus; that is my goal and that is my hope.

We are all in this together.

Manmeet S. Bhullar is the Alberta minister of human services

Source: Edmonton Journal