Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.



Stacking Child Death Numbers in Alberta

March 20, 2015 permalink

In Alberta high-ranking child welfare officials subjectively classify child deaths before deciding which get investigated. It is the same method used in Texas to dramatically reduce the reported number of deaths in foster care.



Leaked report calls for reviews of all child deaths in care

Heather Klimchuk
Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk: “I accept the principles within the recommendations, and now we’re going to need the time to consider the legislative changes.”
Photograph by: Ed Kaiser , Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - High-ranking child welfare officials arbitrarily decide whether to investigate the deaths of children in care, without reasoned guidelines or oversight of any kind, according to an internal report obtained by the Journal.

The report says “all child deaths should be reviewed,” but the current process allows the director of children’s services to rule out in-depth internal investigations based solely on the limited information available immediately after a child dies.

“We are concerned the process gives the statutory director too much discretion,” implementation oversight committee (IOC) chair Tim Richter wrote in the report, dated Feb. 4. “There does not appear to be evidence-based criteria to support the director in deciding which cases warrant detailed investigation, and which warrant a scaled-down review.”

Richter said Sunday the committee “felt strongly” that the ministry should establish objective, evidence-based criteria to guide internal child death investigations. For example, it may not be necessary to conduct an internal investigation when a child dies from a fatal chromosomal disorder, but any death from a preventable illness may require review.

The eight independent committee members also recommended the province expand internal investigations to include the child’s contact with other Alberta ministries, and reiterated its call for a multi-disciplinary child death review committee overseen by Alberta’s medical examiner.

Fatal Care: Read the Journal's' award winning series

Finally, the committee recommended increased independence for the arm’s-length Council for Quality Assurance (CQA), a group of external experts who work internally with the department to improve Alberta’s child intervention system.

“They should be the governors of the (internal investigation) process,” Richter said. “If, for example, the CQA didn’t feel an internal review probed deep enough, they could send it back.

“This would help build the internal culture of inquiry that is so important.”

In November, Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk asked the committee to make recommendations concerning the over-representation of aboriginal children in provincial care. In 2013, aboriginal children accounted for 69 per cent of the children in care in Alberta.

In part, the committee recommended the province create special programs to target urban aboriginal families, indicating the goal should be to reduce poverty, provide affordable housing and addiction treatment, address domestic violence, increase employment and boost educational achievement.

“There is solid research to suggest that culturally appropriate services ... will ... reduce the numbers of children in care,” the report says.

Klimchuk noted the committee “validated a lot of the good work we are doing,” highlighting in particular the eight-per cent reduction in the number of aboriginal children in care over two years ending 2013.

“I accept the principles within the recommendations, and now we’re going to need the time to consider the legislative changes,” Klimchuk said.

Asked to elaborate, she listed the numerous agencies currently involved in Alberta’s system to review child deaths. “When I look at the complex system we have in place, what do we do ... to make it more straightforward, in terms of getting the bottom (of these deaths), and learning from these terrible tragedies?”

Concerning the discretion of the director in the investigation process, she said: “I would never second-guess their efforts and integrity,” and added that her goal is to “make sure the system is robust and does what it needs to do.

“My commitment as minister is to ... ensure we continue to have the most transparent system in the country,” she said. “We’ve come a long way here in Alberta. It’s not a perfect system, but ... we’re going to get there.

“It means having these brave discussions, and that’s something I’m very much prepared to do.”

The IOC was established in 2014 after the Edmonton Journal-Calgary Herald award-winning Fatal Care investigation revealed hundreds more children had died in the province’s care than it had publicly admitted.

Source: Edmonton Journal