COLUMN: MLA Ron Orr seeks changes to child intervention

Orr: It is critical that changes are made to the child intervention system in Alberta.

It is critical that changes are made to the child intervention system in Alberta.

Last week the Child and Youth Advocate released a report titled Three Young Children: An Investigative Review, which gave some details about the deaths of three children who were receiving child intervention services.

All three children had parents with addictions, and all three were killed shortly after they were returned to their parents.

In all three cases, the mothers were charged.

“One of these children, 15 month old Jay, his real name as reported in the media (the Advocate report does not use his real name) was from here in Lacombe-Ponoka. The tragedy is he was taken from a safe, happy foster family against the warnings of the foster parents.”

The Child Advocate said in his report that children returned to their families, after being in care, need additional support; that the department should bring in new guidelines for the reunification process.

The frustrating reality is, the Advocate’s new recommendations are not that new. Similar ones were made in October 2016 directing the department to, “address the complexity involved with family reunification” and requiring that casework planning should focus on the needs of the child.

The government has “accepted” these recommendations, but the Advocate has not received detailed information from the government about how the changes will be made. This is the ongoing problem in the system: long delays for reports, multiple authorities in charge of the review process, recommendations made over and over, but left sitting on a shelf, and no accountability.

The government introduced Bill 18 in the spring sitting, and says the reports of the Advocate will now come before a Legislative Committee so MLAs can ask follow-up questions, but we still lack details about when that new process will begin.

Bill 18 also required that Ministries must respond within 75 days, but there are no rules about what a “response” means. Way back in 2014, the former government passed a bill requiring an internal death review process and public reports on progress, and to date there has not been a single internal review released.

I support the work of the Child Intervention Panel, and the pressing need to make thoughtful changes to the system, to support families, foster care families, caseworkers, and most importantly, the children. But we need accountability – we need to know when the Advocate makes a recommendation the department is listening and effective changes are happening in all regions of the province.

A few months ago, a letter was sent to child intervention agencies, telling them that their paperwork with the Child and Youth Advocate would have to go through the Children’s Services department for vetting for privacy reasons before being shared with the Advocate.

Directives like this undermine the words of the government when they say there are being open and transparent, and I will continue to insist that transparency is needed and that recommendations made during reviews really translate into better outcomes for the children in government care.

We must keep calling on government to improve accountability in the child intervention system, so we can see exactly where it is working, and where it is failing kids.

If you would like to speak to me regarding this or any issue, feel free to contact my constituency office at 403-782-7725 or by e-mail Lacombe.ponoka@assembly.ab.ca or in writing 101m, 4892 46 Street, Lacombe, AB T4L 2B4.

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