Advocate urges prompt action on child-welfare system
Presses ministry for results, one year after release of Serenity case review
Alberta’s child and youth advocate is emphasizing the need for “timely and robust” responses from the government on recommended changes to the child-welfare system, nearly one year after the review into Serenity’s case was released.
“We need clarification as to what is it you are actually doing in terms of implementing the initiative,” said Del Graff Thursday.
Earlier this month, Graff’s office received a response from the children’s services ministry concerning a November 2016 report on Serenity, a four-year-old girl who died while in a kinship care placement.
“There’s more information being provided. There’s more context being provided,” he said, adding that he continues to be concerned by the time it takes to implement recommendations.
Graff’s report — which used the pseudonym Marie — found that the home assessment was lacking and Serenity’s caregivers were poorly trained. She had been in foster care before she was placed with her distant relatives.
On Friday, the girl’s great-aunt and great-uncle, who were granted guardianship despite reports of abuse, were charged jointly with one count of failure to provide the necessaries of life. The charge related to the time frame when she was alive from May 3, 2013, to Sept. 18, 2014 — the date when the severely malnourished little girl was airlifted to an Edmonton hospital with catastrophic head injuries. She died nine days later after being removed from life support.
Postmedia is not identifying the two accused to protect the identities of Serenity’s siblings, as stipulated by Alberta’s child welfare legislation.
Graff’s review made recommendations such as providing culturally relevant home studies, mandatory training for caregivers and creating a policy that requires the same checks and balances for terminating guardianship as required when bringing children into care.
At the time, the province accepted the recommendations. But Graff said in August he asked the children’s services ministry for more information about how the issues would be addressed.
“We don’t have an accountability mechanism that would create a time frame by which they would have to respond to us,” he said, adding the recommendations are non-binding.
Graff said the government response mentions the Lifelong Connections initiative, a pilot project launched in April 2017.
“What does that actually mean and how is it being moved forward?” he said.
Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said the province immediately began taken action on Graff’s recommendations in 2016.
“Changes have been made and continue to be made to improve safety, including strengthened requirements for caregivers and new assessment tools,” she said in a statement Thursday. “A number of initiatives are also underway to address the challenges the advocate highlighted.”
Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff is calling for the Alberta government to clarify what changes it plans for the child-welfare system following the kinship care death of four-year-old Serenity.