26 rec­om­men­da­tions won’t save a sin­gle child in care: Paula Si­mons

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - PAULA SI­MONS psi­

Af­ter a year of meet­ings, af­ter hear­ing from se­nior bu­reau­crats and aca­demic ex­perts, from front-line work­ers and In­dige­nous com­mu­nity groups, the all-party min­is­te­rial panel on child in­ter­ven­tion came up with 26 draft rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove Alberta’s trou­bled child­wel­fare sys­tem.

The ver­sion I’ve seen fea­tures 26 neb­u­lous ex­er­cises in self­im­por­tant, po­lit­i­cally fash­ion­able rhetoric. They won’t save the life of one sin­gle child.

“I think we squan­dered a golden op­por­tu­nity to ef­fect real change,” Ja­son Nixon told me Fri­day.

He’s now the United Con­ser­va­tive Party house leader, but he was orig­i­nally the Wil­drose mem­ber ap­pointed to the panel last year.

“Un­less there are dras­tic changes to the draft rec­om­men­da­tions pre­sented to us, we will not be sup­port­ing them.”

The con­fi­den­tial draft doc­u­ment, which was ob­tained by the Jour­nal this week, is dated Tues­day. The fi­nal re­vi­sions, made at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, are still in flux. Noth­ing is of­fi­cial yet. Noth­ing is pub­lic.

But un­less there are ma­jor changes in the off­ing, this draft doc­u­ment sug­gests a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment for any­one who still cher­ished a hope that this child­wel­fare re­view would be any dif­fer­ent or any bet­ter than all the im­po­tent re­views be­fore it.

Oh, there are plenty of wor­thy ideas about re­spect­ing the calls to ac­tion from the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion or about more re­spect for In­dige­nous cul­tural val­ues, or about re­duc­ing poverty. There are sug­ges­tions to work more closely with In­dige­nous post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions and teach Al­ber­tans

Rec­om­men­da­tions for more eq­ui­table fund­ing on and off re­serve? None. Rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove the train­ing or screen­ing or fund­ing of care work­ers and care­givers? Nope.

more about In­dige­nous his­tory. Grand, over­ar­ch­ing philo­soph­i­cal prin­ci­ples of the most high­minded sort.

As for spe­cific, con­crete sug­ges­tions to make the sys­tem safer for kids, more re­spon­sive for fam­i­lies and more ac­count­able to the com­mu­nity? In Tues­day’s ver­sion, at least, there are vir­tu­ally none. Rec­om­men­da­tions for more eq­ui­table fund­ing on and off re­serve? None. Rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove the train­ing or screen­ing or fund­ing of care work­ers and care­givers? Nope.

I see noth­ing prac­ti­cal in this draft that would have saved the life of Seren­ity. Or the lives of Kawlija Potts or Sha­laina Ar­cand or Trae­zlin Starlight, or any of the other chil­dren who’ve died while re­ceiv­ing pro­tec­tive ser­vices in the past few years.

“There is some re­ally good stuff here,” said Nixon. “I want to be pos­i­tive about what’s pos­i­tive. But the rec­om­men­da­tions are pur­pose­fully vague. I know we couldn’t fix the whole sys­tem, but we didn’t do what we set out to do.”

“A camel is a horse de­signed by com­mit­tee,” said MLA Greg Clark, who rep­re­sented the Alberta Party on the com­mit­tee. “None of th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions are mea­sur­able or time-based. And I wish we could just do this stuff in plain lan­guage. But this is a start­ing point. It’s not a rad­i­cal de­par­ture, I ac­knowl­edge, but I think it’s a change in tack.”

Nixon said all the MLAs on the panel, from all par­ties, acted in good faith. But he felt they were stymied by the bu­reau­crats from the min­istry of Chil­dren’s Ser­vices, who ob­jected when the politi­cians tried to pro­pose any­thing con­crete.

Aaron Man­ton, who speaks for Chil­dren’s Ser­vices, says the rec­om­men­da­tions are not com­plete. The com­mit­tee, he says, made sub­stan­tive changes when mem­bers met for a fi­nal time this week, although he was un­able to pro­vide them to me by dead­line Fri­day.

I hope he’s right. I hope I’m wrong. Yet I deeply fear we’re go­ing to end up with an­other bland list of plat­i­tudes, des­tined to end up on a shelf with all the other past rec­om­men­da­tions.

Chil­dren’s Ser­vices Min­is­ter Danielle Larivee gave a news con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa on Fri­day evening, where she’d been for the fed­eral govern­ment’s “emer­gency meet­ing” on In­dige­nous child wel­fare. Larivee made an im­pas­sioned state­ment, say­ing Alberta would not sign any agree­ment that im­posed so­lu­tions and didn’t in­clude con­sul­ta­tions with In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

“We did not reach con­sen­sus on a shared state­ment of prin­ci­ples. An­other state­ment now is not go­ing to fill the need for real ac­tion,” she told re­porters.

“We’ve known what needs to hap­pen for decades.”

The irony is ex­quis­ite. It’s easy to con­demn Ot­tawa’s in­ac­tion. But is Alberta any bet­ter? Sim­i­larly, Larivee had tough words for Ot­tawa’s con­tin­u­ing fail­ure to in­crease fed­eral fund­ing for child wel­fare on re­serves, to bring it up to pro­vin­cial stan­dards.

“Alberta won’t wait,” she said. “We won’t let In­dige­nous chil­dren wait any longer.”

When asked whether Alberta was will­ing to step in right now, to top up fund­ing for kids on re­serve, to end our two-tiered fund­ing sys­tem? Larivee was a lit­tle more hazy.

But she’s ab­so­lutely right. We’ve known what needs to hap­pen for decades. We need real ac­tion. Alberta’s In­dige­nous kids can’t wait any longer.

Danielle Larivee


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