Edmonton…The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has completed an Investigative Review on the deaths of three Indigenous children (who died between 2014 and 2015) and has publicly released the results of the review as outlined under the Child and Youth Advocate Act.
Although they were not siblings, the Advocate examined the lives of Sarah, Anthony, and Mikwan’s experiences together because of similarities in their tragic deaths. All three children were of preschool age, spent significant time in care and were returned to their respective parents. They were part of sibling groups from three to seven children. In each case, their parents worked hard to have the children returned to their care. All three died shortly after supports were withdrawn. Focused and dedicated attention was given to each child’s circumstances and the review is available on line here.
“The situations that come to my attention unequivocally show that children are particularly vulnerable during periods of transition,” said Del Graff, Provincial Child and Youth Advocate. “The restoration of families must focus on family health in a meaningful and sustained way.”
The tragedies of these children’s experiences are heartbreaking, added Graff. “However, similar situations can be prevented if the government acts upon the recommendations contained in this report.”
Graff noted that there are also similarities in these cases with a case that was investigated in October 2016. Sadly, some of the recommendations made as a result of that investigation have not been implemented. The intent of an Investigative Review is not to find fault with specific individuals, but to identify and advocate for system improvements that will help enhance the overall safety and well-being of children and young people who are receiving designated services.
The review itemizes several recommendations particularly about the transition of services once children have returned home; several of these have been made before but not implemented. In fact, the OCYA website shows that there has been no progress on 37% of the recommendations that have been made as a result of Investigative Reviews and only 29% have been met.
“Our government must take action on the many recommendations made to improve the lives of children and prevent these tragedies.”
“The loss of children to such tragic circumstances is incomprehensible. My condolences go out to those who loved them,” emphasized Graff. “These children had families and foster families who cared deeply about them and my thoughts are with them. The situations that come to my attention unequivocally show that children are particularly vulnerable during periods of transition. Reunifying children with their parents is a new phase of involvement, not an ending.”
Graff’s Investigative Review notes that Sarah’s, Anthony’s, Mikwan’s and Sharon’s parents worked hard to have their children returned to them. In all of these circumstances, there were risk factors that became apparent after the children were returned. He notes that, “The unique needs of each child must not be forgotten after they are returned to family. Ongoing assessment of safety and risk and the necessary supports the family requires must be looked at carefully.”
Alberta Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman responded to the recent OCYA review. She stated, “As Albertans, we all feel the overwhelming loss of these three young people, and the pain of their siblings, families and caregivers. We know that Indigenous children and youth experience trauma and loss in their lives far too often.
“In response to the profound legacy of residential schools in Indigenous families and communities, governments across Canada have been working to reunify families whenever possible. In examining these cases, it is clear that we need to do a better job of working with families to ensure complex needs are acknowledged, the right supports are in place and that children are kept safe.
“A number of initiatives are underway to help address these issues, including enhanced funding to reduce caseloads, strategies to help caseworkers improve safety when considering a placement for a child and a program in four of our seven regions, which requires ongoing supports for 12 months prior to ending a permanent guardianship. We will be working towards expanding this program throughout the province. Children’s Services is also undertaking an internal review into cases involving tragedies at the time of reunification.
“The safety and well-being of children and families have been at the heart of the work of the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention since the start of Phase 2 of their work, and we anticipate that they will continue to deliberate on these important issues as they go forward.
“We thank the Advocate for highlighting the ongoing disparity for services for Indigenous children and families. While we continue to work with the federal government and First Nations on this critical issue, it is clear that there is an urgent need for all governments to work together to improve services for Indigenous children.
“We would like to thank the Child and Youth Advocate for this report. We accept the recommendations and will work closely with his office to implement them and ensure the safety and well-being of Alberta’s vulnerable children.”
In the OCYA review Graff concludes,
“I believe that children belong with family; and, I am concerned that the tendency following tragic situations such as these can lead to fewer children being reunited with family. The priority must be to work towards family health in a meaningful and sustained way. For this to happen, child intervention workers and their organizations must have the time, support, resources and capacity to work in a more relational manner with the children and families they serve.
“Our government must take action on the many recommendations made to improve the lives of children and prevent these tragedies.
“Finally, I hope that Albertans will honour these children and their families by having respectful and thoughtful dialogue about how to improve the ways that we attend to the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens—our children.”