There are some serious problems with Alberta's foster system, the province's Liberal Party leader said Friday while discussing sex-related charges laid against a Calgary foster parent.

David Swann said the charges against the man, accused of offering three boys in his care money in exchange for sexual acts, are very disturbing.

Swann said he has some doubts about the competency of the Department of Children and Youth Services.

"We need more consistent and thorough reviews of foster parents," he said. "We need a monitoring process in place. We need to be very clear when there are concerns that those are dealt with immediately, and we're not sure that's happening."

Rare occurrence

Children and Youth Services Minister Yvonne Fritz defended the system on Friday, saying there are 4,000 children in foster care in Alberta.

"It's really important that people realize this is an unusual situation, that it rarely happens. We have excellent foster care in our province," she said.

Still, Fritz said, she wants every aspect of the case scrutinized.

"I can tell you that if there are any changes that are recommended, I will ensure that they are acted upon very quickly. This is an important review," she said.

"It's an internal review, and it's to ensure the protection and safety of youth in our care."

Tom Baker, a manager with Aspen Calgary, which has contracts with the Alberta government to provide foster homes for 60 children, is worried about how the case will reflect on other foster families in the city.

"It's horrifying to hear that something like this could happen," he said. "It raises the anxiety for people that there aren't adequate kinds of checks and balances and monitoring and so on."

Screening process

But, Baker said, that's not the case.

Foster parents go through a rigorous screening process, he said, including criminal record checks, intensive training, and home visits before they are licensed.

Swann said Children and Youth Services should do more to implement eight recommendations contained in a report into foster care completed nearly two years ago.

That review was prompted by the death of a three-year-old foster boy in an Edmonton home in January 2007. The child was rushed to hospital with severe head trauma and died after being taken off life support the following day.

The report called for increased monitoring during the first six months of a foster home's operation, and more consistent assessment guidelines for evaluating new foster homes.

Fritz said changes were made in 2007, including more intense home studies for foster families.

Garry Prokopishin, 51, was charged Thursday with one count of luring a child via a data device, three counts each of obtaining or attempting to obtain sex from a person under the age of 18, and sexual contact with a youth by a person in authority.

The charges are in connection with incidents alleged to have occurred between January 2006 and April 2008.

Police believe that 55 foster children, all boys, have lived under the care of Prokopishin and his wife over the past 20 years.

At any given time, police said, between one and five boys lived in the home, and they ranged in age from 14 to 17.

The Calgary Police Service said Thursday that officers have spoken to 13 of the boys who lived in the home, and the investigation is ongoing.