One member of the Alberta all-party child intervention panel who was part of a previous roundtable on the matter says the decision to lean toward public accountability over family privacy should be dialed back.
Following Wednesday night's meeting of the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention, Liberal Leader David Swann, who was also a participant in the 2014 roundtable on improving the child intervention system, said the focus then seemed to be on dispelling the myth that the government was trying to hide in-care deaths.
'All of us are hearing that it's inappropriate and unacceptable to force, especially grieving families [to decide]... about stopping that or enabling that publication ban.' - David Swann
"The focus was entirely on making it more transparent," Swann said after the meeting. "Now I'm hearing, and all of us are hearing, that it's inappropriate and unacceptable to force, especially grieving families, whether First Nations or not, about stopping that or enabling that publication ban."
The panel has already drafted seven preliminary recommendations to improve accountability, timeliness of the review process, cultural sensitivity and compassion toward families involved.
Another proposal was up for debate Wednesday, relating to publication bans around sharing information about a child in care, which can be lifted if the child dies.
To prevent the ban being lifted, parents have the right to go to court within four days to put a publication ban back in place. The panel is deliberating whether that's enough time.
Panel wants more information
The 11 MLAs and three social work experts on the panel all expressed interest in hearing more from affected families before drafting even a preliminary recommendation. The Ministry of Children's Services is reporting back to the panel with more information before it makes any decisions.
MLA Debbie Jabbour, the chair of the panel, also noted the 2014 effort "may have gone too far" in favouring the public's need to know over a family's privacy.
"We have to look at the other side and say, 'Where do we find a better balance?'" Jabbour said. "We want to make sure that we do it right. And we want to make sure that we get input from the First Nations communities on how it impacts them and look at all the angles."
Over the coming months, the panel will be hearing from families and children involved with or who have been involved with the child intervention system, including those on reserves.
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- Family voices are needed in child death reviews: Ministerial Panel member
The panel was formed in December 2016 after gruesome details emerged surrounding the 2014 death of a four-year-old Indigenous girl named Serenity in kinship care.
Emaciated and badly bruised, Serenity died after she was admitted to a central Alberta hospital with a suspected head injury while being cared for by relatives. She died from brain damage. Genital trauma also suggested sexual abuse.
Between April 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2016, 73 people under the age of 25 died while receiving government services; more than half of them were Indigenous.
This child intervention panel is the seventh in eight years to review Alberta's child intervention system.