Alta. child welfare system needs to change: report
Panel recommends more focus on aboriginal youth, quality-control measures
The province's Children and Youth Services Ministry accepted 10 of the recommendations contained in the report, which was written by a panel of experts appointed by the province in July 2009.
"I recognize and have found that we can be seen to be hiding behind legislation," said Children and Youth Services Minister Yvonne Fritz.
"We need to strengthen accountability, adaptability, and have continuous improvement by providing external advice, oversight and increased transparency."
The 10-person panel included academics, an MLA and individuals working in the child welfare sector in other provinces.
Four of the panel's recommendations were rejected.
The province has accepted the recommendation to establish a child and family quality control council, which would review and report publicly on what's going on within the intervention system.
It has also accepted the recommendation to accredit all organizations that deliver child intervention services on behalf of the government, including Delegated First Nations Agencies (DFNAs) and Children and Family Services Authorities (CFSAs).
Many of the recommendations focus on addressing the needs of aboriginal children. The report found 64 per cent of child intervention cases involve aboriginal children under 18, even though they only make up nine per cent of all young people in Alberta.
"Experience and research shows us that figure is expected to be 70 per cent over the next five years," Fritz said.
Report disappointing, NDP MLA says
However, the province rejected a recommendation to establish a child protection branch to handle cases involving off-reserve First Nations children.
It also rejected a recommendation for Alberta's child and youth advocate to narrow his focus to individual cases instead of providing advice on a system-wide level.
Alberta NDP MLA Rachel Notley, who has been an outspoken critic of Alberta's child welfare system, said she was disappointed in the report.
"And so, there's no way that we can ensure better outcomes for Alberta's children in care."
Notley said the report doesn't address one of the biggest criticisms of the province — a lack of transparency whenever a child dies in care.
"We continue to see the failure on the part of the government to disclose information which Albertans really want, which is the more specific information about how the system is breaking down on a case by case basis," she said.
"That information is possible to release to Albertans. It's just that this government's chosen not to."
System under scrutiny
Fritz defended the decision to reject some of the recommendations when it comes to accountability and governance.
She said many of the accepted recommendations will accomplish those goals. Fritz said she is committed to improving the system, because it's clear to her that if something isn't done, the number of children in care will increase.
Alberta's child welfare system has been under the microscope in recent years, following the deaths of a number of foster children who were in care — 12 since 2008.
In June 2009, two wards of the province, who were in the care of a youth treatment facility east of Edmonton, were charged in the murders of a man and a woman, who were found dead on a rural property.
Police said the youths had run away from the facility.
The panel responsible for examining the child intervention system was appointed by the province a month later, in July 2009.