CBC Investigates

N.B. approach to child death reviews gets reduced rating from doctors

The Canadian Paediatric Society says New Brunswick's child death review system should be more transparent.

Public reporting on child deaths should be more detailed and transparent, Canadian Paediatric Society says

Child and youth advocate Norm Bossé says New Brunswick's reports on child deaths lack 'context.' (CBC)

A national organization has downgraded its ranking of New Brunswick's child death review system, saying it needs to be more transparent.

The Canadian Paediatric Society said it would review its 2016 ranking, after CBC News raised concerns about the province's secretive child death review process.

New Brunswick's ranking has been changed from "excellent" to "good," with a note that says "public reporting" of child deaths "should be more transparent and include more details."

The report was repeatedly cited by government officials as proof that New Brunswick has one of the best systems in the country.

"We were rated excellent," cabinet minister Serge Rousselle said in March.

"So we must be doing something good."

Environment and Local Government Minister Serge Rousselle has previously cited New Brunswick's 'excellent' ranking by the Canadian Pediatric Society as proof the province has a good child death review system. (CBC)
New Brunswick's downgraded rating is better than Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which were ranked "fair" and "poor."

But it falls behind the "excellent" ratings given to Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman has been aware of the downgrade since April, the society says.

Pediatrician 'surprised' by excellent ranking

At least one member of the province's child death review committee has questioned the province's "excellent rating."

The committee, made up of experts like doctors and a police officer, review the deaths of all children known to the minister of social development. Their findings are presented to the chief coroner, with the goal of preventing similar deaths in the future.

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"I was surprised when I saw that NB was given an "excellent status" as I didn't think we fit into that category," pediatrician Susan Sanderson wrote to the the chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society in March.

The email was obtained by CBC News through right to information legislation.

"Our committee thinks we should be fulfilling our mandate and mission but with the present manpower and financial support for the committee we are not sure we can."

The society's excellent rating, she wrote, won't help the committee when trying to obtain more resources.

"The people on the [child death review committee] are very committed to this cause and want to do good work," Sanderson wrote in her email.

"I think it would be unfair for them to receive any more negativity. However, I think there needs to be more resources to function as an "excellent [child death review committee]."

Sanderson also raised concern that the committee may have only been reviewing cases of youth who died while under the care of the Department of Social Development.

The committee's mandate says it's supposed to "review the facts and circumstances related to the sudden and unexpected deaths of all children under 19 years of age."

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends the committee start reviewing all child deaths referred to the coroner.

Government reviews system

Mona Sock took her own life behind an arena on Elsipogtog First Nation in 2007. She would be 23 now. She is one of the children who died from unnatural causes in New Brunswick's child protection system. (CBC)
In March, the provincial government launched a review of how it investigates child deaths after The Lost Children, a CBC News project about children who have died under the watch of child protection officials.

The goal is to find "an approach to child death reviews that better balances the need for privacy with the public's right to know," Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson Elaine Bell wrote in an email.

She said government would provide an update at some point later in the year and declined an interview request.

Child and youth advocate Norm Bossé, who is part of the review, said major changes could be coming for the first time in nearly a decade.

"I think they've reached the conclusion that OK, we have to improve this system," Bossé said in an interview.

Committee has limited powers

Bossé has recommended the child death review committee be given its own legislation and more power to review child deaths.

"I'm now aware of a case where they couldn't get a certain report that was produced because they're restricted from seeing it," Bossé said.

Bosse said he also wants the government to start publishing statistics at least once a year to tell the public how many at-risk children are dying.

The review will also include input from the province's access to information and privacy commissioner, Anne Bertrand, who has previously called on government to reveal more about child deaths.

Advocate may launch investigation

Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman has 45 days to respond to recommendations from the child death review committee. (Joe MacDonald)
Earlier this month, the child death review committee released its findings into the deaths of three children.

The report lists recommendations, but no details about how those children died.

In one case, it recommends that children who may have been abused shouldn't be sent back into a home until the perpetrator has been identified.  

It's an example of how the process lacks transparency and context, according to Bossé. He has been following that case since the beginning, but the law prevents him from talking about the details.

Horsman, the government minister, has 45 days to respond to the committee's recommendations.

If his response isn't good enough, Bossé may launch his own investigation into what happened.

"When you look at those recommendations they're making, they're signalling to social development that you may have a problem in your systems here," he said.

Part 1The Lost Children: The secret life of death by neglect

Jackie Brewer, the 2-year-old who was ignored to death

How New Brunswick's child death review system works

Part 2The Lost Children: 'A child that dies shouldn't be anonymous'

Haunted by Juli-Anna: An 'agonizingly painful' preventable death

Part 3The Lost Children: Change on horizon for First Nations child welfare

Mona Sock, a life stolen by abuse

Part 4The Lost Children: Government weighs privacy over transparency in child deaths

Baby Russell: A few minutes of life, then a knife in the heart


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