Alberta child advocate calls for greater accountability from government

Alberta’s child and youth advocate is calling for government officials to publicly account for how they are implementing recommendations made by his office by regularly appearing before a committee of MLAs. 

Del Graff ending time as child and youth advocate in 2022

Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff is set to retire this year. (Submitted by Del Graff)

Alberta's child and youth advocate is calling for government officials to explain how they are implementing recommendations made by his office by regularly appearing before a committee of MLAs. 

Del Graff, who is retiring this year after 11 years as child and youth advocate, appeared before the standing committee on legislative offices Tuesday to answer questions about his office's 2020-21 annual report.

Graff told MLAs that recommendations made in his reports only require a government response within 75 days and there is no mechanism for ministries to formally account for what, if any, actions have been taken. 

Graff wants representatives from ministries such as Childrens' Services or Health appear before a legislative committee to take questions from MLAs, similar to how the public accounts committee regularly reviews reports from the Auditor General of Alberta. 

"What we would really like to see is a process where those groups … that we make recommendations to come to a table to tell us what they're doing or not doing with respect to action in those recommendations," Graff told MLAs. 

"It really does make sense in terms of how could there be a full circle in terms of the recommendations developed, made, completed, acted upon."

Graff told the committee that his office has issued reports with "good, solid" recommendations over the years. The government response can be repetitive or completely non-existent, he said

In a March 2021 report on youth suicides, Graff recommended Alberta Health and Childrens' Services host a forum to discuss what actions have been taken and are planned as part of Alberta's five year plan to prevent youth suicides. 

The government response was that such a forum would have to wait until after the COVID-19 pandemic was over.  It came from a minister's press secretary, Graff said. 

Graff's criticisms weren't solely directed at the current United Conservative government. Into Focus, the first report on youth opioid use, was released in June 2018, when the NDP was still in government.

Graff said Renewed Focus, a follow-up report released in June 2021, was written because the response to the earlier report was not sufficient. For example, a recommendation to include age-appropriate instruction on substance use throughout the school curriculum has not been implemented. 

Committee review closed 

NDP members at Tuesday's meeting wanted the committee to continue child and youth advocate report review so ministry officials could update MLAs on Graff's recommendations. However, UCP MLAs make up the majority on the standing committee and voted in favour of ending the review of Graff's report. 

"We deserve, Albertans deserve, these children and families deserve to hear what work has been done," said  Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP critic for Childrens' Services.

The committee will issue a report on the review. Pancholi said the four NDP members on the committee plan to write a minority report to express their views on Graff's report.