Alberta's child advocate recommends safety and accountability measures following case review

Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff says better communication and safety planning could protect young people from family violence.

Del Graff's recent report examined deaths of 9 young people

Del Graff's latest report makes three recommendations, including developing a protocol for notifying child intervention workers about family violence risks. (CBC)

Alberta's child advocate says better communication and safety planning could protect young people from family violence.

In a report published Tuesday, Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff made three recommendations for the ministries of justice and children's services.

Two of the recommendations ask the government to improve information sharing between silos and safety planning when providing care to young people who could be the victims of family violence. 

The third recommendation advocates for adding accountability measures so advice from First Nations designates — people who work with caseworkers and provide guidance to young people involved with Children's Services — is followed.

Graff made the recommendations after reviewing the recent deaths of nine young people. All of the young Albertans had either been involved with Children's Services at the time of their deaths or they had been involved in the previous two years. 

Mandatory notification

Graff's recommendations designed to prevent family violence stemmed from the cases of two young girls who were killed by their father.

The sisters, who were both under the age of four, were given the pseudonyms Cindi and Brooklyn in the report.

Caseworkers did not know that the girls' father, who had been incarcerated after assaulting their mother, had been released from jail.

The report said that without this information, caseworkers could not determine the family's safety needs and provide the right support.

The girls were found dead and their father is currently serving a life sentence for their deaths.

"Because of this tragic circumstance, we can make recommendations for other families that might be in a similar circumstance," Del Graff told CBC News in an interview on Tuesday.

Graff is recommending that child intervention services be informed before family violence offenders are released from jail. He also recommends the justice ministry re-examine the risks offenders pose and plan for family members' safety.

Both the justice and children's services ministries have policies on information sharing, but a protocol would require mandatory notification, the report said.

More accountability

Graff's third recommendation relates to the case of an 18-year-old woman, named Kelsie in the report, who died from ethanol, fentanyl and methamphetamine toxicity.

Kelsie had been placed in foster care when she was three years old, the report said. 

During her short life, she experienced numerous challenges, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, substance use, mental health concerns and the deaths of her father, foster mother and aunt.

The report said Kelsie's culture was important to her and a band designate from her First Nation "made repeated recommendations related to cultural and family connectedness" to her caseworkers but those recommendations "did not appear to be followed through on."

The report said that though Kelsie received services from people who cared deeply about her wellbeing, her case illustrated opportunities for more "culturally integrated approaches in mental health and child intervention." 

"What we're calling on government to do is to be able to have some more accountability to what those designates are suggesting are in the best interests of those children, regarding their culture and their continued connection to their communities," Graff said.

For example, he said, if a designate suggests scheduling a naming ceremony for a young person, the organization providing child intervention services should be accountable for ensuring that activity happens.

Children's Services spokesperson Rebecca Polak said in an email that the ministry will review the child advocate's report in detail and work with cross-ministry partners to make improvements as needed to respond to recommendations.