Edmonton

Bill closes loophole in private guardianships for Alberta kids in care

The Alberta government wants to close a loophole that allows people to become permanent guardians of children in care without first going through a home assessment by government social workers.

Changes intended to ensure every potential guardian gets home study

Alberta Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee introduced Bill 22 in the Alberta legislature on Wednesday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The Alberta government wants to close a loophole that allows people to become permanent guardians of children in care without first going through a home assessment by government social workers.

The change is outlined in Bill 22, introduced Wednesday by Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee.

The bill is based on recommendations that came out of the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention last year. The multi-party panel was formed in response to the 2014 death of a four-year-old girl named Serenity.

Under the current system, applications for private guardianships can be made under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act (CYFEA) or the Family Law Act.

Family Law Act applications don't include a provision for a mandatory home assessment or cultural connection plan, which is required when applications are made under the CYFEA.

The bill proposes all private guardianship applications be made under the CYFEA.

"Under this legislation, every guardianship application for a child in care would be made under the same process," Larivee said.

A small number of cases pass through the loophole each year, the minister said. Though the numbers are small, Larivee said it was important to Indigenous communities to have cultural connection plans written for every Indigenous child.

Public reporting of deaths

In cases involving Indigenous children, the bill also adds a requirement for the relevant First Nation to be notified so they can make representations in court. That currently does not happen.

Adam North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, said he was pleased with that part of the bill.

In the past, communities have faced trauma and chaos because they didn't have a say over where children ended up, North Peigan said. 

"I'm sure our communities in Alberta are very, very encouraged to see that there is some meaningful movement on the part of the Alberta government," he said.

Provisions under the bill would have funding follow the child, so financial support isn't lost if the guardian dies and the responsibility for the child moves to another caregiver.

Officials comment on the impact Bill 22 could have. 0:58

The bill does not make changes to kinship care arrangements.

It proposes changes to improve reporting of deaths and serious injuries of children in government care.

If passed, the legislation would require the government to publicly report incidents within four business days.

The minister also must post findings and recommendations made after government reviews of these incidents within one year, and publicly respond to any external recommendations.

The bill also makes it mandatory for courts and caseworkers to consider 13 criteria when making a decision involving a child's welfare, including whether to remove them from a home.

There are currently 16 areas that should be considered, but it is not mandatory to take them all into account.

Last summer, the government released its four-year, 39-point action plan to make changes to the child intervention system.

Larivee said more changes next year will potentially look at alternate types of guardianships for Indigenous children.

Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark was a member of the child intervention panel. He said Bill 22 is a good first start.

"I come away from this process optimistic," Clark said. "We'll continue to pay close attention to make sure that the promise of this bill is actually realized."

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