It is not a secret that the Alberta child intervention program has seen its share of children who fell through the cracks and suffered greatly as a result. This applies in particular to Indigenous children, who unfortunately make up approximately 60% of the children in provincial care.
The public has become more aware of the problems facing Alberta child intervention services, particularly after the death of a four-year-old girl named Serenity who died while in the care of guardians appointed after she was removed from her home. The child died of trauma to her head, but hospital staff also noticed several bruises of varying stages of healing, as well as the fact that she appeared to be malnourished. Serenity’s mother said she had repeatedly raised concerns about the care her child was receiving, which were ignored. The case sparked an urgent debate on the safeguards in place to protect children in care.
In June of 2018, the Alberta government introduced a new initiative called “A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow” following recommendations of a panel that completed a careful review of the province’s child intervention system. The panel consisted of 12 members selected from across political parties, as well as four experts on family intervention and Indigenous issues. After a yearlong review of the system, the panel made several recommendations to be implemented over three stages.
Those recommendations have now been compiled in the new initiative, which has already implemented the first stage of changes. The remaining changes are set to be implemented in 2020, and 2022, respectively.
The changes are widespread and attempt to address a number of concerns and areas that were found lacking by the panel during its review. A few key changes are as follows:
Increased Spending for Support Services
Guardians receive financial supports to assist with the care of a child, helping them pay for expenses such as transportation, counselling and respite care. Under the former system, this funding was often disrupted or lost completely if a child’s guardian changed. Under the new system, the funding will remain consistently in place, even in cases where a child is assigned a new guardian.
Improved and Increased Involvement of Indigenous Communities
Historically, Canada has a poor record with its treatment of Indigenous children in government care. Most notably perhaps is what has become known as the “Sixties Scoop”, in which thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their homes and placed in care that was completely separate from their communities and culture. Despite the name, this practice extended from the 1950’s into the 1980’s, and children who were affected have recently become entitled to settlement claims from the province.
Under the new initiative, there are several changes to consult and otherwise encourage participation of First Nations communities in child welfare matters:
Increased Focus on Child Safety
The safety of every child in care will be a top priority at every stage of the system, and there will be transparency in order to increase accountability. This includes public reporting of any injury, death or serious incident, followed by a review and recommendations.
The family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman have considerable experience helping families and guardians navigate the complex child protection process in Alberta. We understand how the system works, and we know how to effectively challenge or advocate at each stage. We also have worked extensively with Indigenous communities on a number of child protection issues specific to First Nations.
If your family has become involved in this process, or you are seeking guardianship of a child who is the subject of an intervention, please contact our office to discuss your options by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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