Questioning foster care 'should not be allowed,' says association head
Katherine Jones of Alberta Foster Parent Association made comments after damning media investigation
CBC News Posted: Nov 27, 2013 12:04 PM MT Last Updated: Nov 27, 2013 8:07 PM MT
Irfan Sabir won't resign, says he's 'absolutely' done a good job, launches child-death review panel
BY EMMA GRANEY
FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 08, 2016 11:43 AM MST | UPDATED: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 08, 2016 05:08 PM MST
Alberta's Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir refuses to step down over his handling of a case involving the death of a four-year-old girl in government care, saying he has "absolutely" done a good job.
Nor will he assign blame for the two-year delay in getting the girl's case to police, he said Thursday as he announced an all-party ministerial panel to investigate the child intervention system.
"I won’t step down because it’s important work, I have an important job to do," Sabir told reporters.
"Here is the action plan — that’s how we move forward to make sure we have proper safeguards in place. We have supports in place for families so we can avoid similar incidents from happening."
Sabir wouldn't answer whether anyone will lose their jobs over the Serenity case, repeating only that the panel, of which he will be an ex officio member, will be "finding solutions" to safeguard children in government care.
The Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and Alberta parties have all called for Sabir's head over what they call gross mismanagement of the Serenity file.
Serenity was four years old when she died in September 2014 after a traumatic head injury. She was also suffering from serious hypothermia, catastrophic malnutrition, and anal and genital bruising. A year before, she had been of normal body weight. When she arrived at hospital, she weighed just 18 pounds, the typical weight of a nine-month-old baby.
Sabir and the NDP government have faced repeated questions over the past three weeks about what actions the government and department have taken to improve child services, and why criminal charges have not been laid in the girl's death. There was even an emergency debate on the matter.
On Wednesday night, Sabir told Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons that his department had not given an internal case file about Serenity to the RCMP until this week.
That file was supposed to go to the RCMP in 2015, but instead police had to reach out to the department for the information.
RCMP Insp. Gibson Glavin confirmed Thursday the RCMP got a link to Serenity's case file on Nov. 22 this year, but it was in a format police were unable to open. They eventually accessed the information on Dec. 6.
While the police awaited the files it needed, Glavin said officers continued to investigate other areas of the case.
In Question Period Thursday, Sabir said Simons "did not have all the facts."
But when he was given the chance to explain himself late Wednesday night, three hours after Simons' story broke and the Opposition first demanded his resignation, Sabir refused to speak with Postmedia at the legislative building. Nor did his staff respond to multiple requests for information on the phone, via email and text message.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said Sabir's handling of the file was an example of "sheer incompetence."
He called repeatedly for Sabir's resignation Thursday, and said it was "ridiculous" that the minister will not assign blame in the death of a child.
"I expect the premier to demand his resignation, as is fitting," Jean said.
That didn't happen.
Instead, Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman told the house her caucus has complete confidence in Sabir and Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley.
Ganley told Postmedia Thursday morning she was confident she, as a minister, did enough to follow up on the Serenity file.
There were some communication issues between the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Child and Youth Advocate, she said, but those processes will be changed.
Serenity died in September 2014, when the Progressive Conservatives were still in power.
It was then that her case first seemed to fall through the cracks.
Glavin said Thursday the police investigation began when Serenity died. But it wasn't until September 2016 — well into the NDP administration — that police finally received a report about her death from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The NDP has argued in the house the child welfare system has been broken for 100 years, and interim PC leader Ric McIver admits it wasn't perfect under his government.
No minister knows the minutiae of his or her department, McIver said, but when questions were repeatedly being asked about Serenity's case, Sabir should have acted, picked up the phone and called the RCMP to see what was going on.
"If there's no blame, there's no justice" for Serenity, McIver said.
He also had questions about the all-party committee, which he originally proposed to the house.
The panel Sabir announced Thursday, McIver said, lacks teeth and is little more than a way for government to "cover its own butt."
According to Sabir, within eight weeks the panel will find ways to streamline and strengthen the death review process, identify which agency should be responsible for such reviews, develop criteria for which deaths should be reviewed, and make recommendations for legislative changes.
Within six months, it will explore the root causes of why families are involved in the child intervention system, examine funding and resources, review existing supports and identify "concrete actions" to improve the system.
In addition to Sabir, the panel will include five MLAs from the governing NDP, one MLA from each opposition party and experts in the child intervention system from outside government.
Sabir said it will be up to the panel chair to decide whether its work is done in public or behind closed doors.
and we laid our words out
like the corpses in the room
who were innocent
who asked for us to help
we failed them
we are haunted by their spirits
and we laid our words out
like shapeless acts of mothers
who have no other power in this realm
we said the words to politicians
who mumble mumble mumble
something about new studies
but we have had enough of stalling and bad performance these GOA games
and we laid our words out
in the streets and homes of our families
we work together as mothers to alter the destruction of our own
we say the warnings clearly to government
we are the mothers of these children and we want change now
we won't wait we are working hard to upend government
we will vote the current hires out without resentment
and we laid our words out
like the corpses in the room
who were innocent
who asked for us to help
we failed them
we are haunted by their spirits
Political will vital to improve child welfare: Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild
Published on: December 9, 2016 | Last Updated: December 9, 2016 7:43 PM MST
Wilton Littlechild, Grand Chief of Treaty Six, says it will take political will to change Alberta's child intervention system. JOHN LUCAS / EDMONTON JOURNAL
Treaty Six Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild has been part of child intervention reviews in Alberta before, and worries that reams of previous recommendations have been left to gather dust.
Implementing change in light of the Serenity case will take a combination of political will and collaboration, he said Friday.
“There has to be commitment to action — it can’t just be another review or inquiry or panel to look at it,” Littlechild said from Ottawa.
“In my mind, there has been a substantial look at the situation and there are some good recommendations that are sitting there, crying out for implementation.”
Serenity, who was in government care, died in September 2014 after a traumatic head injury. She was suffering from serious hypothermia, catastrophic malnutrition, and anal and genital bruising. She weighed just 18 pounds when she died — the typical weight of a nine-month-old baby.
It took two years for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to complete Serenity’s autopsy report, and Alberta’s child and youth advocate was repeatedly stymied in his attempts to get information.
It was only this week that the RCMP finally gained access to all of the files investigators had requested.
Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir and the NDP have faced repeated questions over the past three weeks about what actions have been taken to improve child services, and why criminal charges have not been laid in the young girl’s death.
This week, the opposition parties called for Sabir’s resignation over his handling of the file.
Instead, he announced an all-party child intervention panel.
Littlechild sat on a vaguely similar committee convened under former human services minister Manmeet Bhullar when the Progressive Conservatives were in power.
He has sat on many such panels, commissions and committees over the years, including a recent indigenous justice review.
In that case, he decided to see how many other studies had been done and recommendations adopted as a result.
He found more than 3,000 recommendations made over the course of 33 reviews.
“Sadly, the vast majority were ignored, so our people were still filling up the prisons because there had been no action,” he said.
“So unfortunately, in this case (of the review under Bhullar), I’m afraid our report may have suffered the same kind of fate, in the sense that it was totally ignored.”
Littlechild thinks the crux of the solution lies in prevention, and more family support services to keep children out of care in the first place.
He said while he would be “willing and honoured” to appear before the latest panel in Alberta, the government should first look at recommendations that have already been made and implement those that are relevant and appropriate.
“I’m very concerned about what has happened,” Littlechild said.
“It’s not only because (Serenity) was an indigenous child — any child who suffers that kind of sad death, it has to be concerning to everyone.”
Change has to happen, he said, “it just has to.”
Graham Thomson: Alberta human services minister tries to weather self-created storm
Published on: December 8, 2016 | Last Updated: December 8, 2016 11:28 PM MST
Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir talks about actions to improve, Alberta's child intervention system on Dec. 8, 2016, in Edmonton.GREG SOUTHAM / POSTMEDIA
If Human Service Minister Irfan Sabir is not willing to resign over his department’s bungled handling of an internal report into the death of a four-year-old girl, maybe he should resign for his performance the past two days, after the story broke.
The performance included actively avoiding the media, holding an irritatingly vacuous news conference, blaming the previous Progressive Conservative government and forming a bogus all-party investigative panel to distract attention from his performance as minister.
At the heart of the story is Serenity, the little First Nations girl who died while in government-supervised “kinship care” in 2014. The cause of death was a traumatic head injury, but she also suffered from a disturbing list of abuse including hypothermia, catastrophic malnutrition and genital bruising.
Serenity’s tragic story has gripped the Alberta legislature ever since it was disclosed by my colleague Paula Simons three weeks ago — with the opposition, led by the Wildrose, demanding answers to a litany of questions surrounding this disturbing tale.
They want to know, among other things, why nobody has been charged and why it took two years to complete an autopsy report amid complaints from Alberta’s child and youth advocate that his own investigation was stonewalled. The RCMP has been investigating, but ran into a bureaucratic brick wall of its own when it couldn’t get its hands on an internal review of Serenity’s death conducted by Children’s Services.
That report should have gone to the Mounties in 2015. It didn’t.
Frustrated Mounties eventually contacted officials in mid-November for that report, but couldn’t access it until Dec. 6.
Why the delay?
“It was an unfortunate error,” Sabir told Simons Wednesday night when she broke the story of the delayed report. “As minister, I take responsibility on behalf of the government.”
On Thursday, Sabir suggested Simons didn’t have all the facts when she wrote her column Wednesday night — that the reason the RCMP didn’t get the report for several weeks was simply due to a problem accessing the secure file online.
OK, but why did Sabir actively avoid my other colleague, Emma Graney, who was at the legislature late Wednesday night specifically to ask Sabir about details of the story and opposition calls for him to resign?
If Sabir had problems with Simons’ column, he could have corrected them then. Instead, Sabir brushed past Graney several times in the hallway outside the assembly, saying he was on a cellphone call.
Then on Thursday, Sabir held a hurried news conference to insist he will not resign.
“We have work to do and I’m not here to assign blame anywhere,” he said.
Which is the kind of response you give as a politician when people are saying you’re the one to blame. He then announced the terms of reference of a closed-door, all-party panel to improve the child intervention system: “I’m here to talk about solutions, the terms of references provided this morning and we are looking forward to working with the opposition.”
The opposition is not so keen to work with Sabir, saying he should resign and the government should call an open-door public inquiry.
Sabir said several times: “It is clear to me that we have not done enough and we have not acted fast enough,” but he wasn’t just talking about his NDP government. He was referring to the PC governments of yesterday.
Sabir was spinning himself in circles Thursday, trying to say he had done a good job. He might have inherited a broken system from the PCs, but in the past three weeks he has dropped the ball by not giving the Serenity file the kind of attention he finally gave it Thursday.
Interim PC leader Ric McIver made this simple but spot-on analysis of Sabir’s political failure: “Every minister of the Crown should know that within your ministry if there is an item so troubling that it’s the first story on the supper-hour news, it’s the front-page story in the newspaper and you’re getting hammered on it in question period every day, the minister’s job is to reach into his or her ministry and say ‘Give me that file.’ ”
Sabir apparently did that Thursday morning, finally — but it was much too late.
December 8, 2016 11:39 pm
Updated: December 9, 2016 7:35 am
‘I could have been Serenity’: former Alberta foster child haunted by past in care
By Sarah KrausReporter Global News
WATCH ABOVE: As Albertans learn more about the tragic death of a four-year-old girl while she was in kinship care, an Edmonton man says he isn't entirely shocked by what happened. Sarah Kraus spoke to the man haunted by his 16 years in government care and asked him what needs to change.
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Kane Blacque is a successful and happy 40-year-old Edmonton man but you would never guess that knowing how cruel his childhood was.
“My memories as a child – even as a baby – there’s nothing but trauma, chaos and abuse.”
He saw his mother and her boyfriends doing drugs and drinking, throwing things and fighting.
Sometimes, even as a toddler, that chaos spilled over onto him.
“Social workers had noticed bruises on my arms, or burns – but nothing was ever done.”
But when Blacque was two, his young mother killed his baby sister. Blacque and his little brother were left in her care for 10 days before they became wards of the province of Alberta.
He alleges his foster parents were abusive: mentally, sexually and physically.
“It happened over the dumbest thing,” he recalled. “I took too many cookies in my lunch. Ultimately, I was beaten with a bike chain. I was hit in the chest, right here. There’s a scar. Its been there my entire life.”
At one point, Blacque and his brother were adopted. But even that didn’t last long. The pair were rejected and went back into the system.
Then they were bounced from foster home to foster home.
“When somebody is being kicked out for behavioural issues or lying or acting out or whatever – instead of actually helping them, they just move them. They put them somewhere else in hopes that they can deal with them. They can fix them.”
Blacque said the whole experience twisted his understanding of love and relationships.
“The most love that I ever felt, the most care that I ever felt – was in my foster home where I was being sexually abused. Because there was no physical abuse, no emotional abuse, no mental abuse.”
At 18, Blacque aged out of the system but things didn’t get any better.
“Drugs, alcohol, sex, sexual exploitation, prostitution, suicide attempts. That’s what it was like after foster care. It was nothing but hell,” he explained. “I wanted it just to all end. The pain, the past and I was so scared of the future.”
But Blacque’s attempts on his life were unsuccessful and today he has things to be thankful for: a loving partner, a new puppy and a great job.
“My past made me who I am. And I’m quite comfortable and happy with who I am today,” he said. “I have a lot to lose today. Whereas, previous to 37 years of age, I didn’t have anything to lose.”
So when he heard about the death of four-year-old Serenity in the care of the province, it brought back bad memories.
READ MORE: Mother of 4-year-old Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out: ‘They completely ignored me’
“I could’ve been Serenity, if I would have stayed any longer with my mother,” he said. “Since I was a kid in care, I’ve noticed no change whatsoever. It’s gotten worse.”
But that doesn’t mean he agrees with those blaming the NDP for the problems, or calling for the resignation of Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir.
Watch below: Global News’ ongoing coverage of the 2014 death of a four-year-old Alberta girl known only as Serenity. The girl’s death in kinship care has raised questions about how to protect children in government care.
Alberta Human Services minister will not resign: ‘Absolutely not’
“He took over somebody else’s failures and somebody else’s lack of action,” he said.
Instead, he wants to see the whole system of care for children overhauled.
READ MORE: Alberta government setting up all-party committee to examine child’s death in kinship care
“More policies, more procedures, more training. More care, more compassion, more understanding,” he explained.
Blacque wants social workers and foster parents to be checked better to make sure they’re in it for the right reasons. And he wants them to step in when there’s signs of trouble.
“In my eyes, when it comes to innocent children in that type of environment, it needs to be taken seriously immediately. Not 10 days later, not when incidents happen and not when it’s too late.”
He said he’s hopeful the province is working to better the system but said they need to be transparent about it.“Show us your progress, show us what you’re doing. Because the issues being handled right now are not as important as children dying in care and being abused in care and being tossed around in care.”
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