Opposition parties spurn government's child welfare panel
Published on: December 14, 2016 | Last Updated: December 14, 2016 8:04 AM MST
Opposition Leaders Unified
In a rare political move, Alberta’s opposition parties banded together Tuesday to boycott the government’s all-party ministerial panel investigating the child welfare system.
Such a committee was originally proposed to Premier Rachel Notley by interim Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver, after revelations about the death of four-year-old Serenity in kinship care and the mishandling of her autopsy report and case file.
The government agreed to set one up, but when it came to the table with a two-page draft proposal for a proposed all-party ministerial panel, McIver balked.
So too did the Wildrose, Liberal and Alberta parties, saying the panel proposed by embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir had no teeth, would be held behind closed doors and would tread the same path worn by previous reviews.
McIver called it “a sham vehicle for a government bent on whitewashing the incompetence of at least two of its minsters.”
Opposition Leaders, left, Progressive Conservative Ric Mclver, Liberal David Swann, Alberta Party Greg Clark and Wildrose Brian Jean held a joint news conference on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2016 to boycott the government’s all-party ministerial panel on the child-death review process. ED KAISER
On Tuesday following question period, McIver filed into a media conference alongside Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, interim Liberal Leader David Swann, Alberta Leader Greg Clark and Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper to outline the framework they want to see before they take part in any all-party panel.
They want the panel to oversee the implementation of recommendations from past child intervention system reviews, figure out the status of the internal reviews of the 38 children who have died in care since May 2015, hold the meetings in public, ensure there’s whistleblower protection for all front line workers and managers, and remove Sabir as a member so he can be questioned by the panel.
Opposition parties in Alberta aren’t known as the best of friends, but Jean said the fact all opposition party leaders were standing together on Tuesday pointed to their commitment to action.
Serenity died in 2014 after a traumatic head injury. When she arrived in hospital, she was covered in bruises, emaciated and suffering from hypothermia. The RCMP is investigating her death.
That was when the PCs were in power. McIver said his party is willing to be scrutinized about where it felt short when in government, just as the NDP should be.
“This is something we all feel strongly about,” he said. “We’re not playing politics.”
Deputy government house leader Deron Bilous said Tuesday some proposals put forward by the opposition parties have merit, but the government wants to give them due consideration before making a decision.
He will likely be in touch with the opposition parties Wednesday about their proposed framework.
Alberta government to focus on permanent homes for children in care
Published on: December 14, 2016 | Last Updated: December 14, 2016 6:21 PM MST
Wildrose House Leader Nathan Cooper. ED KAISER / POSTMEDIA, FILE
The Alberta government is looking at ways to reduce the number of homes through which children in care are rotated, with details of a plan expected next month.
Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday the province has been working internally to address the root causes of failings in the child intervention system.
She was tight-lipped on the details of a new plan, but said the government has put a lot of thought into addressing the issue of permanence and how many homes children find themselves in over the period in which they’re in care.
It’s a concern Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff has been raising for some time. He’s glad the issue is getting some attention from government.
When children go through multiple unplanned moves, in the case of placement breakdowns for instance, it’s detrimental to their well-being, he said Wednesday in an interview.
“The most important thing we see with kids who do well, there’s stability in their home life, their relationships, their school, their leisure and community interests — in those areas of their life that give meaning to it,” Graff said.
“It’s one of those things we don’t really think about when it’s there, but when it’s not, it can be really troubling.”
Notley said her government has taken strides to address the root causes of children ending up in government care in the first place, including increases to the child tax benefit, eliminating the flat tax, and increasing funding for women’s shelters and front line services.
But when it comes to the framework for a new child intervention review panel, the official Opposition says it has yet to hear anything about how the panel will operate.
Embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir announced the panel last week in response to demands for his resignation over his handling of the file of Serenity, a four-year-old First Nations girl who died in 2014 while in government kinship care.
On Tuesday, opposition parties banded together in an unusual show of solidarity, saying the panel announced by Sabir lacked teeth and would delay taking action to improve the system.
They proposed an alternate framework, which included implementing the recommendations of past reviews, ensuring the panel’s work is in public and recorded in Hansard, and removing Sabir from the panel so he can be grilled about his department.
Notley said Wednesday afternoon that the demands made by the opposition parties would all necessarily be included, but she’s hoping to get them an answer soon.
Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper said it was “more than a little disappointing” not to have heard from government.
“Yesterday … the minister of human services said in the house that they reached out or were reaching out, none of which has transpired,” he said.
“It’s a little bit frustrating to be accused of playing politics when the government is saying one thing and doing another.”
Still, Cooper remained hopeful the opposition parties and government can come to an agreement.
“Under the right circumstances, I’m sure we can find a way to make this effective, but the government needs to be willing to start talking,” he said.
Whatever the outcome, Notley said the opposition seats will remain at the table, “should they choose to join at some point in the process or not.”