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11 children died while in province's care last year

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on Fri, 07/06/2012 - 05:51
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Critics seek greater accountability of welfare officials

Child welfare officials must be more accountable to the public when children die while in the province's care - as 11 did last year - critics say.

The province's Human Services Department released its annual report on Thursday, detailing the deaths and 17 additional cases where children required hospitalization after being injured while in care.

Provincial legislation protects the identities of children in care, but the grandmother of one of the children who died last year said it also prevents necessary public scrutiny of the system.

"No one is accountable," said Marilyn Koren, whose fourmonthold granddaughter died in care last year.

Koren's family obtained a court order lifting the sweeping publication ban that normally govern child welfare cases.

In addition to the children who died in care, 17 required hospitalization under several different circumstances.

Cases listed in the report included four injured in vehicle collisions, one who fell from playground equipment, an accidental drug overdose, three who deliberately hurt themselves, an alleged sexual assault and a child who over-exercised.

In cases when children die the need for privacy no longer exists, meaning legislation only muzzles grieving families seeking answers, said Koren.

"If a family chooses to go public, they should have the right to do so," she said.

Of the 11 children who died while in care during the year ending March 31, two suffered fatal injuries - one was a youth struck in the head at a house party, the other was a child initially hurt in parental care who died after provincial officials stepped in.

Of the nine additional deaths, five were due to known medical causes, including pneumonia, complications from premature birth and congenital heart problems; three cases involved deaths where the cause was unable to be determined; another is still under investigation by the medical examiner.

Koren's granddaughter, Delonna, died six days after she was removed from her mother's care while living in a small town southwest of Edmonton in April 2011.

Her death is one of the cases classified as undetermined, but Koren said her family has serious concerns that have never been addressed about the actions of the foster parent who assumed care of Delonna.

Delonna was sick when she was put into care but wasn't taken to the doctor until the day she died, Koren said. As well, information the family received from officials at the time differs from a medical report they obtained two months ago.

"It's just horrendous," she said. The case is the subject of an internal review, but New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley said incidents of death and serious injury while in care should be made public as soon as possible and results of reviews should be publicized as well.

Both steps can be taken while still protecting the identities of any children and family members who still want or need the privacy afforded by the legislation, she said.

"It's all about accountability and how to improve the system," said Notley.

"There's no reason that information can't be public."

A spokesman for Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said the province currently doesn't have any plans to change the internal review process already in place.

"There are challenges around privacy when we get into reviewing these situations," said Craig Loewen.

The government has made the system more accountable, said Loewen, by making the province's child and youth advocate an independent officer of the legislature in April.

Although Alberta was the first province to appoint a children's advocate in 1989, the position previously reported directly to a cabinet minister. "The premier promised we'd make the child and youth advocate independent, and that's what we've done," Loewen said.



Bashed in NSW 's picture


Human remains found on Queensland's Sunshine Coast are indisputably those of Daniel Morcombe, new DNA tests show.

Bruce and Denise Morcombe say the results have given them the certainty they need.

The remains of the 13-year-old schoolboy were found in muddy bushland near Beerwah, on the Sunshine Coast, last year.

Initial DNA tests showed the remains almost certainly belong to Daniel, who was 13 when he disappeared from a Sunshine Coast bus stop on December 7, 2003.

But the remains were sent to several interstate and overseas laboratories to put that fact beyond any doubt.

Mr Morcombe said he and his wife were again feeling a mix of sadness and relief, as they did when the initial DNA tests came back in August last year.

But he said the certainty was a welcome thing, especially for his wife.

"There have been a couple of times where clearly she was concerned with why they were doing more tests, whereas I was always of the belief that no news meant no inconsistencies to previous tests," Mr Morcombe told The Courier Mail.

He said Daniel's brothers also needed certainty.

"That's a very sad thing, but perhaps a very good thing because it perhaps puts a full stop on that sentence."

The Morcombes have been frustrated by the delay in holding a funeral for their son, and the wait may not be over yet.

Lawyers for Brett Peter Cowan, who is charged with Daniel's abduction and murder, have raised the prospect of further tests on the remains, or at the very least a review of the testing methods that were used.