Mr. Clark: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and thank you very much to the Member for St. Albert for her thoughtful comments not just today but for the work that she’s done throughout her career advocating for people who cannot advocate for themselves. It means a tremendous amount for the government front bench and their advocacy.
I really do especially want to thank the hon. Member for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills for bringing up this issue. I think that the government certainly deserves credit for accepting that this is, in fact, an emergency and worthy of time spent in this House. You know, I think there’s no question that everyone in this House wants to find a solution and that things will get heated and emotional. Frankly, I’d be surprised if they didn’t – I’m not sure any person could – when looking at the situation with Serenity, specifically, but more generally at the systemic issues that have been discussed here this afternoon.
The questions I have are around why these problems continue. I know some of the root-cause issues have been discussed here this afternoon. But what steps are being taken? In fact, while the government has only been in power for about 18 months, I think that’s enough time to have really started to dig into some of this stuff.
I have to say that were I to find myself on that side of the House, not just as, perhaps, the Minister of Human Services but if I were any member of the front bench, I would really ask some very sharp questions about what the current state of the system is. What are the constraints? What are the challenges? What are the resource shortfalls? I’d really bring that before not just my colleagues in my own caucus but before this House and before all Albertans so that Albertans know that not only is something being done, but it is seen to be done. This is an issue that for decades has been crying out for transparency.
I want to recognize again and acknowledge the tremendous work of Paula Simons, Darcy Henton, Karen Kleiss, and other journalists who have done a lot of work. What I find frustrating is that it seems to take media reports and that level of digging for these issues to be truly brought to light. I would suggest that it is the job of government to surface these issues, even if they are politically challenging, even if they are awkward. I know that there are, clearly, rules around privacy and that we need to respect that, but I would challenge that the life of children in care in this province or children who have been in care or that are active with the child welfare system ought to take precedence over privacy.
It’s interesting. We have the annual report of the Information and Privacy Commissioner – and I’ve read part of it – and one of the themes that emerges and one of the themes that I’ve seen is using privacy laws, which are put in place to legitimately protect the private information of Albertans, as an excuse for inaction or as an excuse or cover for things the government doesn’t want us to know about, that we ought to know about. The more information that’s out in public, the better.
What I want to know is: what’s happening today? We know what happened to Serenity and so many others that we’ve heard about in this House. What’s happening today, and what is the government doing about it specifically? It seems like this government has continued on with a lack of responsiveness to foster parents, other guardians who will advocate vociferously on behalf of a child who it seems may be being put into kinship care. When I read the recommendations of the Child and Youth Advocate, specifically in Serenity’s case, the recommendations, to me, are on one level very straightforward and on another level tremendously troubling.
I will start with the first recommendation. It talks about the creation of a home study tool specifically for kinship care – I think that makes sense – that is relevant and addresses the unique kinship circumstances. I think we ought to do that. The question is: why is that not being done already? That, to me, seems like one of the obvious things we ought to be doing. What the Child and Youth Advocate recommends is that we use that tool kit to collect information, working with community professionals who are familiar with the applicant regarding the demonstrated ability of that kinship applicant. Are we not now evaluating the demonstrated ability of a particular kinship situation to accept a child in care? Is that not happening? If that’s not happening, that seems to be a pretty obvious root cause of why there could be problems.
Now, I want to emphasize that I believe the kinship care model is a very good model. It is what we ought to be pursuing, ensuring especially that indigenous kids are kept within their own cultural frame as much as possible, but never should they ever be put in a situation where that’s going to put the child at greater risk. So that then goes to the supports that are required for kinship care providers, and that’s the second recommendation of the Child and Youth Advocate, providing a continuum of culturally relevant supportive services. Is that not in place today?
One of the nice benefits of sitting next to my hon. colleague here for Calgary-Mountain View is that we were talking about Jordan’s principle. The question of jurisdiction was raised earlier. Juris-diction should never be an excuse for not providing proper care. Jordan’s principle says that regardless of jurisdiction the first level of government that interacts with a child in this case should take responsibility and then let the administrators in the background figure out the money piece later. That’s absolutely vital. I wonder to what degree that has exacerbated this particular case and to what degree that is causing problems on an ongoing basis.
But perhaps the most troubling recommendation of the office of the Child and Youth Advocate in this case is recommendation 3: “require that caseworkers complete a child-specific assessment and resolution of risk factors prior to terminating guardianship.” Are we not doing that now? Is no one assessing what the needs of that child are? Are they not assessing the risk factors of a kinship care model, of a specific kinship care situation? Are there cases where the government of Alberta is taking children out of a safe situation and putting them into a situation of risk? That’s the implication of this recommendation. That seems to be what’s happened in the case of Serenity, and if that’s something that’s more than a one-off, we have a very, very serious problem.
If I were in a position to be making decisions, if this recommendation was placed on my desk, the first thing I would do is say: what in the world is going on? How is it possible that we need someone in care, a child in care, to die in tragic and horrible – heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe the thoughts I had when I was reading the Paula Simons article on this. How is it that that needs to happen, that an investigation needs to take place covering the better part of two years, for us to be looking at a recommendation that is just patently obvious? Before you place a child in care of anyone, make sure it’s safe for them to be there.
It literally puts a chill down my spine as I think about the fact that there may very well be children right now in this province – in fact, it seems likely that there are – who have been put into dangerous situations where they are likely to face abuse, perhaps to the point of being starved to death, of dying in that situation. I don’t suggest for a second that the government wants that for the kids. I know they don’t. I know for a fact there are members of this House sitting here today who have directly worked with kids in care. I know that they don’t want that either. I know for a fact they don’t. But why is it that we have to let children die? That seems to continue. It seems to be a pattern and a cycle that’s repeating over and over again.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.