Alberta government releases full number of children who died in care
EDMONTON - For the first time, the Alberta government has released the full number of children who died while in provincial care, and the number is much higher than previously reported.
Ten children died in the year that ended March 31, and 13 children died the year earlier, including those who died from illness.
“That’s unbelievable. I had no idea there were that many,” said Bernadette Iahtail, whose group Creating Hope Society holds a candlelight vigil every time they hear of such a death.
“There’s a lot that don’t even hit the news. That’s just shocking,” she said.
In the past, Alberta Human Services only reported deaths they confirmed happened because of a serious accident or homicide. Under that system, the department would have only confirmed two deaths last year, and six deaths the year before. There are about 8,700 children in care in Alberta at any one time.
The new, fuller reporting system is an effort to increase public accountability and transparency, said department spokeswoman Roxanne Dube Coelho. “Now we’re going to be reporting all the deaths.”
The deaths last year include five children who died for medical reasons, one youth who died from a blow to the head suffered at a house party. One child died from an alleged homicide, but it’s unclear which case the provincial records refer to. The information released contains only a few words about each death.
The medical examiner ruled the cause of one death could not be determined, and the causes of two deaths are still pending.
Jamie Sullivan’s daughter, Delonna, who died in care when she was four-months-old, is included in the 10 deaths last year.
Sullivan went to court to get the publication ban lifted from her daughter’s name, and has been fighting for more transparency. Her daughter died six days after being apprehended without a court order last April.
But Sullivan expected the numbers to be much higher, based on cases she’s heard of in the news or through activist channels. More information needs to come out about how each child died, she said. “It’s unacceptable how many children are dying. I want people to see the numbers so they become as horrified as we are.”
Del Graff, the provincial Child and Youth Advocate, said he will investigate more deaths in the future since his office got increased independence April 1.
More information statistics on deaths and injuries will allow his team to compare Alberta’s performance with other jurisdictions, he said. “Our interest is really to look at the situation so we can learn how to prevent deaths in the future.”