Bill 216 Sheds Light on Shortfalls in Alberta Child Intervention Services

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Bill 216, also known as Serenity’s Law, was introduced by the Opposition during the Alberta Legislature’s fall sitting. The bill, introduced by United Conservative MLA Mike Ellis for the second time, is a reaction to the death of a 4 year old Indigenous child, Serenity, who died in kinship care in 2014.  Serenity had been admitted to the hospital shortly before her death suffering from severe head trauma, bruises, and malnourishment. A review by an Alberta Child and Youth Advocate, Del Graff, stated that the she had been placed with were poorly trained relatives after a cursory home study, and no workers had checked on Serenity or her sibling in the 11 months before she died. The tragedy led to demands for the government to take action to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the province.

If passed, the bill would amend the Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act, requiring adults to report to police any child who needs intervention, under the threat of 6 months of jail or a $10,000 fine.

The bill passed to a second reading, although a handful of NDP MLAs objected. The NDP opponents argue that people are already required to report when children are in danger and that it may be more helpful to children who aren’t in immediate threat of harm to have those calls directed to child intervention staff rather than police. Children Service Minister, Danielle Larivee, claims  that she is worried about unintended consequences of the legislation.

The painful story of Serenity has also led to the establishment of a non-partisan child intervention panel.  The panel is mandated to identify systemic problems in child intervention services and to improve the province’s review process when a child in government care dies. The first phase of the panel’s work was to draft recommendations which included increasing the authority of Alberta’s child and youth advocate, timely completion of reviews, and an increased quality of information sharing. The second phase of the panel was to draft recommendations that aim to update legislation and forge better relationships with Indigenous communities. The recommendations follow themes of reconciliation, combatting discriminatory mindsets, and encouraging family systems and kinships. The panel also recommended that the Alberta government support Indigenous-led research regarding child care and services. These recommendations are intended to work towards a more diverse agency in child intervention services to better serve Indigenous communities.

While the panel’s recommendations are forward looking, the mother of Serenity sees a lack of tangible progress made. Del Graff, who has been an Alberta child and youth advocate for 6 years, is highly critical of the province’s child intervention system as he sees little action taken despite his many reviews and recommendations. In recent reviews, Graff asserts that there are often breakdowns of support between the agency and families. Although he has made a number of recommendations, the Ministry of Children’s Services has yet to explain how they will be implemented. He states that “there is a commitment to act upon them but then we don’t see an update that comes back.”

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.