CALGARY — Opposition members of an Alberta government panel studying how to keep children in government care safe say they are frustrated by an inability to discuss cases of children who have died in care.
The 13-member panel — which includes members from all parties, along with other experts — held hearings in Calgary Thursday.
The panel was created after it was revealed there had been little action in the case of Serenity, a four-year-old girl who died more than two years ago while in kinship care despite concerns from her birth mother that she was being mistreated.
An emaciated and hypothermic Serenity was taken to hospital in September 2014 with dilated pupils and multiple bruises, including around her pubic area. She had an extensive brain injury and died soon after.
Wildrose member Jason Nixon said the panel is supposed to make recommendations on how death reviews are conducted, but members can't talk about specific cases that have been reviewed previously.
"How can I make a recommendation when I don't know what went wrong with the other cases?" he said. "I find that ludicrous."
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said the panel is also hampered by child-care workers who seem to have "closed ranks" and appear afraid to express any concerns they might have about the system.
"Where that exists, I think it's unlikely that we'll ever get to the bottom of why things happened — why deaths of kids in care, why kids continue to be abused and that doesn't seem to ever change," Clark said.
Progressive Conservative member Ric McIver said he isn't ready to pass judgement on the panel's effectiveness, but said it's important politics be put aside. Serenity's death should help pinpoint what went wrong so a similar tragedy never happens again, he said.
"When Serenity died it was under our government's watch, not the current government's watch," McIver said. "But I think this issue is so important, it has to transcend partisan politics and let's actually talk about who and where and how the mistakes were made."
Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee says more details on individual cases will likely be heard in the second phase of the panel's consultations. But she said there are deep, systemic issues that go beyond one individual case.
"They would like to be able to say that there was some person that we can punish out of this," said Larivee. "But realistically, this has happened over and over and over again for decades. Clearly it's not just one person who made a mistake."
Larivee said the police investigation into the Serenity case is over and now in the hands of prosecutors. But she said she isn't ruling out a public inquiry or inquest into the little girl's death.
— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press