Former cabinet minister calls for better tracking of child deaths

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Former cabinet minister calls for better tracking of child deaths

A former Liberal minister of social development says the department needs to do a better job of tracking what happened leading up to a child's death or serious injury.

Kelly Lamrock says the department should be keeping track of which regions and social workers are involved in "adverse incidents" such as hospitalizations, suicide attempts and deaths.

But Lamrock, who was social development minister in 2009 and 2010, said he received pushback in the department from people who worried about being blamed if something went wrong.

"Any time a life ends in childhood, there should be some very tough questions for all of us," Lamrock said in an interview Monday on Information Morning Fredericton.

"I don't even buy this idea that people don't want to know. Well, as taxpayers, we should know."

A CBC News investigation at the centre of a series last week found that at least 53 children known to child protection officials have died from unnatural causes over the past two decades.

How many of those children died remains unknown. The reports written after their deaths are kept secret from the public.

Critics say the public should know more and they have suggested solutions. Child and youth advocate Norm Bosse has called for his office to have the mandate to investigate child deaths.

'Excellent' rating questioned

But the provincial government hasn't indicated it will implement any of those suggestions, and the minister who oversees Social Development doubted the public was interested.

Instead, the government has repeatedly cited a Canadian Pediatric Society report that ranks New Brunswick's child death review system as "excellent."

"New Brunswick is probably leading the country in a lot of the policies that protect children," Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman told CBC News last week.

"They're looking to New Brunswick. We think we're doing the best at this point and we'll continue to enhance it."

The same report was mentioned by Premier Brian Gallant and Attorney General Serge Rousselle last week when answering questions about child deaths.

But Lamrock said Horsman hasn't done enough research to know where the province's child death review system ranks.

He said the minister should be asking more questions instead of repeating "talking points."

"He is not equipped to say it's excellent because I haven't seen one single sign that he really knows how it's doing compared to how it should be doing,"said Lamrock, who is not longer affiliated with the Liberal Party.

'You're responsible for them'

The government says it can't talk about how those 53 children have died because of privacy legislation.

It also says a person's cause of death is personal health information and child death review reports are considered confidential advice to minister.

But Lamrock said government has the power to change those laws if it wants the public to know more. Other provinces release reports on the deaths of children and protect their identities by using pseudonyms. 

As of Nov. 30, there were 738 children in care in New Brunswick.

During that same time frame, 1,832 children were in "active child protection," meaning they were receiving a child protection service from the department.

"You're responsible for them," Lamrock said.

"I hope that at some point the gravity of that moment seizes Minister Horsman to the point where he doesn't just walk in and say, 'Give me a talking point to repeat,' but says, 'I have questions and I want to see some reports.'"

Part 1: The Lost Children: The secret life of death by neglect

Jackie Brewer, the 2-year-old who was ignored to death

How New Brunswick's child death review system works

Part 2: The Lost Children: 'A child that dies shouldn't be anonymous'

Haunted by Juli-Anna: An 'agonizingly painful' preventable death

Part 3: The Lost Children: Change on horizon for First Nations child welfare

Mona Sock, a life stolen by abuse

Part 4: The Lost Children: Government weighs privacy over transparency in child deaths

Baby Russell: A few minutes of life, then a knife in the heart

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