EDMONTON – Provincial bureaucrats pay superficial lip service to high-profile recommendations to improve Albertaâ€™s child welfare system, the provinceâ€™s top child advocate said in a disturbing new report this week.
Over the past year, child and youth advocate Del Graff conducted exhaustive, independent investigations into the separate cases of three boys who died inside Albertaâ€™s child welfare system, and he issued 16 recommendations to fix the problems that led to their deaths.
The governing Progressive Conservatives point to Graffâ€™s external investigations as evidence the province is serious about learning from and preventing child welfare deaths, but Graff said the governmentâ€™s responses are off-topic, redundant and progress is â€œminimal.â€�
â€œThe ministryâ€™s responses often do not address the recommendations, but rather, include a summary of activities that are already underway and do not directly link to the advocateâ€™s recommendations,â€� Graff wrote in his 2013-14 annual report, tabled in the legislature Wednesday.
â€œIn most cases, the progress noted relates to the ministryâ€™s commitment to take action, yet there has actually been minimal action taken on most of the advocateâ€™s recommendations.
â€œAlso, some of the ministryâ€™s responses are similar to what was provided previously, so no further progress is noted.â€�
In a Nov. 13 update to Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk, Graff said, for example, that no progress has been made on three of the five recommendations he published in January this year after a seven-year-old boy died in care.
â€œI would say that the recommendations that Iâ€™ve seen weâ€™ve actually supported a lot of his recommendations,â€� Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk said, adding he may â€œperceiveâ€� that nothing is being done when progress is in fact being made.
â€œIâ€™d have to see which one heâ€™d be referring to, but at the end of the day, for me, I look forward to working with him in an open and transparent manner, and itâ€™s all about the children for me.â€�
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Klimchuk must be held accountable for her ministryâ€™s failure to implement the recommendations.
â€œEither they take having a childrenâ€™s advocate seriously, or itâ€™s another smoke-and-mirrors communications process,â€� Notley said. â€œThis is yet another reason why Albertans have no faith in this government any more.â€�
Wildrose critic Kerry Towle said the government moved from an internal investigation process to an independent third party precisely to escape a situation where recommendations are rendered meaningless because they are never implemented.
â€œNow weâ€™re hearing that, even with an independent advocate, itâ€™s still not working,â€� Towle said.
â€œ(Graffâ€™s) report last session … was moving and incredibly critical of the government. â€¦ Clearly the processes put in place are not working. Children are going to die, and this government needs to start taking that seriously.â€�