Alberta cabinet minister cites limitations in child care death probe

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally indicated Serenity died while in kinship care. However, on Oct. 6, 2017, Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services clarified that although it was through the kinship care program that she was put in the care of the man and woman now facing charges, they were later given permanent guardianship, meaning Serenity was no longer in kinship care. It was at some point after this development that Serenity died. 

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    Alberta’s children’s services minister, facing demands she break up a family under investigation in a child’s death, says the province does not have blanket power to take children away from their biological parents.

    Danielle Larivee said judges, not politicians, make that call and they won’t do so without direct evidence of threat or harm to a child.

    And she said they won’t do so simply because a criminal investigation is underway.

    “The law that we are all as Albertans bound by does not let government go in and apprehend children without evidence of abuse,” Larivee told the house Wednesday during question period.

    Larivee has been under fire from political opponents after it was revealed this week that caregivers at the centre of the horrific death of a four-year-old girl in kinship care still have custody of their natural children.

    READ MORE: Alberta faces renewed questions on safety of kids in government care

    Opposition members say those kids need to be removed from the home for their safety and that Larivee should be fired for allowing them to be there.

    But Larivee said the children are not being harmed and are being assessed by social workers, though she could not provide many few details because of privacy rules.

    “I can specifically say that there has been face-to-face contact and interviewing of these individual children in situations in which I’m confident they were able to have an open conversation with assessors,” Larivee said later at a news conference.

    She said assessors are also trained to look for abuse and neglect. She said the checks began in 2014 and the latest one was this week.

    She wouldn’t say how many checks have been done or how often the children are seen, except to say the checks have been “intermittent.”

    Larivee also said media reports saying there are six children in the house are incorrect. She wouldn’t give the actual number or give the ages of the children, again citing privacy rules.

    Wildrose member Jason Nixon said the children need to be removed.

    “Common sense dictates that no children — period — should be cared for by people who allow the child to be beaten, starved and sexually assaulted to the point of death under their watch,” Nixon told Larivee in the house Wednesday.

    Ric McIver, the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the legislature, said Larivee is asking the public to be reassured based on very little information.

    “They’re not giving you a lot of words to rely on,” said McIver. “It feels like the minister is running and hiding from the facts because the facts are inconvenient.”

    The case revolves around a young girl named Serenity. Her plight and the lack of action to determine what happened to her and who is responsible have become a symbol of problems in Alberta’s child-care department.

    Serenity, born to First Nations parents, died in kinship care in 2014 despite previous concerns from her birth mother that the girl was being abused.

    Leaked reports to the media late last year revealed that Serenity, just before she died, was taken to hospital emaciated, hypothermic with signs of physical and sexual abuse. She died from massive brain trauma.

    In the two years following her death, there have been delays and secrecy over her autopsy as well as about police and government investigations.

    READ MORE: Mother of 4-year-old Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out: ‘They completely ignored me’

    No one has been charged.