Alberta government setting up all-party committee to examine child’s death after being in kinship care

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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    The Alberta government is setting up an all-party committee to explore the circumstances surrounding the death of four-year-old girl who was in government care.

    Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir says the panel will look for ways to prevent a recurrence of the fate that befell the young girl, named Serenity.

    “It’s a deeply concerning issue for everyone in this house,” Sabir told the legislature during question period Thursday.

    Sabir said he met and talked with Serenity’s grandmother earlier this week.

    Serenity’s case became public last month when Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff urged better safeguards in kinship placements after the malnourished, bruised, and severely underweight girl died in 2014.

    READ MORE: Alberta’s child advocate calls on province to do more to protect kids

    Subsequent media reports detailed medical records that were denied to Graff and revealed the girl’s body showed signs of physical and sexual abuse and that she had suffered a massive brain injury.

    Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver, who had been pushing for an all-party inquiry, said there is no more important purpose for governments than to take action to protect children in care.

    He said it’s an issue that crosses party lines and is one that defies easy solutions.

    “If it was easy to fix, it would’ve been fixed,” he said.

    “Maybe it’s time we all put our heads together, made a team effort out of it, and did something for the kids that are actually in our care.”

    Serenity died while under kinship care, which places children not in foster care but in the care of other family members.

    Premier Rachel Notley told the house last month that since the death changes have been made to the system, and more resources are available.

    READ MORE: Wildrose calls for emergency debate on ‘secrecy’ surrounding death of child in care

    Watch below: A rare emergency debate was called in the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 21, 2016. MLAs discussed how to protect children in the care of the government. Sarah Kraus has more and explains what sparked the debate.

    Graff’s report, issued Nov. 15, stated that the girl was born to First Nations parents and placed in kinship care on a central Alberta reserve after her birth father was found to be abusive to the birth mother. The birth mother was a drug abuser at the time.

    The main guardians underwent security checks, but not other adults in the home.

    Soon after, said Graff, there were reports that Serenity was not well, was undernourished, and had bruises.

    The birth mother asked that Serenity, and the two half-siblings with her, be moved out to foster care, but a caseworker could not substantiate her concerns and the case was closed.

    In September 2014, medical reports released not to Graff but leaked to the media last month said Serenity was taken to hospital in central Alberta with dilated pupils, severely underweight, hypothermic, and with multiple bruises, including around her pubic area.

    She had a massive brain injury, was put on life support and died soon after.

    Her guardians said she fell off a swing.

    A police investigation remains underway.

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