Child welfare system at fault for Cree girl’s death in Alberta: judge

A provincial fatality inquiry report into the death of a four-year-old Cree girl in Alberta has found fault with the child welfare system.

The girl known as ‘Serenity’ died of a massive head injury in 2014 after falling off a swing while in kinship care with two of her siblings in Maskwacis, located outside Edmonton.

The youngster also had bruises on her body and weighed only 18 pounds.

Criminal charges were laid against her caregivers, who were relatives, for failure to provide the necessities of life. But those charges were later stayed.

The long-awaited report concluded child welfare officials should not have taken her away from her mother.

Foster care

Judge Renee Cochard said the money invested in foster care should have been spent supporting Serenity’s mother in raising her children.

“Children’s services has spent thousands of dollars keeping these children away from their mother,” the judge wrote. “They have spent resources on foster care, drivers, support workers for foster parents, special investigators, and the whole administrsative machine of children’s services.

“Had this money been spent on providing services to [redacted], such as childcare support, a home, proper financial help, so that she did not have to live in a basement and educational support, the inquiry’s view is that the end result would have been much different.”

Serenity’s mother, who now lives in B.C., told APTN News she agreed with the findings.

“If there were the proper support, I think things could have been handled way different. I do agree that they did spend a lot of money trying to keep my kids from me,”  she said. “When I was putting big effort forth to bring them back. But still not being able to have my children.

All-time low

“Yeah, the support was at an all-time low.”

The Alberta ministry of children’s services said it couldn’t change the past but would work to improve the future.

“Although we cannot undo what has been done…we will  continue to support improvements going forward, including reviewing the fatality inquiry judge’s recommendations with all the seriousness this death deserves,” it said in a statement to APTN.

The judge made 20 recommendations, stressing that Indigenous mothers need proper support to raise their children in healthy environments. She also said Legal Aid services should be available to parents as soon as a child is removed from the family.

“They are great recommendations,” noted the mother, “but to see that there has been no justice for my children, or Serenity, I don’t believe that they system has changed yet.

“And it’s going to take a lot to change it, because I believe it is still very broken.”

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