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Child Welfare in Alberta – all talk, little action

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

Photo Credit: Rick Madonik, Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Canadian child welfare system perpetuates the cultural genocide that residential schools began. Today, we look at recent developments in Alberta as yet more proof that colonial legal orders have lost the moral authority to lead this work.

The majority of Albertans have rarely spared a second thought to the child intervention system. That changed in late 2013 with the release of the Edmonton Journal’s Fatal Care series.[1] Over the course of a week, journalists shared the findings of a years-long investigation into the deaths of children in care. The series revealed that, over the past fourteen years, 145 children had died in care, and of these deaths, a shocking three quarters were Indigenous children. People were shocked when confronted with a system designed to protect vulnerable children that was often a death sentence. The government convened a two-day round table to discuss issues of transparency and a committee to guide action on a “5 point plan” to improve child intervention outcomes.[2] The poverty, systemic racism, and legacy of residential schools that are often at the root of child apprehension were mentioned in point 5, but not addressed.[3]

In 2016, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate released a report into the death of a 4-year-old Indigenous child named Serenity.[4] The report made headlines throughout the province - it seemed as though everyone knew her name. The provincial government responded by striking a Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention.[5] Made up of elected representatives from all parties, and four of Alberta’s leading experts, the panel worked for a year to develop 26 new recommendations to the Minister in a report called Walking as One.[6] Six of these recommendations were within the umbrella of ‘reconciliation’ and advised the Minister to build partnerships to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Today, the government reports that of the 26 recommendations, it has completed 11 (including all those under the category of reconciliation) while eight remain in progress, six are ongoing and one remains outstanding.[7] We note, however, that under the current government, recommendation 11 (improving transitional supports for youth in care who age out of the system), has unfortunately been interpreted to mean reducing these supports.[8]

The Panel’s recommendations also led to legislative change that introduced guiding principles for child intervention work and changed the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act’s language to centre child safety (including stability, permanence, continuity of care and relationships - instead of mere survival) as the primary goal of the legislation. Instead of seeking simple respect for the child’s cultural heritage, the Act now requires “respecting, supporting and preserving the child’s Indigenous identity, culture, heritage, spirituality, language and traditions".[9]

And what has come of this sound and fury?

Not much. There has been no relative reduction of the number of children in care; no reduction in the number of Indigenous children in care and no meaningful increase in the percentage of indigenous children placed with indigenous families who are best positioned to maintain and support children’s cultural and community connections.

In 2020-21 82% of Children’s Services staff had “completed the basic requirements” of cultural competency training and 24% had completed a more 'advanced' form of training by attending three or four day training workshops focusing on working with indigenous children, families and communities. If that training is considered ‘advanced,’ we wonder how robust the ‘basic requirements’ must be. [10]

Given the scale of the crisis, its long term impacts and the inability for anyone in charge to feign ignorance of the problems – these numbers are…pathetic.

The answers aren’t easy. But calls for continued progress seems to have stalled as the province waits to see what comes out of Bill C-92. Meanwhile, children remain at risk and trapped in a broken system. This period of transition cannot be allowed to become another round of pass-the-buck while the system perpetuates the cycle of harm and children and families await the promise of something better.


[1] Edmonton Journal, “Fatal Care: About this series” (25 November 2013), online: Edmonton Journal <>.

[2] See e.g. Government of Alberta, News Release, “Alberta takes next steps after child intervention roundtable” (29 January 2014) <>; Government of Alberta, News Release, “Another step taken to improve child intervention services” (22 April 2014) <>.

[3]Alberta, Child Implementation Oversight Committee, Final Report (4 February 2015) <>.

[4] Alberta, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, Investigative Review: 4 year-old Marie (October 2016) <>.

[5] Government of Alberta, “Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention,” online: <>.

[6] Alberta, Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention, Walking as One: Final Recommendations to the Minister of Children’s Services (March 2018), online: <>.

[7] Government of Alberta, “Child Intervention Action Plan”, online: <>.

[8] Andrea Huncar, “Alberta government wins legal bid, but urged to take care when cutting benefits to young adults”, CBC News (27 January 2021), online: <>.

[9] Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, RSA 2000, c C-12, as amended by An Act for Strong Families Building Stronger Communities, SA 2018, c 24.

[10] Government of Alberta, Children’s Services 2020-2021 Annual Report (June 2021) at 45.

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