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Parental addictions, lack of provincial action underscore child's death.

EDMONTON

The investigation into the death of 10-month-old Lily (not her real name) reveals another Indigenous child impacted by parental addictions and lack of adequate training and resources of the child intervention services.

On Monday, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate released its investigative report into the First Nations baby, who died after drowning in a container of homemade alcohol, while her mother slept after consuming alcohol.

The OCYA is calling for a change to the child intervention system that would see frontline workers trained to understand the impact parental addictions have on children and be provided with resources to create safe environments for the children.

"We've written other reports where we've said similar things. We need for there to be a different path forward in terms of making it so that child intervention workers have a better understanding of the impact of parental addictions on children," said Del Graff, child and youth advocate. "(OCYA recommendations) certainly haven't been implemented fully enough for them to have impacted circumstances like the one we just released a review on."

In 2013, 2014 and 2015, the OCYA released investigative reports outlining the role parental addictions played in the care of three children. Two of these children died and one was seriously injured. All three children were Indigenous, and one received child intervention services through a designated First Nations agency.

While funding for DFNAs fall under federal jurisdiction, training is the responsibility of the province, says Graff, who also points out that DFNAs operate under provincial jurisdiction.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government needed to provide more funding to child services on reserve to bring those services in line with what the provinces delivered. Graff says additional federal dollars will allow for more child intervention service workers to be hired by DFNAs and will build child intervention services capacity in First Nations communities.

Lily received services from a DFNA. Both her mother and father were addicted to alcohol. One year before Lily's birth, child intervention services were involved with her family. When Lily was six months old, the DFNA received concerns about her parents. Just prior to Lily's death, Lily and her mother were involved in a house fire, her mother having fallen asleep after drinking. A family member rescued them both. The fire was not reported to the DFNA. A week later, Lily, who was learning to walk, toddled off, fell in a container of homemade alcohol, and drowned. She was found by her older brother, upon his return home from school. Lily's mother had slept through the incident after consuming alcohol. Lily's mother pled guilty to a charge of criminal negligence causing death for failing to provide adequate care for her baby.

"The issue of parental addictions is a large one in the children intervention system and it needs to be attended to in a much more significant way," said Graff.

The report, says Liberal leader David Swann,

highlights the needs for systemic reform in how mental health and addictions are treated. Swann co-chaired a mental health review committee for the province last year.

Minister of Human Services Irfan Sabir said in a statement, "The death of any child is a tragedy. This heartbreaking story underscores the need to continuously work to prevent similar incidents. By strengthening how we work with children, families and our service delivery partners--including Indigenous partners--we can improve the system as a whole. We still have work to do, and our government is committed to taking action to implement needed improvements."

Sabir also said a meeting would take place with OCYA "to support the ministry's understanding of the recommendations and the OCYA's expected outcome."

"My expected outcome is that the ministry will provide a greater level of ongoing support to those workers, who are dealing with these circumstances directly. And by ongoing support that means access to expertise, that means training, that means a whole range of activities that in fact increases the capacity of those child intervention workers to intervene in more substitutional way when it comes to parental addictions," said Graff. "I would expect that we would be able to see and observe what those increases in resources and capacity look like. That in fact people ought to be able to see a positive difference."

By Shari Narine

WindspeakerContributor
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Author:Narine, Shari
Publication:Windspeaker
Date:Apr 1, 2016
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