11/26/2013 06:12 EST | Updated 11/26/2013 06:22 EST

Alberta Foster Care Deaths Need Public Inquiry: Critics

Opposition parties are asking the government to shine light on why the deaths of 89 foster children went unreported in the province and are calling for an independent public inquiry.

The government is doing its best to keep the facts under wraps, said Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who questioned why so many children have died under government care. He also wonders why the majority of deaths involved aboriginal children, adding high-risk families need more support and resources.

"Every death of a child in care deserves a fatality inquiry," Sherman told The Huffington Post.

NDP critic Rachel Notley criticized the government for failing to be accountable for the deaths.

This government is more concerned with protecting themselves from their own record on kids in care than in actually protecting those kids,” she said.

Alberta's Human Services Minister Dave Hancock proposed a round-table meeting with opposition to discuss questions raised regarding the foster care deaths.

A round-table discussion doesn't get answers, said Sherman, adding an inquiry involving experts, held in the view of the public, is what's needed.

"This doesn't need a chit-chat with Minister Hancock," he said.

Hancock defended the government and stressed the priority of keeping children safe. He said he welcomed the investigation done by the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal because the tragic deaths of children in care "is an important and heartbreaking issue."

"I want our children in care to experience what every child in this province should enjoy," he said in a statement.

The newspapers only looked at data from 1999-2009, said Hancock, and improvements have been made in years since to report serious injuries and deaths, including a new Child and Youth Advocate last year.

"The government has known that they've had to release this information," said Sherman, referencing a four-year legal battle between the newspapers and the province, after the government declined to release the information until ordered to do so by Alberta's privacy commissioner.

NDP critic Rachel Notley told the house on Monday that while a new Child and Youth Advocate was created last year to explore the deaths of foster children, the rules triggering an investigation have narrowed in order to lessen the number of investigations.

"Having a death reported to you is not the same as doing an investigation about how that death happened and how it can be stopped," said Notley.

"The fact of the matter is the Children's Advocate has done two reports so far. It's just not good enough."

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith called for a public inquiry into the deaths and the state of the system on Monday. That was rejected by the government.

"It's not another inquiry we need," said Hancock.

“The information revealed today about deaths of children in care is as shocking as it is heart-breaking,” Smith said.

The investigation by the Herald and Journal found 145 children have died in government care since 1999.

Only 56 of those deaths have been made public by the government.

The report lists youngsters who have died by hanging, malnutrition, hypothermia, head trauma, drowning, disease, fire, and stabbing. They have overdosed, been asphyxiated, died in car crashes or because of sudden infant death syndrome.

A third of the children died as infants and another third were teenagers and most were aboriginals.

The report also found that those in the system struggle with secrecy, bureaucracy and privacy rules that don't even allow parents to publicly identify their dead children.

It found the government also lacks a mechanism to track recommendations made from death investigations to improve foster child safety.

With files from The Canadian Press

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