11/27/2013 02:47 EST | Updated 01/27/2014 05:59 EST

Alberta Foster Care Deaths: Government To Review How It Investigates, Reports Incidents

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EDMONTON - Alberta's human services minister says a public review of the foster care system will include how the deaths of foster children are investigated and reported.

Dave Hancock says everyone in the system wants to make sure they're doing everything they can to keep kids safe.

Hancock has promised a roundtable conference of opposition members and stakeholders to explore issues raised in stories in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald this week.

"What does the public need to know, how does that information get released, and if the death review system that we have now is not considered to be satisfactory, what do we need to do to have an appropriate death review system?" Hancock said at a news conference Wednesday.

The newspapers said a lengthy investigation of records revealed the province has failed to publicly report the deaths of 89 foster children in the last 14 years.

The report also found that rule changes and oversight problems have led to some of those deaths being wrongly attributed to natural causes.

The opposition members say that only a full public inquiry will get to the bottom of what went wrong.

Wildrose Health critic Heather Forsyth told the legislature that an inquiry is the only way to prevent further deaths.

"We must learn why these tragedies keep occurring. Until we do, how can we know what steps to take to prevent them in the future? As a former minister, I can say with absolute certainty that nothing short of a full public inquiry will fix this."

Forsyth was Minister of Children's Services from 2004 to 2006 when she was a member of the Progressive Conservatives. She crossed the floor in 2010 to join the Wildrose caucus.

NDP Human Services critic Rachel Notley said she will ask members of the standing committee on legislative officers to support an NDP motion to give the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate further and immediate resources to investigate the deaths or serious injury of all children receiving government care.

The committee meets Friday.

"Based on this government's record of reducing the number of investigations of child fatalities, we know the current process requires an immediate fix," said Notley.

"The minister has asked for roundtable discussions in the spring but it's obvious we can't wait that long," she said.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees — whose members work in the child protection system — also want to see the Tory government hold a public inquiry.

"Our members would like nothing more than to see the system improve," said AUPE official Melanie Metcalf.

"You don't do this work unless you want the best for children. Our members have been raising issues within the system for years and it's time they had a safe forum for their concerns."

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