NEWS
12/22/2016 10:57 EST | Updated 12/23/2017 00:12 EST

Alberta government, opposition parties mend fences on child intervention panel

EDMONTON — The Alberta NDP and opposition parties have settled their differences over how a panel can work to better keep children safe who are in government care.

Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir said he has agreed to change the terms of how an all-party panel will do its job, including allowing frontline workers to speak out without fear of repercussions.

"This ministerial panel will enable us to review policies, practices and expert recommendations to guide legislative changes that will strengthen the ways we support families," Sabir wrote in an email Thursday.

"We thank all members for their collaborative spirit and look forward to beginning this important work."

Earlier this month the Wildrose, Progressive Conservatives, Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party threatened to boycott the panel. They said it didn't have the proper tools to be effective.

The opposition parties said Thursday they are relieved the government has agreed to make changes and they will take part in the review.

"We have received assurances that protection for frontline workers who wish to appear before the committee will be in place and full legislative whistleblower protections will be offered," the parties wrote in a joint statement Thursday.   

"Above all else, we are united in ensuring this panel conducts meaningful work to fix our child intervention system."

The opposition members of the panel are to include Wildrose human services critic Jason Nixon, PC Interim Leader Ric McIver, Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark and Liberal Party Interim Leader David Swann.

Premier Rachel Notley announced the panel Dec. 1 after it was revealed that there had been little action for two years on the death of a four-year-old girl named Serenity.

The girl died while in the care of extended family members and suffered severe physical and sexual abuse. When she died she was extremely malnourished and weighed just 18 pounds.

Child advocate Del Graff had reported that warning signs of maltreatment were investigated and dismissed. The girl's siblings told authorities she was routinely hit.

Sabir promised action when the issue became public late last month.

At one point opposition members called for him to resign after he admitted that it took too long for Mounties to get access to the government's electronic file on Serenity.