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The truth about foster care

I have known for a long time that occasionally the media will skew headlines and information to promote agendas and to increase sales. I have directly witnessed this on numerous occasions. However, this time I cannot and will not remain silent because this time their efforts are, at the very least, distracting from the real concerns.

Let’s talk about the F word; a term so vile that is causes some people to become judgmental and make horrific assumptions: foster care.

As I write this, there are 11,539 children receiving various supports from Children’s Services in Alberta. Of these children, 3,410 are living at home with one or more of their biological parents while 8,129 are living in care. The term “in care” means they could be in a kinship home, group home, living independently, waiting for an adoption to be finalized, in the PSECA program (protection against sexual exploitation), in hospital, in secure services, or in a foster home. For those of you big on data, 54 per cent of those 8,129 individuals are in foster homes.

Now that we’ve determined who we are talking about, let’s look at what the media is saying. …

“The investigation found 145 children have died in government care since 1999. The government has only publicized 56 deaths over that period.”

“One in three children who dies in government care in Alberta is a baby, a startling figure given infants account for one in 10 children in care.”

“Eighteen died in their sleep, often after a foster parent employed unsafe sleeping practices.”

“Eight died by accident or homicide”

The average person reading these statements does not have the knowledge of how tragically common it is for infants to die due to unsafe sleep habits, nor do they stop to think rationally about why the government does not publicize the deaths of children. Instead, they focus on the perception that government is hiding deaths and babies are dying because they were placed in care.

I read it all differently and let me tell you why.

My husband and I have been foster parents for 11 years. We have taken babies who were beaten, neglected, and/or severely ill, we helped them thrive so they could go back to family or go on to an adoption.

We are very involved in the fostering community so we know that we are not some rare breed. In fact, most of the caregivers I know are intelligent, loving, qualified, individuals who have sacrificed much to provide for others.

So, when I read that in 13.5 years 145 children, who were in the care of the government died or that one-third of children in care who die are infants, I want to know how this compares to the deaths of other Alberta children who were not in care. After a few minutes, Google provided all the statistics from the Alberta government and Statistics Canada that I needed to give me some important details and here is what I found:

• The average number of deaths of children in Alberta is 400 per year.

So on average 390 Alberta children per year, who are not in care, die.

• On average, 230 Alberta infants die per year. That equals an Alberta infancy death rate of 57.5 per cent of total child mortalities.

Between January 1999 and June 2013, 57 infants died. That equals 39.31 per cent of the total deaths of children in care. Far lower than the provincial average.

• The provincial average of infants dying in their sleep is roughly 11 per cent of total child mortalities per year. This means that on average, 44 infants a year die due to things like unsafe sleeping habits.

Eighteen children in foster care over the last 13 years have died of the same cause. Again, far lower than provincial average.

• The provincial average of children who die due to accident/injury/homicide is 28.7 per cent of the deaths for males and 21.6 per cent for females. Unfortunately, I did not see a combined percentage.

Tragically, there have been eight children in care, over the last 13 years, who have died under the same circumstances. To put it into a comparable percentage would be 5.5 per cent of children in care who have died.

At this point, I could be holier than thou and go on about how the numbers speak for themselves; that the spin the media is putting on these deaths is only to sell papers; about how so many children who come into care are saved from death by dedicated foster parents and a quality care system; that children are not dying simply because they have been put into care.

However, at the end of the day none of that matters as much as the fact that all across Alberta children, in care or not, are dying needless deaths. THAT is where the focus needs to be.

The spin the Edmonton Journal and other media are putting on these deaths is harmful, and the way the government oppositions are fighting over each other to try to gain political favor with Albertans is disgusting.

At the very least, this province must:

• Increase its efforts in FASD prevention and education because it is one of the leading causes of why so many children are ending up in care.

• Continue its efforts in prevention and education of domestic violence and sexual exploitation.

• Recruit and support quality foster/kinship/adoptive homes.

• Increase funding to early childhood education.

• Reduce the prevalence of poverty and focus on the lasting impacts of poverty.

The real issues are being lost within the skewed and/or exaggerated reporting of our media. So always keep the truth in mind: children in Alberta are dying both in and out of care and we, as a community, need to pull together and make all our children a priority.

Be part of the solution, contact your MLA and tell them you support foster parents, that you want more funds put into programs that directly enhance and that support all Alberta families, and that you do not want your tax dollars going towards more bureaucracy that will be put in place to give the appearance of open reporting.

Terri Grills

Proud Foster Parent

Red Deer

 

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