Voices need to be heard in order to change Child Protective Services

Letter to the Editor from Cathy Evarts, former Foster Care parent

I attended the June 22, 2015 vigil on the steps of the Alberta Legislature to honour the 765 children who have died while in the care of the province of Alberta. Since then 4 more children receiving government services have died in June and July, bringing the total to 769. In the past 14 months, 34 child welfare deaths.

I was a foster parent for 18 months. For reasons I fail to understand, I believe the Government of Alberta Children and Youth Services is failing to provide adequate care to children in foster care, their families and foster families. High caseloads, insufficient caseworker training and compensation, a combination of unstable and ineffective agency management, and a lack of resources plague the foster care systems. As a result, children who were removed from their homes for basic protection actually suffer continuing harm in care.

Children are being removed from unstable and unsafe environments into a foster care system that itself is unstable. Our government declares that it is better equipped to care for the children than their dysfunctional caregivers are.  It is undeniable that children who reach permanent placement earlier in their lives are significantly better than those who have a more extended stay in foster care.

Marilyn Koren's four month old grand-daughter died four years ago after being placed in Alberta's foster care system.

Marilyn Koren’s four month old grand-daughter died four years ago after being placed in Alberta’s foster care system.

I think it is clear that the foster care system has continually failed to protect and improve the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Our government needs to invest more into programs and initiatives aimed at helping to speed up children’s exit from foster care. For example, helping families stay together while keeping children safe, finding the relatives of a child in foster care, increasing support for grandparents and other relative caregivers, improving support for young people who age out of foster care, promote healing for the family, and adoption initiatives campaigns for older children.

The result of these efforts would be a significant decrease in the number of children in the foster care system. As a result, caseloads would be decreased, caseworkers would no longer be overwhelmed, and children would benefit from adequate case management.

The government must improve the performance of the foster care system. Promoting strong and vibrant communities starts where children and youth are valued, nurtured and loved, so they will develop to their potential and are supported by enduring relationships, healthy families and safe communities.

The children in care, their families and foster families are not just numbers, not animals; they are humans whom deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Foster families, foster children and their families are getting lost within the system that was developed to support and protect them.

I have met many good foster parents who have quit. They are good, honest people who were not willing to be part of a team that doesn’t support enhancement for the families in need. I have also met many good foster parents that continue the humble work they do, but they are just as exhausted, under paid and overwhelmed as the caseworkers, which develops into inadequate care for the children.The children deserve more than their basic needs met.

No one wants a child to be neglected, abused or die as a result.  As a society we collectively agreed the children must be protected and have allowed our government unquestioned control, “to care for the children”. It is clear by the 769 deaths, that was a mistake. Many blindly trust that our government is making the right decisions then judge and blame the parents. Social workers (only a 2 year university program) have more power then RCMP. They can enter a residence without a warrant or a school and at their own personal discretion remove children based on an anonymous call and unproven allegations of neglect or abuse. Anyone suspected of drug or sex trafficking or child pornography, the RCMP need a warrant to enter the residence. The provincial government must grab control of a child protection system that is all about the well being of the children and families. Everyone across Canada needs to speak up, loud and hard. Enough is enough.

The time for the foster care system to change is now. No longer can we afford to sit by while our children drop out of school, get involved with drugs, engage in sexual activity, continue the cycle of sexual abuse, become homeless, become depressed, or commit suicide. For their sake, our sake, and the sake of our future generations, we must make a change – a lasting change. Our kids are literally dying for it!

Cathy Evarts

(former foster care parent)