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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Elizabeth Velasquez Case Leads to Changes in Alberta

There have been several stories in the media about the unfortunate death of Elizabeth Velasquez by a person or persons unknown. The Calgary Police Services continue to investigate the death. However, the paternal grandparents have been active in trying to get changes to the child protection system in an effort to reduce the chances of another such death.

As a result of the publicity, an inquiry was held which observed that one of the problems in the system was that information flow was hampered by information and privacy legislation. Confidentiality rules got in the way of child protection knowing all that was going on. This is not a new problem but one that has been seen in a multitude of cases throughout the Western world.

In my own practice where I am doing assessments for cases in the child protection system, I have seen this. I have had agencies and practitioners outright refuse to disclose information even when the client has completed an informed consent. In other cases, data disclosure can take months for release. I have had practitioners simply fail to respond to requests both in writing and by phone.

Child protection is hampered when data is kept in various unconnected information silos. When parents seek to keep information secret (as is the case far too often in child abuse cases) then privacy laws tend to protect the parent and not the child. This is not to say that there should be wide open, unfettered access to private information, but a considered approach with legal safeguards when a child is at risk, is appropriate.

The Government of Alberta seems to be moving in this direction. A report in The Calgary Herald indicates that government is moving in the direction of better information access and more coordinated efforts between relevant agencies. This is good.

It must be remembered that no change in child protection legislation or policy will protect all children or prevent another death. The factors that lead to these deaths are too complex to be accurately predicted all the time. To suggest otherwise is to make a promise that cannot be kept. But the direction that the Alberta government is moving is good and holds promise.

1 comment:

  1. I received this comment from a CPS worker: good points, so many times i call an agency or school and they won't tell me anything, which could further place a child at risk. but now that more ministries are under the same banner, it is becoming easier to obtain information. sad though, we still can't stop all deaths, we are more reactive than proactive. but as i always say, we will never know how many children and even adults we have saved and will continue to save through our intervention.