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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The policy debate that should come out of the death of Alex Radita

Canadian media is covering the current trail of Emil and Rodica Radita for the first degree murder of their 15 year old son Alex. The allegations involve medical neglect of their son's diabetes leading to his death. The family is reported to have been involved in child protection systems in British Columbia and Ontario prior to his death in Alberta.

Much has been made of the supposed failure of British Columbia social workers to notify their counter parts in Alberta when they learned the family had moved left B.C. They had found out about the move as they were looking for the family when it became apparent they were not following through with Alex's medical care.

There has also been significant criticism of a judge in B.C. for returning Alex to parental care even when the child protection workers and specialists were arguing against it. National Post columnist Christie Blatchford has been quite critical of that decision and the failure of B.C. social workers to follow up with Alberta.

Alex Radita at age 15 (Source: Calgary Herald from photos released by the Court)

Child protection systems are often criticized for their failure to effectively communicate with agencies. It is a theme that has cropped up in most of the 91 public reviews I have examined in Canada. It is also very common in reviews in other countries.

There is an issue that needs discussing in Canada though, but also in countries such as the United States. Canada's constitution places control of child protection within provincial and territorial jurisdiction (there are specific aspects that are different for Aboriginal on reserve families but that is for another post). Health care and child protection legal processes also fall under provincial jurisdiction. Thus, each province and territory operates their own system, except for Ontario which places delivery of child protection into a complex network of children's aid societies following provincial legislation.

What this means is there is no national child protection system. It is a series of unique systems. Each jurisdiction has its own legislation, policy, procedures and service delivery mechanism. There is  no national requirement for data sharing. Families can and do move between jurisdictions to avoid continuing scrutiny by child protection. They are quite able to do so once their case in one province is no longer active.

When a case opens in one area, families are asked about their history elsewhere but there is no national database to work from. Should there be? Protagonists of data sharing might well argue for one but those who argue for protection of information and privacy might well make an alternative argument. Child protection legislators and senior managers across Canada might well take the Radita case as an opening for a national discussion. I want to emphasize that many of the workers I know make efforts to learn about families past participation in other parts of the country.

The Radita case raises some important policy issues and we should not let the chance pass. Another one is about legal duty of care. Like the Jeffrey Baldwin case in Ontario, it appears there were other adult children in the Radita home. Yet the criminal code does not place a duty of care on those who are not parents or legal guardians. Thus, other adults in the home who were aware Alex and Jeffrey were at risk cannot be held accountable . That too should be reconsidered.

It is important to note that, at the time of writing, the criminal trial noted above is still ongoing. Thus, the accused have not been convicted of a criminal offence in this matter.