Why have 26 children died in Newfoundland’s care in 5 years?


The CBC revealed yesterday that 26 children under age 18 have died while under the protection of the Newfoundland and Labrador Child, Youth and Family Services department since 2009, when the department was created.

Not only have more than two dozen children died in the care of the province, but the province’s child and youth advocate knew about just six of those cases. Carol Chafe only found out about the other 20 deaths when the CBC approached her for its story.

So what do we know about these kids and how or why they died? Not much. We know that two were in corrections; three were in youth services, which “assist[s] at-risk young people, age 16 and 17, make a successful transition to adulthood;” and three were in in-care, that is to say, with foster parents. The remaining 18 kids were in the Protective Intervention Program, which deals with homes where child abuse by a parent is suspected. Eight of the deaths were due to medical conditions or “events,” 12 were deemed accidents, and six were suicides.

And that’s about all we know.

The Child, Youth and Family Services department released the 10 completed case file reviews along with the basic statistics repeated above, but the reviews were redacted to the point of uselessness. The documents are a mess of black boxes and ATIPP regulation citations, each meant to explain why a particular block of text needs to be hidden.

And why did Chafe, who’s charged with advocating for the children of Newfoundland and Labrador, not even know about three quarters of these deaths? That question is easier to answer. The province is not legally required to disclose to her the deaths of children in its care. Chafe wants this changed, and hopes the revelation of these deaths will help her achieve that change, as she told the CBC:

“I think all the deaths should be reported to me, and/or any critical incidents of children and youth receiving government services, because then I can determine if there’s something I need to look into further.”

As Chafe acknowledged, some or most of these deaths probably happened exactly as the province says they did. In the best case, provincial workers did everything they possibly could to prevent each of these children’s deaths. But without some oversight, there’s really no way to know if that’s true. And if they’re not going to release any meaningful information to the public or to journalists, Chafe is the person who can and should be allowed to oversee the province’s work in this field.

Files released to the CBC are embedded below.

Child and Youth Family Services files

[CBC] [image via CBC video screenshot]