Monday, July 10, 2006

Coroner's child death report short on useful recommendations

VICTORIA - It took the Coroners Service three years to complete its first annual review of child deaths.
That in itself indicates serious problems. The report, which offers only obvious and general recommendations, confirms how wrong things have gone.
The Coroners Service was supposed to take the lead in learning from child deaths after the Liberals eliminated the Children's Commission. Nothing would be lost, Premier Gordon Campbell promised.
The coroner took over child death reviews in 2003. You might have expected a report in 2004, or maybe the next year. After all, they're important in helping save lives.
But only now has the first annual report appeared. It offers seven recommendations, all glaringly obvious and all lacking useful detail. Kids should use car seats, or least be buckled in; they should learn to swim; guns should be kept locked up; and there should be meetings to talk about child suicide and the high death rate of aboriginal children. (The report did have one concrete recommendation, calling on health authorities to do more to teach parents about safe sleeping practices for infants.)
Here's the report on car seats: “It’s recommended that children should always be placed in an approved car seat and/or restrained with a seatbelt when travelling in a motor vehicle.”
The issue is serious. Car crashes were the leading cause of deaths in the cases reviewed, claiming 89 lives. In 37 per cent of the cases the children weren't restrained in any way.
Yet the recommendation contributes little toward reducing deaths. Why weren't the children wearing seatbelts? Were there any regional variations in seatbelt use, or groups doing much better than others? Is B.C.'s rate worse than other jurisdictions that we could learn from?
Liberal MLA Iain Black has proposed a law to ensure that children up to eight ride in an approved car seat or booster seat. That could have been an issue for the child death review unit - is there evidence to show such a law would work? None of those questions were even raised.
The report also found - once again - that aboriginal children and youths are at much greater risk of death. The Coroners Service came up with no conclusions about why and offered no specific recommendations. It called on First Nations, government, parents, educators and communities to "forge new relationships" to deal with the problem.
That's fine. But surely there are things that should be done now to keep First Nations' kids safer.
The Coroners Service says those kinds of recommendations aren't its job. That's up to the new Representative for Child and Youth, says chief coroner Terry Smith.
But the Coroners' Service we site says its job includes making specific recommendations on systemic issues
And the representative's office that Smith says is supposed to be doing the work doesn't exist yet. It wasn't even conceived until Ted Hughes' report earlier this year on the major problems with child death reviews. The Coroners Service can't have been working for three years hoping that some agency would emerge to take the lead.
The report's weaknesses show how critical it is that the new Representative for Children and Youth get the mandate and budget to do the critical work needed. (Work has barely begun on setting the office up. There's no budget; the MLAs' committee that's to hire a representative has only met once.)
The Coroners Service report establishes that the representative will have to play a large role in reviewing child fatalities with the aim of preventing similar deaths.
That's only one part of the job, but an important one, as Gordon Campbell acknowledged in opposition. "When any child dies in this province, that should be referred to an independent review board, with people with the expertise, knowledge and understanding to get to the bottom of every single death, so that we can do everything in our power to prevent such deaths from taking place."
Footnote: Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley has been granted another extension on her report into why Jamie Charlie was left in the home where his little sister Sherry was beaten to death. The report was originally due March 31. Now Morley is aiming for Sept. 29. "Unexpected issues around receiving documents as well as the higher than expected number of witnesses that were critical to the thoroughness and fairness of the process, have resulted in my request for the extension," Morley said in a statement. She also wants to leave time for people named in the report to respond.


Anonymous said...

so just what places is Jane Morley looking for certain records? One would beleive that such information would be easily available from the coroners service,and the ministry. But maybe she has to ceheck out a few wharehouses first.

Anonymous said...

...meanwhile, MCFD is studiously ignoring it all while busily rearranging the deck chairs once again, as per the latest dispatches from the new Deputy posted over at Public Eye.

You'd think that somewhere amidst all the talk about teamwork and person-centred thinking and tearing down of silos, someone there might take note of the yawning gap that Paul has pointed out -- again.

Ooops! Silly me! I quite forgot they're only allowed to talk about the positive and about what's working. The orders are clear: no more of that sort of negativity, complaining & contrarianism to spoil the non-stop devolution party! Besides, the kids are now the bosses of the frontline "teams", who are the bosses of the "REDs", who are the bosses of whatever the brass in Victoria are now calling themselves. So in effect, the buck now stops squarely in the lap of the kids themselves.

RossK said...


Sadly, it is hard not to conclude that, unlike the government's most recent handling of public sector union bargaining, the ideologic hammergrip on the MCFD has not loosened.