A look into Alberta’s child welfare system

In Canada, children at risk are often taken into government care to prevent any further harm. But recently, provinces across the country have been focusing on implementing a more preventative approach, much like Sweden’s child welfare system, which intervenes much earlier in the cases of at-risk children and keeping children with their families.

Canada’s child welfare system has been mainly crisis-driven which refers to only intervening in a child-at-risks case when the situation is dire. With a crisis-driven system, this relies more on child protection measures which in effect removes a child at-risk from their homes. The limited resources and funding of the child welfare system is concentrated towards these protective measures and this leaves little resources to be used towards preventative interventions for families at risk.

According to Gordon Phaneuf, chief executive officer of the Child Welfare League of of Canada, a grave concern within Canada’s child welfare system is within the several cases of children being taken away from their families. In some instances, children are placed within homes that are not best suited for them for a variety of reasons. As a result, the child is moved from one home to another.

“Then you get into this really dysfunctional trajectory, home after, home after home. That’s mostly devastating to anyone, but particularly to a vulnerable child who already has a fragile sense of their self,” Phaneuf says. “We have get to move away from that. We need to build stronger systems that is more sensitive to identifying when a placement is the right one, when a placement is problematic and what do we need to do to support it.”

Similarly to Sweden’s child welfare model, Alberta’s child policy intervention practice framework includes the family and child in the conversation. Professor of social work from the Stockholm University Sven Hessle, highlights the importance of this in his 2014 Shanghai Conference speech on the future of the family.

“Problems relating to children at risk are dealt with through dialogue and partnership with the family concerning their psychosocial needs, rather than through an investigatory approach in conflict with the authorities,” as explained by Hessle.

The family is given a more leadership role in decision-making and a more holistic approach is taken when assessing the needs of the family.  Moreover, Hessle also mentions the right of a child themselves to have their own voice.

The child welfare system is taking a step towards a new direction as provinces and territories across Canada are focusing on taking preventative measures. Through preventative action, the child is able to be kept within their own homes and with their own family.

Alberta, for instance, has adopted child policy intervention practice framework. Irfan Sabir, Minister of Human Services for Alberta, describes the policy as a strength-based model as it assesses not only the risks and the needs of the child in an at-risk environment, but also assess the strengths and resources of the family.

“That practice framework also talks about simple connection and how you maintain relationship, how you identify which relationships are important to the child and basically include them in all decision making processes,” Sabir says. The practice strives to preserve the family, maintaining the relationships of the child through early intervention.

Phaneuf has also emphasized the importance of children’s rights.

“Children’s rights as a whole —- that canopy of rights and entitlements that children and youth enjoy as human beings. This isn’t something we give to people or we bestow on children or that they earn or they graduate into, they are rights holders.”