Ninety children known to Ontario’s child welfare system died in 2007, according to the latest report from the chief coroner’s office — a number the province’s new child advocate says is shocking and should trouble us all.
Equally disturbing, says Irwin Elman in his first annual report to the legislature today, is the government’s refusal to share detailed information on these deaths with his office.
“These are obviously very critical documents for the understanding of the events leading to the death of the child or youth, and entirely necessary for the work of the Advocacy Office,” Elman writes in the report entitled 90 Deaths: Ninety Voices Silenced. “The matter of access to information is one that we will pursue vigorously.”
In an interview, Elman, who has worked with youth in the care of Children’s Aid Societies in Toronto for more than 20 years, said he had “no idea” so many of these vulnerable children, who were either open cases of the CAS or had died within a year of their files being closed, could perish in a single year in Ontario. Nor did he know that the number of children who have died has been constant since the late 1990s when the coroner’s office began tracking their deaths.
When he asked medical officers of health and colleagues in child welfare, they, too, were surprised by the number and urged him to speak out, Elman said.
The 90 deaths in 2007 are recorded as part of the chief coroner’s annual Pediatric Death Review Committee report released last June. Most of the deaths were preventable, the committee concluded.
Of the 76 classified deaths, 34 were babies younger than one year old and 24 were youth between the ages of 12 and 18.
In his report, Elman says his office will request legal standing at all inquests into deaths of children in the system and will conduct an independent review of jury recommendations dating back 10 years to determine trends and gaps.