71% of recent infant deaths reviewed by BC children’s advocate were Aboriginal
In fact, as Neil Edmondson rightly points out via Twitter, “It wasn’t all recent infant deaths, just 71% of [the] 21 [infants] selected for study.” In my haste to get the word out on the report, I unwittingly misrepresented the data.
I sincerely regret the error and have amended the headline to accurately reflect the facts. Further notes of clarification will appear throughout the main body text with amendments enclosed in ‘[square]’ brackets.
British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth has just issued an “aggregated, in-depth” report into the recent deaths of 21 infants in that province.
(UPDATE: The total number of deaths in BC within the time period examined was actually 69. Moreover, that figure refers to 69 cases “reported to the Representative,” suggesting more, unreported, infant deaths may have in fact occurred in BC over that time. Under the methodology employed by the Representative, the report screened out 48 cases.
The 21 cases of infant death that remained were chosen as a subset for study because they each fulfilled at least one of the following three scenarios: a) the infant (or his/her family) “received a reviewable service” a year prior to death, and it’s thought “the policies or practices of a public body or director may have contributed,” and the death involved “an example of a recurring circumstance observed in other deaths”; b) “the death occurred in unusual or suspicious circumstances”; c) “the death was or may have been due to child maltreatment.”)
Fifteen of these fatalities [examined by the Representative] were Aboriginal — that’s 71% of all such [those] deaths, in a province where Aboriginal infants (0-4 years) make up just 8% of the overall infant population.
(UPDATE: It’s worth noting that the report does mention that “2006 data from the Ministry of Health [reveals] there is an average of 27 Status Indian infant deaths each year in British Columbia” (though no indication is given as to the time period used or the operational definition of infant, i.e., whether it’s 0-1 or 0-4 years of age). That, of course, does not include deaths of Métis, Inuit or non-Status Indian infants, so the actual figure is likely higher for the Aboriginal infant population as a whole.)
Entitled Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems: Strengthening Supports for Vulnerable Infants (.pdf), the investigation looked into the circumstances surrounding deaths over the 23-month-period of June 1, 2007 to May 1, 2009.
In all cases, the report indicated that “the infants’ families were involved with the [B.C.] Ministry of Children and Family Development,” and “all of these infants lived in serious poverty.”
Beyond identifying these correlations, the report offered 7 main recommendations:
- That B.C. develop a non-partisan child poverty plan, with leadership from the Premier’s Office… [including] a progress report by June 1, 2011. The plan should involve Aboriginal leaders and the federal government as partners.
- That [B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, aka MCFD] develop a clear policy and evidence-based strategies to support all vulnerable families in which the mother is pregnant… [including] appropriate service strategies with Aboriginal communities.
- That MCFD develop clear standards of practice for situations in which children and infants are placed in respite care… [with] province-wide application, including delegated Aboriginal Agencies.
- That the Ministry of Health Services lead the development of a clear practice protocol to support effective and responsive public health nursing practice when nurses are working with high-risk infants in vulnerable families.
- That the Ministry of Health Services lead an initiative with MCFD and other partners to develop and implement a creative social marketing campaign on safe sleeping.
- That MCFD take immediate action to implement improvements to the case review function to enable management and staff in the ministry and other agencies serve vulnerable children to learn from the results of the reviews.
- That MCFD implement previous recommendations made by the Representative with respect to re-establishing the role of Provincial Director [by no later than April 1, 2011] in order to support an effective process for case reviews, to avoid conflicts of interest and accountability and to drive more effective organizational learning.
Most of the above recommendations come with a timetable: a “progress report should be provided to the Representative by June 30, 2011,” and standards “fully implemented by January 31, 2012.”
Here’s hoping the province and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — who apologised for the damage done to thousands of Aboriginal children forced into residential schools and has been a recent crusader on behalf of improving maternal and infant health in other parts of the world — take the report to heart.
For more on the report’s release, consult this Canadian Press story.
[ Image via aidp.bc.ca ]