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B.C. Chiefs Blast Conditions Outlined in Infant-death Report

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Aboriginal leaders and other officials were expressing shock, sorrow and anger last week at continuing conditions that contributed to the deaths of 21 infants over a two-year period, 15 of them aboriginal.

The report, Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems: Strengthening Supports for Vulnerable Infants, is “an aggregated, in-depth look at the lives and deaths of 21 B.C. infants,” said a press release from the office of the British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

All the children were under age 2, most lived in extreme poverty and all died under unsafe sleeping conditions, the report said.

The report deemed them “at risk because of a patchwork of services that exists across the health and child-serving systems,” according to the agency’s January 27 statement.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that we continue to have children and families falling through the cracks,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “I wholeheartedly agree with Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond that we cannot become desensitized to home environments that are unsafe for our children. We need to fully acknowledge and actively address, on an urgent basis, the root causes of the deep, debilitating, intergenerational poverty that characterizes the daily lives of the vast majority of Aboriginal families in BC."

The 21 families studied were “known to have been facing significant life and parenting challenges, yet the risks to their children associated with these challenges were ignored or the response did not match the severity of the risk,” the agency said.

“Too often public health, medical and child welfare professionals noted some of the challenges, but didn’t or weren’t able to see the whole picture that would have clearly revealed a fragile situation in critical need of intervention,” said Turpel-Lafond in the statement.

“Some of the most fragile families in our province are slipping through huge cracks here,” she said. “Government needs to take a hard look at this. We need to fix the existing lack of a coordinated and responsive approach, and create seamless coordination among all support services.”

The report notes inconsistencies in when and how support was given to struggling families, such as prenatal and postnatal education and home visits, risk asessments and the provision of safe-sleeping information, among other obstacles.

"I applaud Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond for setting out solid and feasible next steps for the Government of B.C. to help vulnerable children,” said Phillip, then added in reference to the recently discovered, post-Olympics slaughter of 100 sled dogs for economic reasons, “We now call on Minister Polak to immediately implement these vital recommendations. If the Government of B.C. can create a task force overnight to investigate the deaths of sled dogs, surely they can put together a task force to address the unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths of vulnerable children."