The 2013 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 11, 2014.
A six-part series by reporters Karen Kleiss and Darcy Henton, revealed that 145 children died in foster care in Alberta over the last 14 years. The victims were mostly aboriginal children, one in three were infants, and one-third died because of unsafe sleeping conditions. Karen Kleiss talks about the ‘Fatal Care’ project.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you. It is an exceptional privilege to speak to you today. Thank you to the Michener Awards Foundation and to the judges. It is an incomparable honour to be nominated for this award and a dream come true for me. Congratulations to our fellow nominees. Your work is awe-inspiring and I feel lucky to be counted among such remarkable journalists.
In 2009, I was writing a routine story about a child who died in foster care. I wanted to add some context, to tell readers how many foster kids had died in the past year, and in the past 10 years. Nobody knew.
In addition, Alberta had a publication ban that made it illegal to publish the name and photo of any child who had died in the care of the system.
So these children lived traumatic lives, died inside the system that was supposed to save them, nameless, faceless, and nobody was even counting them.
This inspired outrage.
We filed an access-to-information request and fought with the Alberta government for four years. We won, and the province released 3,000 pages of ministry death records. We joined forces with the Calgary Herald. My colleague Darcy Henton and I combed through the death records, cross-referenced them with fatality inquiry reports, lawsuits and news archives to build the first ever comprehensive database of children who have died in provincial care in Alberta.
We counted them.
We revealed the number of dead kids was nearly triple what the government had publicly reported. We showed most of the dead were babies, teens and aboriginals. We discovered the child death investigation system was convoluted, unaccountable and shrouded in secrecy.
The series dominated the political agenda for a week. The former Human Services Minister said 145 was “not a significant number,” and then a new Human Services Minister vowed to lift the veils of secrecy. Now, a new law will force the ministry to release the real number of children who die in care. The child death investigation system has been overhauled. The province’s draconian publication ban was overturned.
The work of many journalists contributed to this series. My partner and veteran investigative reporter Darcy Henton is talented, tough and wise, and showed a level of dedication to these children and this craft that is both rare and inspiring.
Designer Darren Francey created spectacular graphics. Columnists Paula Simons, Don Braid and Licia Corbella wrote potent opinion pieces.
Photographers Ed Kaiser, Ryan Jackson, and Greg Southam contributed stunning photos and videos.
Our editors – Stephanie Coombs, Margo Goodhand and Lucinda Chodan from the Edmonton Journal; Chris Varcoe, Lorne Motley and Monica Zurowski from the Calgary Herald – supported us, as did every one of our colleagues.
I am privileged to speak about our work on their behalf. This is an incredible honour.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 11, 2014.