Ninety. A context-free number.

File under “not enough information to draw the conclusion they’ve drawn”:

Why did 90 children die?
Ontario’s child advocate was appalled to learn how many in the province’s welfare system die each year and is equally shocked at how difficult it is to get answers

First, I think we can all agree that the province’s unwillingness to cough up any useful information about the relevant cases to the child advocate’s office is inexcusable whatever the number of deaths or other issues. It’s hard to advocate effectively when you’re being stonewalled by those ostensibly working toward the same ends and I don’t blame the child advocate’s office for one second for using whatever numbers will get them the attention and cooperation they may need.

I think — hope — we can all also agree that any greater than zero number of deaths of children is very sad and horrible and such deaths are most urgently to be avoided.

What is not in this article or — just so it doesn’t look like I’m picking on this one piece, which I’m not — in any of the coverage I’ve seen, is any information that puts 90 child deaths in context for proper comparison and evaluation. How many children are there in Ontario? How many die each year, in what age groups, for what reasons? How do those population-level numbers and rates relate to the numbers and rates of deaths of children in care? Is it disproportionately high (or low, although that seems wildly unlikely), or are the rates not significantly different from rates in the population as a whole? Do the rates vary between groups — are, say, babies in care more (or less) likely to die than babies in the population in general? Small children? Teenagers? Disabled children?

I haven’t read the whole report yet so this may merely be a complaint about its media coverage. Still, if I were the child advocate’s office, I would be speaking loudly in my initial press releases about both the raw numbers and, if it’s relevant and useful, the rates. Ninety instinctively seems like a big number (awful thought, to think of ninety children dying) but it needs context to have real meaning. Perhaps something like this: “90 children in care or within a year of being in care died in 2007. This is n times the rate of death for all children in Ontario. This is inexcusable; children in our care deserve better. Wouldn’t it be nice if the government shared more information about at-risk children with the Child Advocate’s office so we could help bring down this rate?” etc.

I don’t mean to disparage the great work the advocates are doing in this case. I do regret that there are numbers being thrown around for shock value with no way to assess their real meaning.

2 thoughts on “Ninety. A context-free number.

  1. In referance to your questions how many children died in Ontario 2007. An average of 550 children die each year in Ontario of that number there were 5 murders 4 murders of children in care . There is almost 4 million children in Ont 2007 of those numbers CAS had aprox 33 000 in care or open case files . Were failing these children and we are in a crisis situation . This is suppose to be est interest of a child . When you do the numbers and see 90 children died of the 33 000 and yet another 460 children died of the almost 4 million somthing is seriously wrong . many of these children are placed in dangerous homes being sexually physcially and emotionaly damaged much more in care then if left in their own homes .
    77 % of Ontario’s prison population is former foster children . Highest percent of suicides are of former or current foster children. What are we doing as a society to truly act in best interest of these children. When you offer a budget of 2.5B a year you open the door to corruption . When you offer salaries to inexperienced employees holding no degrees no degree =no accountability 22 day internal module and voila your now considered a case worker and allowed to make life altering decisions for these children.
    Return the children home and get off the gravy train.

  2. Perhaps. But again, there you go offering numbers with no source. It doesn’t help.

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