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Poverty contributed to 21 BC child deaths: children's advocate

VICTORIA - British Columbia's children's watchdog is calling on the provincial government to do something about the province's high child poverty rate in a report that reviews the sad, short lives of 21 dead children.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Thursday that B.C. has the highest child poverty rate in Canada and poverty is directly related to poor outcomes for children.

The report called on Premier Gordon Campbell's office to play a lead role in developing a child-poverty plan.

"As this review shows once again, poverty is directly correlated with compromised outcomes for children," said the 76-page report, Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems: Strengthening Supports for Vulnerable Infants.

"Concrete and effective prevention measures are required to make a difference in the lives of infants, children and families in this province," the report concluded.

The independent provincial children's advocate reviewed the deaths of 21 children known to the province's children's ministry who died between June 2007 and May 2009. All 21 died before their second birthdays.

Turpel-Lafond said the families in each case were struggling with poverty, poor housing and fragmented service systems that failed to provide support or identify and respond to the obvious risks.

Seven recommendations came out of the review, including working to integrate the patchwork of services before more families and children slip through huge cracks, she said at a press conference following the release of the report.

"Not enough real action is taking place," Turpel-Lafond said. "The tinkering cannot continue. The stories (of the children) are heartbreaking. We must learn from them and do much better."

Of the 21 dead children, 15 were aboriginal and nine of the 15 were from Vancouver Island.

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