Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Final Report Calls for More Accountability and Coordination in Face of Rising Deaths

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The record number of child deaths in government care in Alberta last year was not a one-time spike, the province’s child and youth advocate said.

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Del Graff warns that the numbers will continue to rise and that the government must do more to hold its departments accountable for implementing the improvements that his office, and organizations like him, have been calling for for years.

Graff, who is due to retire at the end of the month, tabled her final report – the longest of its kind ever – in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday.

The 113-page document covers the period from April 1 to September 30, 2021 and includes mandatory examinations of 15 young people who died.

“We are seeing the numbers go up and we have seen them go up for some time. And we expect them to continue to rise,” Graff said, in an interview with Postmedia the day his report was filed.

All were between 12 and 19 years old. Five died of substance abuse issues, three died by suicide, and three were victims of homicide. Three young people died of medical causes and one died in a car accident.

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Graff said his call for requiring departments to provide regular public updates on what they have done to address past recommendations is more important than ever.

The government must respond to the lawyer’s recommendations within 75 days, but Graff says those responses aren’t always enough.

“They are not responding with strong implementation of activities that will result in real change for young people,” he said.

A youth-specific strategy related to Alberta’s opioid crisis is something his office has been pushing for since 2018. The Children’s First Act, which deals with connecting departments around mental health and response, has only been partially met. implementation, he said. The same goes for an Indigenous cultural understanding framework and a partially implemented suicide prevention plan as of 2019.

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“It’s incredibly frustrating because there are documents that support direction that could make a difference on this,” Graff said.

In a statement to Postmedia, Andrew Reith, press secretary for Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz, said the government was reviewing Graff’s report and would respond publicly within 75 days.

He called the reporting requirement “comprehensive and transparent”.

“The department has complied with 56 of the attorney’s recommendations and 20 more are in progress,” he said.

Record high numbers

The number of young Albertans who died while in government care hit a record 45 between April 2021 and February 2022, according to a government report released in March.

The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate counts deaths differently. They include children who have been identified for government support even though they had not yet been assessed, young people receiving services from various ministries as well as those involved in the justice system. The advocate also reports if a youth dies within two years of obtaining government services.

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Graff’s records for the fiscal year so far include 76 deaths — a record for his office.

In a statement, NDP spokesperson for children’s services, Rakhi Pancholi, said now was not the time for the UCP to keep secret how it is tackling this crisis.

“I urge the UCP once again to respond to the lawyer’s recommendations and hold all government departments to account for the work they are doing – or not doing – to protect children,” she said. declared.

Need to work together

The report also calls on government departments to develop a process for coordinating services for young people with developmental and behavioral difficulties and their families.

In her report, Graff cites several instances where young people received early intervention supports that diminished as they got older.

“As these young people faced increasing difficulties in their daily lives, the child welfare systems involved struggled to meet their ever-changing needs,” he writes.

Terri Pelton is sworn in next month as Alberta’s newest Child and Youth Advocate.

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