A recent government report, highlighted by the Alberta New Democrats, shows that of 45 young people who died while receiving child intervention services from April 1 2021 to the end of February, 36 of the deaths are Indigenous children and youths. (Advocate file photo)

A recent government report, highlighted by the Alberta New Democrats, shows that of 45 young people who died while receiving child intervention services from April 1 2021 to the end of February, 36 of the deaths are Indigenous children and youths. (Advocate file photo)

More Indigenous youths are dying in government care, sparking concern from Red Deer group

‘There is a failure of provincial systems,’ says local advocate

Deaths have tripled in the last decade among Indigenous youths who are receiving Alberta government intervention — sparking alarm and dismay in Red Deer’s aboriginal community.

A recent government report, highlighted by the Alberta New Democrats, shows that of 45 young people who died while receiving child intervention services from April 1 2021 to the end of February, 36 of the deaths are Indigenous children and youths.

By comparison, there were 12 deaths for Indigenous kids in under government care in 2012.

“Sadly, I am not surprised, but I am incredibly concerned,” said Tanya Ward-Schur community facilitator for Urban Aboriginal Voices Society in Red Deer.

Ward-Schur added these numbers indicate a growing sense of despair among Indigenous youths. She believes they are not getting enough mental health supports to deal with racism and impacts of inter-generational trauma — nor enough cultural and mentorship programs to help them re-connect with their communities and gain a sense of identity and pride.

As a result, Ward-Schur believes more youths “self-medicating” with drugs, or committing suicide. “There is a failure of provincial systems to really appropriately address what is needed.”

The huge jump in reported youth deaths from previous years prompted the NDP to call the 2021-22 period “the deadliest year on record” in an emailed release.

From 2012 to 2020, annual youth deaths reported by the Ministry of Children’s Services range from 18 deaths to 34 among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

But for the April 2021 to end of February period, there were a total of 45 deaths — some due to accidents or suicide, but most causes yet to be determined by the medical examiner.

While six non-aboriginal youths died while under government care in 2012, and 18 died in 2017, there was a decrease to nine deaths for the past 11 months.

But the death rates for Indigenous youth under government care steadily climb — from 12 deaths in 2012 to 15 deaths in 2017, to 36 deaths in the last 11 months.

Richard Feehan, NDP Indigenous Relations Critic, said in the emailed release, “These young people endured so much hardship and trauma. The government was responsible for their safety, and failed to protect them.”

Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz responded, saying she’s very concerned about what this report shows.“This is not only a tragedy, but a call to action.”

Schulz asked for more detailed information from the Ministry of Children’s Services to know what needs to change to bring these death rates down.

Since the ministry report shows most deaths occur in youths 18 years or older as well as children under five years, the minister added that her department needs to better address the needs of the youth transitioning to adulthood, and to investigate what’s happening to infants in government care.

As well some “tweaks” might be needed to a new kinship care program that aims to keep some children within their communities, said Schulz. The minister wants to start shifting more responsibility for youths needing intervention to First Nations to keep young people plugged into their culture.

Schulz believes the pandemic and the opioid crisis likely contributed to higher death rates in 2021. But Rakhi Pancholi, NDP Critic for Children’s Services noted there was no funding increase for Child Intervention Services or frontline staff in the last provincial budget, while $10 million was removed for older youths transitioning out of care.

“I don’t know what it will take for the UCP to understand the gravity of this situation and how deeply they are failing their responsibility for the vulnerable children in their care,” said Pancholi.

Meanwhile, the Urban Aboriginal Voices Society is wrapping up a mentorship/cultural program for youths that was federally funded. While Ward-Schur heard from the 12 young people involved that it really helped them, she’s not sure there is money to continue it.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Indigenous