The Office of Child and Youth Advocate in Alberta has released an alarming 100-page report about 15 children and youths who died in a six-month period late last year and into 2022.
Twelve of the children and youth were receiving child intervention services at the time of their deaths, and three within the previous two years.
Of the deaths that took place between October 2021 and March 31, 2022, nine were a result of confirmed or suspected drug toxicity and 12 were of Indigenous youth.
“Many young people with complex needs are not receiving adequate supports and that must be rectified,” said Terri Pelton, Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate.
“We recognize some promising new initiatives are being developed; however, in the meantime, we need immediate action to address these service gaps and create better outcomes for these children and youth.”
In 2021, the advocate’s office called for the province to develop a youth-specific opioid and substance use strategy, but it says no progress has been made on that recommendation.
“There are also far too many young people dying from drug-related causes,” reads the report.
“Substance use is a pervasive issue that has devastating outcomes for many young people and their families. There is an urgent need for a full spectrum of services and supports, which should be tailored to meet each young person’s unique needs and circumstances.
“The government must develop and implement a youth-specific opioid and substance use strategy to address this issue.”
Pelton made a new recommendation as a result of the report, that the Ministries of Health, Education, Children’s Services, Community and Social Services and Justice and Solicitor General develop and publicly report on a coordinated action plan to address service gaps for young people with complex needs while longer-term initiatives are under development.
The plan should include targeted activities and milestones that meet the immediate needs of these young people.
Pelton also indicated that the government and service providers recognize “the impact of intergenerational trauma on Indigenous young people and their families and support Indigenous communities as they assume governance for Child Intervention Services through An Act respecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, youth and families”.
NDP Critic for Children’s Services Rakhi Pancholi said the numbers are “harrowing” and called on the government to take action on the most recent report.
“These grim numbers are harrowing. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of these children,” she said.
“In a six-month period, another 15 children and youth died while in care in our province. 12 of those children and youth were Indigenous, and nine of the deaths were related to drug toxicity.
“The OCYA outlines, once again, their request to the provincial government to develop and implement a youth-specific opioid and substance use strategy. There is no reason why the UCP shouldn’t have addressed this call by now.
“In addition to the repeated call for an opioid strategy, the (Office of The Child and Youth Advocate Alberta) has included a new recommendation in this report asking Ministries to address the needs of children and youth with complex needs and to publicly report on their work.”
-With files from the Canadian Press