EDMONTON – Alberta’s child and youth advocate is calling on government to put more resources into fighting an epidemic of aboriginal youth suicide.
Toward A Better Tomorrow provides 12 recommendations following an investigation in to the life and circumstances surrounding the death of the seven youth.
“We must work harder to support aboriginal young people at risk for suicide,” Del Graff, provincial child and youth advocate, said.
“I sincerely hope this report moves governments and community leaders to make the issue of aboriginal youth suicide a greater priority, and to devote the resources and support to address it effectively.”
Each of the seven young people passed away over an 18-month period between June 2013 and December 2014. They were receiving services from Child Intervention Services when they passed away, or had received services within two years of their death.
The goal of the review is to understand the high rate of youth suicide faced by aboriginal peoples, families and communities, in order to improve support and services for Alberta’s young people.
“Clearly, something more is needed because the rate of suicide by aboriginal young people has not markedly decreased,” the report reads.
The recommendations are as follows:
- The Alberta government should establish a provincially funded suicide prevention strategy that supports the development and implementation of community-led strategies. The strategy should include aboriginal people having a meaningful role.
- The government should act on ways to improve provincial services and systems to support community-led strategies to address Aboriginal youth suicide.
- Aboriginal youth who have lost someone close to them to suicide should receive deliberate and proactive support from Alberta Human Services.
- Alberta Human Services should review child intervention case practice to ensure that intervention is focused on the child’s needs.
- The Ministry of Human Services should ensure that case practice reflects a strength-based approach that focuses on the attachment needs of children while ensuring that their risk for harm is addressed.
- Alberta Education should develop and implement school-based suicide prevention programs. Consideration should be given to developing a peer support component.
- Alberta Mental Health Services should ensure that cultural components are incorporated in treatment strategies for young people.
- The Government of Alberta should ensure that mental health programs are more accessible, holistic and readily available in First Nations communities.
- The Ministries of Human Services, Education and Health, along with their service delivery partners, should require that professionals working with aboriginal young people have enhanced suicide intervention training.
- The Ministries of Human Services, Education and Health, along with their service delivery partners, should require that professionals working with Aboriginal Peoples have adequate training regarding the pre and post-colonial history specific to aboriginal Peoples so that they have a good understanding of the potential risks, strengths and needs with Aboriginal families.
- Alberta Human Services should review the Delegation Training for Suicide Intervention Skills and ensure that it contains information about the need for culturally-relevant resources and how caseworkers can access them.
- The Government of Alberta should support increased levels of self-determination of First Nations in Alberta through reconciliation processes in partnership with First Nations, federal and provincial governments. Consideration should be given to greater levels of self-determination regarding child intervention balanced with support as a protective factor for suicide prevention.
Alberta’s Minister of Human Services Irfan Sabir said the province will review the recommendations and work with stakeholders to make sure “we are there for Indigenous youth.”
“I am grateful for the advocate’s comprehensive work in bringing such a critical issue to light, and his recommendations for addressing this issue and preventing future tragedies,” Sabir said.
The advocate said the intent of the review is not to find fault, but to make improvements that will help enhance the safety and well-being of children and young people who are receiving designated services.
The Advocate’s report comes on the wake of a state of emergency being declared in the remote northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat First Nation after a suicide pact by 13 youth, including a nine-year-old.
The community has a suicide rate of 100 per 100,000 people, according to Ontario government data obtained by Global News. The Canadian rate is 11.3.
WATCH: Alberta’s child and youth advocate is sounding the alarm over suicides by First Nation young people. Fletcher Kent explains.