Alberta child advocate releases reviews focused on mental health support for youth

Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff. Codie McLachlan, The Canadian Press.

Alberta’s Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has released the results of reviews focused on the deaths of two First Nations young people and the serious injury of another.

The investigative reviews were conducted on a 14-year-old who was seriously injured by a stab wound to the chest, a 19-year-old who died in an accident, and a 17-year-old girl who took her own life.

All three were young people who lived with mental health issues and were the subjects of permanent guardianship orders under Child Intervention Services.

READ MORE: Alberta child advocate releases info about 12 youth opioid-linked deaths

The province said Lee, 14, was taken into care as an infant. He moved often because of his complex mental health issues and behavioural concerns, and experienced abuse while in care.

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The Alberta child advocate did not make any new recommendations in the review, instead maintaining the five recommendations related to children and youth with complex needs already established, which include:

  • The Ministry of Human Services should identify a continuum of placement options for children in care with disabilities or complex needs and ensure that adequate placement options and support are available.
  • Alberta Health Services should provide service coordinators for children with complex mental health needs and their families, who are accessing mental health services across multiple programs.
  • The Ministry of Human Services and Alberta Health Services should enter into a formal provincial agreement identifying how they will work collaboratively to serve young people with complex mental health needs when their safety is in jeopardy.

READ MORE: Alberta child advocate wants more supports after suicides of Indigenous teens

Dakota, 19, grew up in government care and had a history of exposure to trauma and exhibited mental health concerns, the report stated. Additionally, the report suggested he had questions about his gender identity and sexuality.

The advocate is not making any new recommendations based on the investigation into Dakota, instead suggesting recommendations made in a special report on LGBTQ young people in the child welfare and youth justice systems would help improve outcomes for young people like him.

The report’s recommendations included:

  • The Ministry of Children’s Services and the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General should make certain that LGBTQ2S+ specific training and education is required for all employees who work directly with young people or make decisions that affect them.
  • The Ministry of Children’s Services and the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General should review and revise their policies and practices in relation to identity, safety, appropriate places to live, and services and supports for LGBTQ2S+ children and youth.
  • The Ministry of Children’s Services and the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General should ensure young people in their care receive appropriate and inclusive sexual health information.

READ MORE: Suicide of First Nations youth shows kids in care must be heard, says Alberta advocate

Susan, 17, became involved with Child Intervention Services when she was an infant, the review suggests. She lived in a long-term foster care placement for about 10 years.

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As a teenager, she moved from place to place, including living at her grandmother’s and parent’s homes. She struggled with the loss of family members to suicide and losing contact with the foster family she lived with for decade, according to the advocate.

The advocate has not made new recommendations based on Susan’s review, instead maintaining the recommendations made through previous reviews, which include:

  • The Ministry of Human Services should ensure the preservation or resolution of relationships are at the foundation of permanency planning for children.
  • The government of Alberta should act on ways to improve provincial services and systems to support holistic community-led strategies to address Aboriginal youth suicide.
  • Alberta Human Services, with its service delivery partners, should ensure that supports are available to Aboriginal young people who have lost someone significant to suicide and that those services are deliberate and proactive.

READ MORE: Alberta faces renewed questions on safety of kids in government care

The advocate said it is critical the recommendations are acted upon by the government.

“Young people like Lee, Dakota and Susan must have access to the supports and services necessary to address their mental health and complex needs,” Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff said.

“These reviews highlight the importance of interventions that are purposeful and appropriately tailored to each child’s unique needs and circumstances.”

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The purpose of the investigation was to identify and advocate for system improvements for children and young people receiving designated services, not to find fault with any specific individuals.

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