‘We need to do more’: How 15 kids died in 6 months while, or after, receiving care in Alberta

Suicides, drug poisonings and homicides are all causes listed in a new report that examined why 15 young Albertans died in a six-month period last year.

What they all had in common is they were youth who died while receiving care from the Alberta government, or within two years of leaving the system.

“To have that many young people die in such a short time period, it’s always sad,” said Del Graff, Alberta’s outgoing child and youth advocate.

The deaths, all involving people aged 19 or younger, happened between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2021.

Eleven of the 15 were Indigenous, and eight of them were receiving care outside of their home communities, the report found.

“I think it’s concerning. It really just calls that we need to do more to support youth that are falling between the cracks,” said Keleigh Larson at Bent Arrow Healing Society.

The leading cause of death was drug poisoning. Six of the deaths involved illegal drugs, including the passing of a 12-year-old-girl.

“Claire was a creative Métis girl who loved to draw. She was a happy young person who was observant and mature for her age,” the report states.

“Claire was exposed to escalating parental substance use and neglect, which led to frequent placement and school moves. Claire and her family had multiple brief involvements with Child Intervention Services. Claire died from suspected drug poisoning.”

“It’s very concerning this trend seems to be on the upward swing for young people in our province,” Graff said of drug use.

“I think it’s fentanyl, accidental overdose, a lot of experimenting,” Larson explained.

Three of the deaths were caused by suicide, three were listed as homicide and the other three each involved a car crash, kidney disease and “injuries” suffered “while in care.”

‘CALL AN ALL PARTY REVIEW’

The office of the child and youth advocate has been releasing mandatory review data of deaths that occurred starting in April 2018.

Alberta has reviewed 72 deaths since then, an average of 10 every six months. Not every death is reviewed.

One of the recommendations stemming from the latest report is a call on the government to be more accountable.

Currently, the only requirement is that the province respond to recommendations within 75 days.

The NDP’s critic for children’s services called the report “heartbreaking” and offered to help.

“We’re calling on the government to call an all-party review to work together on this issue, collaboratively. This is a crisis we are facing for young people,” MLA Rakhi Pancholi said.

The minister responsible said her staff already reviews each case to see if any additional recommendations are needed.

That work is also made public, pointed out Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schultz.

“We do have a process that is very transparent and holds the government accountable to the recommendations, and the government response to each of these recommendations. This is a new process,” she explained.

The next report is due in six months. Graff said sadly, he expects to see a similar number of deaths.

“That’s the tragedy. It’s that this trajectory is growing when we need to see it shrinking,” he said.

Terri Pelton will be sworn in as Alberta’s new child and youth advocate on Friday.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski

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