By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – According to figures released by Alberta Children’s Services, the province is on track for a record-breaking number of fatalities in youth or young adults receiving intervention or services from the government this year.
Thirty youth and young adults died between April 1, 2021 and October 31, 2021 — with four additional deaths being recorded in November.
Twenty-three of them were Indigenous.
First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children are disproportionally represented in Alberta’s child welfare system, making up 64 per cent of the overall provincial caseload.
Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz has said that the province is currently working towards implementing Bill C-92, a 2019 federal legislation that created national standards on how Indigenous children are to be treated and prioritized placing children with extended family and/or in home communities.
However, Schulz has said that despite the figures, it is too early to draw conclusions as 22 cases are still being investigated for the cause of death.
“I am absolutely committed to looking at this data and making changes where they’re needed in the best interests of children,” said Schulz.
Shulz has said the child intervention budget has been increased by $14 million this year.
This report comes as the Government confirmed it will reduce the age of eligibility for the Support and Financial Assistance Agreement (SFAA) from 24 to 22.
“We’ve been very clear that for any young adults who cannot transition off this program, they will continue to receive services,” said Schulz.
NDP children’s services critic Rakhi Pancholi said, “This is heartbreaking. It is the highest number of deaths of children and young people receiving child intervention services at this point in the year as far back as reporting goes.”
“This has been a devastating time for many young people in Alberta but particularly the most vulnerable who are in care predominantly most of them are Indigenous,” said Pancholi.
According to the provincial report, the majority of children who died did so during the “initial assessment” or while the child was transitioning from care and “receiving support and financial assistance” from the province.
“There’s clearly a lot of questions that need to be answered,” she said.
“But more importantly, we need to take this very seriously and get to work right now; this has been a devastating time for many young people in Alberta.”
The NDP opposition has called on the government to re-convene a multi-party panel on children intervention, “to improve and strengthen the child intervention system and ensure that we are doing everything we can do help children and vulnerable young Albertans transitioning to adulthood survive and thrive.”
In 2018, a Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention delivered 26 recommendations to the province — Shulz says that all but one of the recommendations have been instated or are currently being worked on.
“A lot of the information we don’t yet have, and so we are committed to being transparent and to making changes where necessary,” said Shulz.