Calls for action rang out across Alberta following the release of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate’s annual report on Nov. 28, which told of an all-time high number of deaths of vulnerable young people from 2022-23.
“This year, we saw the highest number of notifications of death of young people since our office received the mandate to conduct investigative reviews in 2012,” said Terri Pelton, provincial Child and Youth Advocate in a release.
“This is profoundly concerning and underscores the importance of ensuring our recommendations are implemented to help improve services and supports for vulnerable young people.”
From April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023, the OCYA examined the circumstances of 33 young people who had passed away.
The OCYA is an independent office of the Alberta Legislature, and represents the rights, interests, and viewpoints of children and youth receiving designated government services.
According to information released by the Ministry of Children and Family Services, there were 50 deaths in the 2022-23 reporting period of children, youth and young adults that were receiving child intervention services in Alberta. Of that total, 19 were in care at the time of their death.
The manner of death was determined to be accidental for 18, two were deemed natural, 13 are pending, and 10 were not investigated by the Office of the Medical Examiner.
“There is no greater tragedy than the death of a child or young adult and our hearts go out to the families and loved ones forever impacted and changed,” said Minister of Children and Family Services press secretary Ashli Barrett in a prepared statement.
“The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate is a valued and respected advisor in our shared goal of protecting Alberta’s children and we are committed to continuously improving our system to support the safety and well-being of children.
“All OCYA recommendations have been actioned in a way that will make a positive difference for children and families across the province. We update Children and Family Service’s progress on implementing recommendations publicly, and continue to update the OCYA on our progress.
“Since 2013, Children and Family Services has received 112 recommendations from the OCYA and have implemented 106.”
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) called for greater transparency and accountability for the 50 deaths of young people in care, as well as increased staffing levels in children intervention services.
“It’s disturbing to see the number of deaths rising among children and young people in care, especially when the union has been calling for immediate improvements in the delivery of services,” said AUPE president Sandra Azocar in a release.
“Workers are at capacity and have been working at emergency staffing levels due to impossible caseloads, short staffing and burnout,” Azocar said. “The government can no longer delay its responsibility for the protection of vulnerable children in this province.”
AUPE wants the government to provide Albertans with additional details regarding what services the fatalities were tied to.
“The government has neglected to act when necessary and they have not been transparent; they must be held accountable for their lack of action in response to the rising numbers of deaths,” Azocar said.
The NDP was equally critical of the UCP government, stating the number of mandatory death reviews was “astounding” and claiming “this UCP government doesn’t place the safety and well-being of children and youth in this province at the top of their priorities.”
According to the NDP, 166 young people receiving intervention services died in the UCP’s first term.
“Alberta’s vulnerable children and youth deserve so much better,” said Diana Batten, Alberta NDP critic for childcare and Children and Family Services.
The OCYA annual report includes mandatory investigative review reports of young people who passed away. Of the concluded cases, several were infants who died due to medical complications. Causes in young adults included suicide and drug toxicity.
The OCYA report can be found at ocya.alberta.ca/adult/publications/annual-reports/.