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Majority of young people who recently died while receiving government care were Indigenous: annual report

Terri Pelton, Alberta's new child and youth advocate, was sworn in at a ceremony at the legislature on April 5, 2022. Terri Pelton, Alberta's new child and youth advocate, was sworn in at a ceremony at the legislature on April 5, 2022.

Alberta's child and youth advocate is pointing to two trends among recent deaths of young people in the province's care: the majority were Indigenous and drug poisoning was a frequent cause of death. 

Between April 1, 2023, and March 31, 2024, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate was notified about the deaths of 68 young people and serious injury of 15 others. 

It investigated 47 deaths and one injury in that time period. Of these, 12 of the young people were still in care and 36 were either still receiving child intervention services or had within the previous two years. 

The data was released Tuesday by the province's child and youth advocate and will be used to make recommendations to the government to improve outcomes of people in care. 

"It distresses me," advocate Terri Pelton said.

"It does seem to be reaching a crisis. It's a staggering amount of sadness and trauma and young people who've passed away."

In each death – or in the single case of a young person being seriously injured – investigators compiled information about the services and supports the minor was receiving. The office also looks for trends or themes on an annual basis. 

In her newest report, Pelton noted 35 of the 47 young people who died – 73 per cent – were Indigenous. 

"What we've noted and what I've heard, and what I believe, is that young people do better when they're connected to their culture and their community, when they have a sense of identity and belonging, the young people that we've been hearing about or that we've been reviewing, haven't been connected to who they are in a meaningful way, many times. And so if we can increase the supports for Indigenous young people to be connected, I think we'll see better outcomes."

Indigenous young people account for a disproportionate amount of people either under the care of the government or receiving child intervention services in Alberta. Despite making up about 10 per cent of Alberta's young population, as of December, more than 70 per cent of the 9,080 children and youth receiving child intervention services or in the government's care were Indigenous.

Drugs another trend

Pelton also drew attention to the frequent involvement of drugs in the deaths reviewed over the past 12 months. 

In 20 deaths, the manner of death was ruled accidental, including 10 deaths involving drugs or alcohol. 

"It's deeply concerning to see children as young as 12 using substances, and sadly, we've seen even younger in the past," Pelton said. "When children and families are struggling, it's crucial they receive early support and care so we can reduce the number of lives lost to this crisis."

Eight deaths were considered medical events, six were suicide, and three were instances of violence. 

In some cases, the manner of death was undetermined or still being investigated. 

Pelton's recommendations to the government are expected to be released in the fall. 

"My heart breaks alongside these families, I'm a parent as well," said Searle Turton, minister of children and family services. "And I look forward to getting those OCYA recommendations because I know that they come from a great place in terms of improving the system and I take it extremely seriously." 

The total number of young people who died between April 2023 and March 2024 – 68 – is a decrease of 13 when compared to the year prior when 81 people died either while in the province’s care or within two years of receiving services.

The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate is an independent office of the Alberta legislature. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Kyra Markov Top Stories

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