Deaths of children, young adults on government support in Alberta prompt call for all-party panel

Alberta’s New Democratic Party is calling for a ministerial panel after new figures put the province on track for the deadliest year for children and young adults receiving government support in more than a decade.

Reporting from the province shows 30 children or young adults who were receiving support died between April 1 and Oct. 31, 2021. 

In 22 of the cases, the manner of death is still pending investigation. Indigenous deaths were more than three times the number of non-indigenous individuals— 23 compared to seven.

Another four deaths reported in November bring the total for this fiscal year on par with the last, the most recorded since at least 2008.

All-party panel

NDP children’s services critic Rakhi Pancholi said the government needs to convene an all-party panel to figure out where the system is failing.

“There’s clearly a lot of questions that need to be answered,” she told reporters Wednesday afternoon. 

“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.”

Pancholi said the province has not been transparent on its progress on recommendations from a 2018 ministerial panel.

“Something isn’t working, whether the work has not been implemented, or it’s not achieving the objectives it meant to; that needs to be reassessed as well.”

Financial supports

Sixteen of the deaths were in young adults receiving support. The government won a court battle earlier this year to reduce the age limit of eligibility for the Support and Financial Assistance Agreement program to 22 from 24.

The NDP is criticizing the province for implementing that policy after promises this March that participants will not be cut off this year.

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz told reporters Wednesday the majority of those young adults had either successfully transitioned or were being transitioned to other adult services.

“However, we’ve been very clear that for any adults who cannot transition off this program, they will continue to receive services.”

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said previous recommendations from a 2018 panel were still being implemented. (Janet French/CBC)

Schulz said her ministry has begun or completed all but one of the recommendations that came out of the 2018 panel.

“A lot of the information we don’t yet have, and so we are committed to being transparent and to making changes where necessary.”

Schulz said she has asked for a policy review from her ministry in response to the staggering figures.

She also said the province is still working toward implementing Bill C-92, federal legislation passed in 2019 that creates national standards on how Indigenous children are to be treated and prioritizes placing kids within extended families and home communities.

Earlier this month, Alberta’s child advocate released an annual report underscoring the impact of the pandemic and the opioid crisis on youth receiving care.

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