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Child and Youth Advocate calls for better ministry cooperation after two teen suicides

The province says they will look at the recommendations closely

Del Graff, Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Del Graff, Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate

Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate is urging stronger cooperation between ministries and more checks and balances when granting guardianship, after an investigative review of two Indigenous teenagers who committed suicide.

Advocate Del Graff made a total of six recommendations for the province, in response to the deaths of 17-year-old Donovan and 15-year-old Jimmy. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Donovan committed suicide while in youth justice custody at a group home. Child Intervention Services was involved with Donovan, and he also had interactions with the youth justice system.

A member of a First Nation in another province, he came to live with his mother in Alberta when he was 15. The report describes him as a tall, heavily-built young man, who was quiet and good-natured, but also had the capability to be impulsive and aggressive when under the influence.

Prior to his move, Donovan had “extensive” involvement with the child welfare system in another province, but none of that information was provided to Children’s Services in Alberta. Donovan’s birth parents struggled with addictions and domestic violence.

The first recommendation is for The Ministry of Children’s Services and the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General ensure all frontline staff are aware when a youth has been involved in both ministries.

“There must be improved communication, cooperation and collaboration between systems dealing with the difficult challenges facing youth like Donovan,” the report states.

The second recommendation stemming from the investigative review is for the two ministries to work together so that contact and relationships for youth are maintained with family.

The second review is in connection to Jimmy, a 15-year-old raised in a family where he was exposed to addictions, domestic violence and suicide attempts. He left home at 13.

As a teenager, Jimmy asked for help from Child Intervention Services more than once but did not receive ongoing supports.

“Ongoing support was not offered because it was believed that he had places he could stay,” the report states. “The focus was on Jimmy’s choice to use substances and not stay with relatives instead of focusing on the impacts of his early adverse childhood experiences.”

The report recommends the Ministry of Children’s Services create provincial policies reflecting the needs and vulnerabilities of at-risk youth who ask for help, and have a comprehensive understanding of the ongoing impact of early childhood trauma.

The second recommendation says the ministry should create an appeal process for youth who are denied child intervention services and supports.

“This process must be timely, fair and easily accessible,” the report states.

The report details how Jimmy’s sister, Candice, obtained legal guardianship of Jimmy when she was 19. Because she applied for guardianship under the Family Law Act, Candice did not need to submit either a criminal record check or a child intervention services check.

Candice did not have a stable home at the time, had experienced significant trauma during her own childhood, and had been confined three times for suicidal thoughts.

Based on the circumstances, the child and youth advocate recommends the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General ensure the Family Law Act guardianship application forms address how the application will fulfill the responsibilities of being a parent, as well as standardize the application process for guardianship throughout the province.

Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said in an email it’s “vital” for children who come into provincial care to maintain their connections to their family and community when it is in safe and in the child’s best interests.

“We thank the Advocate for his recommendations and for being a partner in our work to strengthen the ways we support children and families. We will take the time to look at these recommendations, and explore what actions we can take to address the challenges the Advocate identified.”

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