News / Edmonton

'There must be a shift': Report highlights need for greater attention towards impacts of childhood trauma

The report identified a pattern in the role of early childhood trauma in the deaths of three young Indigenous females

Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff

The common thread to emerge from an investigative review into the deaths of three young Indigenous females is the need for the province to pay greater attention to the impact of trauma on children.

Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate, Del Graff, led a review into the deaths of 13-year-old Tina, 16-year-old Shirley and 19-year-old Jazmine over the course of seven months in 2015.

Although they each had unique life experiences, the advocate's report notes all three girls experienced early childhood trauma due to exposure to violence, addictions and neglect.

"Research indicates that early childhood trauma has a profound impact on children, especially on how their brains develop," the report states.

For that reason, the report recommends that the Government of Alberta “create and implement cross-ministry training for all child-serving ministries” specifically related to the impact of trauma on the brain and childhood development.

Furthermore, it recommends that the Ministry of Children’s Services make sure children and caregivers receive culturally appropriate, timely interventions that address childhood trauma.

In Tina, Shirley and Jazmine’s cases, their early childhood experiences compromised their ability to be in healthy relationships. Although they lived with relatives who cared about them and wanted to help, they still needed more support.

“Child welfare must recognize the long-term, ongoing nature of vulnerability and risk,” the report states. “There must be a shift from short-term responses that deal with one incident at a time, to a culture of long-term support.”

In an emailed statement, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said her department was saddened by the report and noted the importance of highlighting the impact of trauma on child development.

“When we support children, youth and families who have lived through grief and loss, we must ensure those supports address the effects trauma has had.”

The statement acknowledges the prevalence of childhood trauma in First Nations communities, and said the government is in the process of training staff, as well as foster and kinship parents, to be better equipped to support children and families who have experienced grief and loss.

“This requires a coordinated response that focuses not only on the individual and immediate safety needs of young people, but on the broader realities of community trauma. We will work to ensure First Nations are supported to lead community responses to these realities.”

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