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Alberta promises review of contract agencies, new supervision model in response to record deaths of kids in care

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2022-04-15 Ashley Joannou
Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz speaks during a news conference in the Edmonton Federal Building on April 21, 2020. © Provided by Edmonton Journal Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz speaks during a news conference in the Edmonton Federal Building on April 21, 2020.

As Alberta marks the end of the deadliest fiscal year for children receiving government care, the Ministry of Children’s Services is promising actions including improved mental health services and a review of contracts it has with outside agencies that handle child interventions.

A report released Thursday by Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz took a look into 36 deaths from April 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021, of children and youth in government care such as foster care or group homes and those receiving support as they age out of the system.

It found that the impact of COVID-19, including social isolation and related issues like food insecurity, substance abuse and housing issues significantly impacted those vulnerable young Albertans

“We know this has been a difficult time, especially for vulnerable families. We also know that we need to work with the ministry of mental health and addictions as well as our community partners to make sure that there are supports in place for those who need it,” Schulz told Postmedia Thursday.

“That is definitely a focus of us. We are going to make sure that we are supporting these young people as much as we can during this recovery.”

Among the six new action items promised in the report, the government says it will review child intervention contracts so that contracted community organizations “are focused on helping a family address the safety concerns identified by the ministry, in addition to their focus on parents’ strengths and wellness.”

Currently, there are multiple agencies across the province that do work on behalf of the ministry.

Schulz said sometimes those agencies are focused on the wellness of the parents but want to leave child interventions to the government.

“When a community organization has that responsibility for supporting that family, they still have to be focusing on any risks or safety concerns that might be identified. They have to still make sure that a child is safe,” Schulz said.

The government is also promising changes to the kinship care model — when extended family members or friends take in a child in need.

After being assessed for the initial placement, kinship homes will now be assessed a second time in five days to make sure they are appropriate for the child.


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The government is also promising a new casework supervision model with coaching and mentoring for caseworkers and a new system for early identification of infants and youth who need extra attention.

Schulz did not provide a specific timeline for when the new actions will be completed but said her ministry was beginning “right away.”

A record total of 45 young Albertans died between April 1, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022, a sharp increase over the 34 who died in the previous year.

Opioid crisis a contributor

Another $1 million is being provided to the Family Resource Networks to increase access to mental health supports while the government is also promising to continue to work with Alberta Health Services “to ensure mental health and addictions services are available.”

The report notes that, when compared to the general Alberta population of 18 to 23-year-olds, young adults receiving services who died in the 10-year period beginning in 2012-2013 were 57 times more likely to visit the emergency department for addiction-related disorders, 45 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for addiction-related disorders , and 20 times more likely to see a doctor for addiction-related disorders.

Young adults aged 18 to 23 receiving services represent only 0.6 per cent of that overall age group yet they account for approximately 10 per cent of the opioid deaths among this age group between 2017 and 2021.

“The trends over the last 10 years suggested that we needed more specialized placement, especially for young people with complex needs,” the report says.

Earlier this year, Alberta’s child and youth advocate raised concerns about what he considers the government’s inadequate response to recommendations, including a 2018 recommendation for a youth-specific strategy to address the opioid crisis.

In an email, Eric Engler, press secretary for mental health and addictions associate minister Mike Ellis, said officials are “working across ministries to improve outcomes for youth in care and young adults receiving services.”

Youth can access the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program and the government has been focused on improving access to recovery for all Albertans by creating new publicly funded detox, treatment and recovery spaces, he said.

‘A lot of pointing fingers’: NDP

NDP critic for Children’s Services Rakhi Pancholi said the government is avoiding talking about systemic issues and steps it could have taken prior to the pandemic to help, including the recommended youth strategy as well as issues around staffing and turnover.

“I see a lot of pointing fingers in this report that go outside and external to government choices,” she said.

“Really, there needs to be a reflection of how policy decisions and choices that may have been made by this government in the last three years have impacted families and children in care.”

ajoannou@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ashleyjoannou

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