There was a significant increase in the number of deaths reported to Saskatchewan’s child advocate last year, the majority of them Indigenous children.
Of those 34 deaths, 29 are First Nations and Métis children.
Child advocate Lisa Broda said those numbers are a reflection of the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the child welfare and justice systems.
“This ongoing trend is unacceptable and highlights the urgency with which our province must embrace reconciliation, and with which all sectors must work together to improve outcomes for Indigenous children,” Broda said in the report.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason behind the jump in deaths, she said, as her office is still analyzing the data.
A growing population and rising number of youth interacting with the child welfare system could be factors, she said, as the office is notified of concerns with children receiving services from provincial ministries and agencies.
Some of the causes of death include motor vehicle collisions, illness, homicide and seven deaths by suicide.
“The rates of suicide among children and youth is unacceptable in this country, and the rates amongst Indigenous children as compared to non-Indigenous children is egregious,” said Broda, who was appointed to the role in November.
The annual report focuses largely on youth suicide and mental health.
It highlights issues with accessing Saskatchewan’s mental health services, including lengthy wait times and geographic barriers.
“We need to do a better job with our service provision, getting it to the young people who need it in a more expedient manner,” Broda told Global News.
That will require more investment from the province and a deep, ongoing commitment to reconciliation, she said.
Broda recommended agencies that work with Indigenous children embed reconciliation in their mandates.
“The Truth and Reconciliation calls to action are … not just something to look at. It’s something to execute and we all have a role in that,” she said, highlighting the first five calls to action, which focus on child welfare.
“If we can do that [for] our Indigenous children, the dial will move in the right direction.”
The social services ministry is prioritizing reconciliation, said Natalie Huber, assistant deputy minister of child and family programs.
“Building appropriate prevention, family support programs [and] culturally appropriate programs for those Indigenous families and communities is very key,” Huber said.
“[So is] ensuring that we have a strong connection with our young Indigenous children and families that we’re working with.”
The ministry has taken concrete steps to improve the state of child welfare in Saskatchewan, she said.
It has grown the number of Indigenous service providers and child protection staff and trained front-line staff on suicide intervention.
Many of the calls to action in the advocate’s report came from a youth-led mental health conference last May.
“It’s vital that we include them in our work,” Broda said.
“If we want to … do something different, make something different happen, then we need to listen to those young people because they have important things to say and they’re really leaders.”
Going forward, Broda said she’d like to see the development of a strategy geared specifically toward protecting the rights of children in Saskatchewan.
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