Current Problems

Child Welfare (1-5)

Office of child and youth advocate reports 81 total deaths in 2022-’23

November 29, 2023

“This represents a massive 29.4 per cent increase in deaths of children in care over last year. This is an outrage”

Published Nov 28, 2023  •  Last updated 9 hours ago  •  3 minute read

Terri Pelton was appointed Alberta's child and youth advocate on April 5, 2022.
Terri Pelton was appointed Alberta’s child and youth advocate on April 5, 2022. PHOTO BY SUPPLIED

The Tyee: Edmonton Journal – Published Nov 28, 2023  •  Last updated 9 hours ago

Alberta’s child and youth advocacy agency released its annual report Tuesday revealing a tragic record-high number of deaths to children who received intervention services.

The office of the child and youth advocate assisted more than 1,400 Alberta children and youths in 2022-2023. During that period, the agency investigated 88 cases of serious injury or death to children receiving care or intervention services from the province. This is the highest number of injuries or deaths to young people since 2012, the year the office was mandated to conduct investigative reviews.

The report said of the 88 cases reported to the child and youth advocate, 50 youths died while receiving intervention services, 19 of whom were in care at the time of death, and 31 deaths were youths who had previously received intervention services within the last two years. Only 44 of those cases were investigated as a mandatory review, while the other 44 were deemed as cases warranting systemic reviews. Seven children were seriously injured.

The report also details the ages and demographics of the deceased — 30 per cent were aged 12-17, with 67 per cent being Indigenous youths.

“One death of a child in care is one too many, 44 deaths is a catastrophe. This represents a massive 29.4 per cent increase in deaths of children in care over last year. This is an outrage.” said Bradley Lafortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta in a Tuesday news release.

Lafortune said that Public Interest Alberta has done preliminary research showing a stark rise in child poverty rates. One in six children in Alberta live in poverty, which leads to a cascade of issues including academic difficulties, poorer health outcomes, and a far higher likelihood of living in poverty as an adult.

“We are demanding that the UCP government commit the requisite resources from Alberta’s services to address child poverty, including adequate income supports and other programs and services to ensure we make progress on ending child poverty,” Lafortune said in the release.

Children and Family Services Minister Searle Turton responded to questions about the report in the legislature Tuesday, saying that any time a serious incident happens with any child under his ministry, it’s investigated thoroughly. “The safety and well-being of children in the province is one of my highest priorities. The death of any child in the province absolutely rips my heart apart,” he said, adding his ministry continues to work with the advocate to improve the system.

The report lists a number of recommendations the child and youth advocate has made to the government. These recommendations include

  • adding health promotion and education of age-appropriate substance use in the K-12 curriculum and
  • ensuring that high-level policy changes are properly integrated into day-to-day casework practices.

Many of these recommendations have either not been addressed or have been dismissed before significant progress could be made.

“These numbers continue to increase and this government continues to not be transparent, not actually put forward or taking the recommendations from the advocate and putting them it into action,” said Diana Batten, NDP Opposition critic for family and children’s services. “There’s a number of them that are sitting there that are going to expire if they don’t use them. And this increasing number of children and youth dying in care isn’t going to stop until government actually takes action.”

Author of the article:

Ramin Ostad,

— With files from Lisa Johnson

Correction: This story has been updated to correct that 19 of the 81 reported children were in-care at the time of their death.