At-risk teens are dy­ing for want of greater sup­port: child ad­vo­cate

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE LAM­BERT

One In­dige­nous teenager killed him­self in a group home af­ter be­ing de­nied a call to his mother. Another com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter liv­ing on the streets, his calls for help de­nied.

Their deaths in 2015 have Al­berta’s child and youth ad­vo­cate call­ing for a greater em­pha­sis on fam­ily con­nec­tions and more will­ing­ness to pro­vide sup­ports for atrisk teens.

“When a young per­son dies by sui­cide, there are some fac­tors that come into play that are fairly pre­dictable,” Del Graff said.

Graff is­sued a re­port last year that said there was a “ter­ri­ble trend of abo­rig­i­nal youth sui­cide” in Al­berta. His re­ports Mon­day on two of those sui­cides point to sim­i­lar un­der­ly­ing prob­lems, he said.

The 17-year-old who took his own life in a group home was from another province but came to Al­berta to live with his mother, who was later found to be abus­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs.

The boy was ar­rested for steal­ing cars and served time in cus­tody. He had an eas­ier time phon­ing his mother there than he did later at the group home, where rules about con­tact were more strict, Graff wrote.

“Se­cure at­tach­ment be­tween a youth and a car­ing adult is es­sen­tial to healthy de­vel­op­ment, builds re­siliency and pro­vides a sense of

Se­cure at­tach­ment be­tween a youth and a car­ing adult is es­sen­tial to healthy de­vel­op­ment.

be­long­ing,” he said.

“(The teen) would have ben­e­fited from an in­ten­tional plan that main­tained his con­nec­tions to fam­ily.”

The sec­ond case in­volved a 15-year-old boy who had left his par­ents’ home, where he had been ex­posed to vi­o­lence and drug and al­co­hol abuse. He bounced be­tween the homes of dif­fer­ent rel­a­tives, but of­ten had nowhere to stay.

In the months be­fore his death, he re­peat­edly asked for help from Child In­ter­ven­tion Ser­vices but was de­nied. He was found dead at his sis­ter’s house.

“On­go­ing sup­port was not of­fered be­cause it was be­lieved that he had places he could stay,” Graff’s re­port said. “The Of­fice of the Child and Youth Ad­vo­cate has seen a marked in­crease in the num­ber of ado­les­cents ... who have asked Child In­ter­ven­tion Ser­vices for help and have been de­nied.

“Some com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions have in­di­cated that young peo­ple whom they work with have been de­nied ser­vices so of­ten, they have sim­ply stopped ask­ing.”

Among other rec­om­men­da­tions, Graff sug­gested the gov­ern­ment should de­velop poli­cies to bet­ter as­sess the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of teens who seek help. There should also be an ap­peal mech­a­nism spe­cific to ado­les­cents who are de­nied ser­vices and sup­ports, he said.

In his re­port last year, Graff said In­dige­nous young peo­ple are five to six times more likely to be af­fected by sui­cide than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

He pointed to the legacy of res­i­den­tial schools and the ‘60s Scoop, which saw In­dige­nous chil­dren re­moved from their homes and placed with non-In­dige­nous fam­i­lies.

Chil­dren’s Ser­vices Min­is­ter Danielle Larivee said the gov­ern­ment will act on Graff’s find­ings.

“We will take the time to look at th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions, and ex­plore what ac­tions we can take to ad­dress the chal­lenges the ad­vo­cate iden­ti­fied,” she said in a state­ment Mon­day.

JASON FRAN­SON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

In his re­port last year, Del Graff said In­dige­nous young peo­ple are five to six times more likely to be af­fected by sui­cide than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

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