Alberta Provincial Advocate – When Adolescents Reach Out for Help

EDMONTON – The Alberta Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (OCYA) has completed two Investigative Reviews involving the deaths of two young people and is publicly releasing the results of the reviews as outlined under the Child and Youth Advocate Act. The full names of the two youth are not being released.

Donovan died by suicide when he was 17 years old while in youth justice custody. At the time, Child Intervention Services was also involved with Donovan through a Custody Agreement with Youth. He was a member of a First Nation in another province.

“Donovan’s death was tragic and highlights the importance of coordination and communication between government services and the significance of supporting attachments to the family for vulnerable youth with complex needs,” said Provincial Advocate Del Graff. “His circumstances underline the importance that relationships have for youth in custody and the requirements for child-serving agencies to ensure that contact with family is maintained.”

The second review concerns Jimmy, who was 15 years old when he died by suicide.

Jimmy asked for help from Child Intervention Services a number of times but did not receive ongoing support. This review highlights the importance of recognizing the vulnerability of at-risk adolescents who ask for help from Child Intervention Services.

“When adolescents, like Jimmy, ask for help, they need to be seen and heard and their vulnerabilities have to be acknowledged,” said Provincial Advocate Del Graff. “He tried to meet his own needs, as best as he could and reached out for help from Child Intervention Services when he saw no other options. Youth like Jimmy must be understood in the context of their life experiences and not by their presenting behaviours.”

It is critical that all of the recommendations are acted upon by government, so that the experiences of young people, their families and communities, in circumstances similar to those of Donovan and Jimmy, are improved.

The intent of an Investigative Review is not to find fault with specific individuals, but to identify and advocate for system improvements that will help enhance the overall safety and well-being of children and young people who are receiving designated services.

A copy of both Investigative Reviews and recommendations are available on our websitehttp://www.ocya.alberta.ca/adult/publications/investigative-review/.

On April 26, 2016, the OCYA released “Toward A Better Tomorrow” chronicling the suicides of seven Indigenous youth. The report and its recommendations are available here: Toward a Better Tomorrow.

The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate is an independent office of the Legislature, representing the rights, interests, and viewpoints of children and young people receiving designated government services.