The past two years have been challenging for children, youth and young adults as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. Young adults struggling with addiction have also been particularly hard hit by these events.  

Alberta’s government is responding by making significant investments to improve mental health and addiction care and help youth and young adults recover from the challenges they face. Alberta’s government is also enhancing safety planning, oversight and reporting to improve the safety of children and youth receiving intervention services.

“The death of any young person is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the families and loved ones who are grieving these losses. The pandemic has been tough for everyone, with vulnerable young people facing particularly negative impacts to their safety and well-being. We are also seeing a number of deaths related to opioid use and overdose. I am committed to working with my colleagues across government to ensure the children and youth we serve are supported in the best way possible.”

Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Children’s Services

In 2021, Minister Schulz requested an internal review of the deaths of children and youth who were in care or receiving services.

The internal report confirms mental health is a key concern for children who have been through difficult life circumstances. The report also highlights the number of addictions-related deaths that were confirmed in the latest report of the child and youth advocate.

The new action items implemented by Children’s Services include:

  • Introducing a system for early identification of infant (zero to six years) and youth (16-17 years) to let caseworkers and case teams know if a child or youth’s case plan needs extra attention. 
  • Reviewing external contracts to ensure services offered by 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.
  • Improving safety planning to require updates when major life events occur and clearly stating the roles and responsibilities of contracted agency staff or community organization staff in implementing the safety plan. As well, ensuring that all adults who have a role in a particular child’s life (like grandparents or community mentors) know their responsibilities when it comes to helping keep the child safe.
  • Implementing a new casework supervision model that will help refocus attention on child safety, improve decision-making and provide coaching and mentoring to caseworkers.
  • Continuing to work with Alberta Health to ensure mental health and addictions services along the continuum are available in a timely manner and reflect a recovery-oriented system of care. Also, increasing access to mental health supports for families across the province by providing an additional $1 million in annual funding to Family Resource Networks (FRNs).
  • Implementing changes to ensure that kinship homes are properly assessed and there is a support plan in place within five days to help the home successfully care for a child. The ministry, Delegated First Nation Agencies or contracted community agency will complete all required documentation within required timelines. 

In addition, the report identifies recent improvements that will help improve services for children, including:

  • Implementing a recovery-oriented system of addiction and mental health care in Alberta based on recommendations from the Mental Health and Addiction Advisory Council.
  • Supporting eight new spaces through the Personalized Community of Care (PCC) program for access to an intensive treatment program to youth in care with significant addiction, mental health and behavioural needs. This is a collaborative program between Children’s Services, Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and two community organizations.
  • 164 new therapeutic foster spaces are being created across the province to help provide a high level of support and stability for children with multiple challenges. These spaces are already being procured.
  • Improving access to mental health and addiction services to help youth and young adults receiving services stay safe.
  • $73.5 million in funding to renovate the provincial campus-based care facilities in Edmonton (Yellowhead Youth Centre) and Lac La Biche.
  • $15 million in new funding to create 164 new therapeutic foster spaces to ensure youth with complex trauma can receive additional support and therapy in smaller, family-based care settings.
  • $48 million was allocated in Budget 2022 to support Youth In Transition Programming, including the Transition to Adulthood Program, to make it easier for youth in government care and young adults who were previously in care transition successfully to adulthood.
  • $2.6 million in new funding for a targeted mentoring program specifically for youth and young adults who are or will be transitioning to adulthood.
  • Starting in April, kinship care families will receive $900 in funding at the time a child is placed with a family (the previous model provided reimbursement, not money up front). This will simplify the current process and help families with the unexpected costs of caring for a child. In addition, Children’s Services is replacing the current assessment model for kinship caregivers to more accurately assess whether the family member or friend is a good placement for a child who is unable to live with their parents and help identify ongoing needs for the family to care for the child.