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Child Advocate calls on province to take 'meaningful action'

Alberta’s Child Advocate is calling on the province to take “swift, decisive and meaningful action” after conducting an investigation into the death of a 15-year-old aboriginal boy in government care.

Del Graff calls for action after investigating suicide of a 15-year-old aboriginal boy

In his latest investigation, Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff says change needs to happen. (CBC)

Alberta’s Child Advocate is calling on the province to take “swift, decisive and meaningful action” after conducting an investigation into the death of a 15-year-old aboriginal boy in government care.

The boy — referred to in the report by Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff as “Tony” — was found unresponsive in 2012, hanging in the playground beside his group home. He died in hospital two days later.

“Although attempts were made to keep Tony connected to his family, and his First Nation community, it was not enough,” Graff wrote. 

Graff made three recommendations in his report, including that the Ministry of Human Services require a suicide risk inventory be completed for all young people in its care — at all times, and not just at the point of crisis.

"It is the only way that change will happen.”

‘Always smiling and joking’

Tony first entered government care when he was 10-years-old.

“Many remembered him as a ‘cute kid’ who was always smiling and joking,” the report said. “He loved sports, rap music, drawing and camping in the bush.”

The boy suffered from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Although he experienced academic delays, the report said younger children looked up to him. He was even the president of the student council in junior high school.

Over his five years in care, he was moved 13 times and had eight different caseworkers. The report says he tried to harm himself at least four times and that “it was apparent that his intent was getting stronger.”

When he was 13-years-old, Tony was placed closer to his home community so he could have more contact with his family. However, the report says that within two weeks he had damaged property, left without permission and threatened staff.

At age 14, his grandfather — with whom Tony lived with before being placed in government care — was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Tony began running away from the home shortly after. A week after he turned 15, he assaulted a staff member. He was arrested and held in custody overnight.

Tony was last seen leaving the group home with a shoelace in hand after an argument with his girlfriend. He was found hanging in the playground shortly after.

'Intervention system must change'

Graff’s investigation found there are systemic issues hampering the child intervention process.

“Tony’s experiences and his death by suicide contains a clear and compelling message that the child intervention system must change,” Graff wrote. “There are other young people like Tony. We must not wait any longer.”

The report said the government must ensure aboriginal children in care maintain relationships with their families. In this case, Graff said Tony did better in placements that "connected him to his culture and shared traditional teachings with him." 

Graff also said that while Tony had made several improvements throughout his time in government care, the gains could have continued if information had been shared between care providers. 

"A direct dialogue between a child's previous and future caregivers would enable those who are going to care for a child to benefit from the insights and experiences of those familiar with the child," Graff wrote. 

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