Edmonton

Teen's suicide report recommends changes to Alberta's child welfare system

Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate is hoping the suicide last summer of a 16-year-old boy after a life of neglect and family violence will help save the lives of children in provincial care in the future.

Alberta Child Advocate's review of 16-year-old's death first of its kind

Alberta's Child Advocate Del Graff investigated the life and suicide of a 16-year-old boy and found too much attention was paid to his mother's problems at the expense of the boy's needs. (CBC)

Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate is hoping the suicide last summer of a 16-year-old boy after a life of neglect and family violence will help save the lives of children in provincial care in the future.

Brian (a pseudonym given the teen in a review) grew up in a troubled household in a small community in rural Alberta with four younger siblings and a mother with addiction problems and prone to violent relationships.

Over time, Child Welfare was called repeatedly to intervene with the family, finally placing the children with relatives for their own safety, but early last summer the teen killed himself in the basement of his aunt's home where he was living.

In his review of the case, advocate Del Graff described Brian, a Métis boy, as shy, but intelligent with a sense of humour.

He avoided eye contact and responded with one-word answers to questions from adults and often wore his hair over his face and a hoodie over his head. 

But he also attended school and enjoyed playing guitar and video games, Graff wrote.

Graff reviewed Brian's life and the government's role in his care, the first of its kind in Alberta after the province awarded the advocate's office the power to investigate issues in the child welfare system when children die in care last year.

His 44-page report, titled "Remembering Brian: An Investigative Review," found that over the years Child Welfare paid too much attention to the mother's troubles at the expense of the childrens' needs.

"It is vital that intervention services not only address the presenting issues in a family, but also fully examine and address the impacts those issues have had on children in the family," he wrote in his review.

He also recommended caregivers be provided with specialized training and support plans tailored to meet their individual and unique needs.

The province is reviewing the recommendations and will respond within the next 30 days, said a spokesperson.

With files from CBC's Janice Johnston

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