Sask. child care system saw spike in deaths during 2019, most of them Indigenous: advocate's report

The children's advocate for Saskatchewan says the province's child care system saw a spike in deaths last year, with 34 deaths recorded. The five-year average is 21 deaths per year.

34 deaths recorded in 2019; 29 of them were First Nations or Métis

There were 34 deaths recorded by the children's advocate in Saskatchewan last year, a sharp increase over the five year average of 21 deaths. The children who died had at one time been under the care of government or other social services agencies. (Novikov Alex/Shutterstock)

Saskatchewan's child care system saw a spike in the number of deaths in 2019, with 34 deaths recorded, 29 of them First Nations or Métis children, according to a report by the province's children's advocate.

Eleven of the children who died were five years old or younger. Two deaths were in children between six and 10-years-old. Nine deaths were recorded in the nine-to-15 age range and seven other deaths were in youth between 16 and 18. One death was in the 19+ age range.

"Unsafe sleeping practices have been a persistent concern for our office over the years and we are continuing to follow the issue and explore best practices for prevention in other jurisdictions," reads the annual report from advocate Lisa Broda's office.

"Another ongoing issue we see is the risk to young people related to suicide and self-harm."

The five-year average number of deaths in the province's child care system is 21 per year, according to the report. 

Seven of the 34 deaths in 2019 — five girls and two boys — were recorded as a suicide. Twelve instances of attempted suicide or self-harm were recorded as resulting in critical injury for youth in care. 

Two deaths have been recorded as homicides, with charges laid.

Ten of the deaths do not have a cause yet. The cause of death in two of the cases was undetermined.

In cases where a cause of death has not yet been revealed, it is because the coroner's reports were not concluded by the time of the publication, according to the advocate's report.

The remainder of the deaths were caused by fire, vehicle crashes, illness, complications from birth, accidental asphyxiation, CO2 poisoning and an overdose of methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Four youths were injured with a knife or blade of some sort. Two were injured in shootings. Three were physically assaulted and another three sexually assaulted.

One injury may be non-accidental or a result of child abuse.

Children's parents contacting advocate more often, report says

The office of the children's advocate receives about 1,500 calls per year. Most of the time, it's a parent of the child who has contacted the office.

It says 65 per cent of the calls were about the Ministry of Social Services and nearly half of those calls were about case planning and management issues.

The office of the children's advocate gathers and monitors data on the province's child care system as part of its duties to identify trends and gaps to address within the overall child care system.