Saskatchewan

Northern Sask. suicides top priority for new children's advocate

Tackling what is being called a suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan is the top priority of the province's new advocate for children and youth, Corey O'Soup.

Children's advocate Corey O'Soup says more mental health support needed

Corey O'Soup says raising five young children has given him insight into his new role as children's advocate. (CBC )

Tackling what is being called a suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan is the top priority of the province's new advocate for children and youth.

Corey O'Soup took over the position today. He comes into the role as northern communities are reeling after six girls, ranging in age from 10 to 14, took their own lives in less than a month.

There's a certain level of trust when you've lived the same life, when you've faced the same barriers our young people have faced.- Corey O'Soup , Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth

"We have to make sure there are enough mental health supports in communities," said O'Soup. "I would say we don't have enough mental health workers in our schools."

O'Soup said education is another priority, especially for Indigenous youth.

"I will always advocate for having more First Nations and Métis people in those key roles as educators, and also mental health workers," he said, "which is not to negate the work non-Indigenous people already do."

Fatherhood helps

As an Indigenous father of five children, 41-year-old O'Soup thinks he's well-equipped for his new job.

"There's a certain level of trust when you've lived the same life, when you've faced the same barriers our young people have faced," he said.

He added that having a similar background as some of these kids helps him to "open the door a little bit more" and "do what I need to do to keep children safe."

​​​He also thinks being a father to young children is a "bonus."

​"I do talk to them about suicide and bullying — any number of issues — to get their thoughts," he said.

Political background

During the 2009 provincial election, O'Soup ran as a Saskatchewan Party candidate in the Saskatoon Riversdale riding. But he said that doesn't mean he won't be critical of government when he needs to be.

"There's no conflict here at all. My role is for the children. My career has always focused on the children," said O'Soup. "I'm here to be non-partisan. I'm here to speak for the kids."

O'Soup has also been a teacher and has held key roles in the Ministry of Education.