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Mental health, lack of services: Sask. children’s advocate highlights challenges

The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth tabled the 2023 annual report Tuesday, highlighting challenges kids in the province are facing.

“The report highlights the current realities of young people, especially noting increases in suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, mental health and addiction issues, lack of access to services, and systemic factors that contribute to adverse outcomes,” Lisa Broda said.

The report said casework showed that there was chronic understaffing in all of the province’s child-serving ministries and that there were ongoing issues with group home care.

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It said there were roughly 59,183 Indigenous children under the age of 15 in the province and a total of 91,312 Indigenous young people under the age of 25.

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That being said, the report said at least 81 per cent of children in care in Saskatchewan are Indigenous, adding that Indigenous youth are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated compared to non-Indigenous youth.

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The number of files received by the advocate’s office saw an upward trend in 2023, which is partially attributed to increased public education around children’s rights and the services offered by the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth.

It was noted that issues related to obtaining mental health and addictions service more than doubled over the preceding year.

The report also pointed to a number of issues regarding a lack of financial supports or support terminations for people over the age of 16 in the care of the Ministry of Social Services, First Nations Child or Family Services Agencies.

It said that many of the people who contacted the advocate’s office were in crisis and were desperate for services.

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Some of the things the advocate’s office highlighted that they were informed about included families and caregivers not being able to supply basic needs for kids due to the cost of living, difficulties accessing housing, young people facing mental health issues as well as addictions, overdosing, violence within families and kids being assaulted (physically and/or sexually).

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The report discussed the advocacy work being done with provincial ministries like the ministry of corrections and ministry of social services when it comes to things like the Warrant Compliance Act and regulations, Saskatchewan Child Abuse Protocol and the Use of Preferred First Name and Pronouns by Students policy.

It also rehashed the 36 recommendations given to the Government of Saskatchewan as part of the advocate’s investigation into independent schools across the province, noting that the Ministry of Education said that it had accepted the report and needed more time to review the recommendations.

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The advocate said it is notified by the Ministries of Social Services and Corrections of when a child is critically injured or dies while in a service under their mandate. The office said it received 40 death reports and 49 critical injury reports last year.

“The nature of notifications received in 2023 indicates that struggles with mental health, problematic substance abuse and violence continues to be persistent challenges faced by young people in both systems.”

It was noted that suicide attempts and deaths by suicide accounted for the majority of those notifications received last year.

The report said that the office has dealt with unprecedented case complexities last year and are facing the reality that services for children and youth are often failing to meet their needs.

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“This is noted particularly in education, health and social services. While investments have occurred, these have not been sufficient to meet the needs and challenges young people are facing.”

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