Child and Youth advocate Del Graff speaks to media in Edmonton, Alta., on July 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

More support needed for young adults no longer in government care, Alberta watchdog says

Advocate Del Graff releases report about six people who aged out of the system, but died last year

Alberta’s child and youth advocate is urging better support for young adults who are no longer in government care.

A report released on Monday outlines the cases of six people between 20 and 22 who died within nine months last year.

All had what are known as support and financial assistance agreements through Alberta Children’s Services.

Such agreements are meant to help with living expenses, accommodation, training, education and medical coverage for people between 18 and 24 who had been in government care.

Advocate Del Graff is recommending improved policy and practice guidelines, along with training and time for staff to support young adults.

He also recommends that Children’s Services clearly outlines available support and that adequate and safe housing options be provided.

“Supporting young people as they enter adulthood is essential because this developmental stage lays the foundation for the rest of their lives,” Graff said in a release Monday.

Three of the young people profiled in the report died of drug poisoning, one by suicide, one in a car accident and the sixth from an unspecified cause. The report describes struggles with trauma, mental health and with finding housing. Four of the six are identified as Indigenous.

Graff writes that over the nine-month period when the six died, 102 more young people contacted his office with issues related to their assistance agreements. The most common problems were inadequate support and services followed by financial aid that had been reduced or denied.

Alberta’s United Conservative government said recently it intends to lower the maximum age for assistance agreements from 24 to 22.

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz told the legislature earlier this month that there was a “natural drop-off” in the number of program users once recipients turn 22.

“These cases are often extremely complex. It’s also clear that many of these young adults should be transitioned to begin lifelong support services and mentoring relationships rather than continuing in the child intervention space,” she said.

“My ministry will continue to support young adults as they transition from children in protection into adulthood.”

READ MORE: Canadian young people not employed or in school face poorer mental, physical health

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley responded that she’s heard from child-support workers and from young people that the change would lead to homelessness and even suicide.

“This cruel and heartless decision is traumatizing an already traumatized group of people, and you should be ashamed,” she said in the legislature.

Graff briefly mentioned the government’s intention in his report.

“I understand that there will be changes to (support and financial assistance agreements) legislation in the upcoming year,” he wrote.

“Effective support is critical for young people as they move through transitions in early adulthood. I expect that my recommendations in this report, along with relevant recommendations made in other reports, will be acted on to improve services for Alberta’s young adults.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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