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Alberta's child and youth advocate Del Graff, seen here on July 19, 2016, is urging greater support for young adults who have aged out of the province's child welfare system.Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s child and youth advocate is urging better support for young adults who are no longer in government care after six vulnerable people between the ages of 20 and 22 died last year.

All had support and financial assistance agreements through Alberta Children’s Services.

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

The 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.

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.

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 a lack of stable 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.

“Young people told us that supports provided under (the agreements) are often confusing, inconsistent and subject to conditions. Accessing supports is challenging due to wait-lists, funding and location of services,” the report says.

“Many emerging adults struggle to secure safe and stable housing, and there is a lack of clarity about supports and services available … Young adults fear losing support, either due to their successes or their setbacks.”

The Children’s Services Ministry website says about 2,500 young adults received services in the most recent fiscal year. It also said a 20-year-old and 23-year-old who had been receiving help died this month.

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

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.

Rakhi Pancholi, children’s services critic for the Opposition NDP, said that as of April 1 of next year, some 500 former youth in care will lose transition supports they had been counting on.

“The minister’s claim that these young people can apply for other government programs is false,” she said in a release. “There is no equivalent support.”

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

“I understand that there will be changes to SFAA legislation in the upcoming year,” he wrote.

“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.”

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