Sask. won't reach target for Indigenous grad rates, says children's advocate

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Sask. won't reach target for Indigenous grad rates, says children's advocate

Sask. won't reach target for Indigenous grad rates, says children's advocate

Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth says he doesn't think the provincial government will reach its target of raising the graduation rate of Indigenous high school students to 65 per cent by 2020.

"If we're going up 1.4 per cent per year, I find it pretty difficult that we'll do 20 per cent in the next two years, so I would say no — and I was a part of the ministry when we set those targets and I think they were pretty ambitious," said Corey O'Soup.

He made the comments Tuesday, the same day he released his 2017 annual report. The report highlighted a lack of access to mental health services, as well as what O'Soup called unacceptably low graduation rates for Indigenous students compared to non-Indigenous ones. 

2020 goal

For years, the graduation rates among First Nations and Métis students in the province have lagged behind non-Indigenous students. 

In 2012, the provincial government ushered in a plan to grow Saskatchewan, which included a goal of closing the gap in high school graduation rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students by half by 2020.

In the 2016-17 school year, the grad rate for self-declared Indigenous students was 43.2 per cent — up from 41.9 per cent from the year before — compared to 85.4 per cent for non-Indigenous students.

The rates are for students who graduate "on time", which the province defines as within three years of starting Grade 10.

More funding needed

"I believe that education is the solution that is going to break the cycles that kids are in. We know those cycles, you know— drugs, alcohol, trauma, violence, you name it," O'Soup said Tuesday. 

He added the rates are headed in the right direction and even if that 65 per cent target is not met within the next two years, hopefully the rates will continue to improve. 

O'Soup said the biggest gap exists on First Nations and that the province should lobby Ottawa to spend more on on-reserve education. He also said the province's current spending on education isn't enough.

Minister responds

Minister of Education Gord Wyant addressed concerns around graduation rates during Tuesday's question period. He said the issuing of closing the funding gap for on-reserve students has been raised with the federal government.

Wyant also said school divisions are reporting an increase in Indigenous students graduating. 

Going forward, O'Soup wants more to be spent on the Following Their Voices initiative, which helps to build relationship between teachers and Indigenous students in the hopes of seeing more of them graduate. 

The program, piloted in 2015-16, is now in 26 schools both on and off reserve. 

6 infants die because of unsafe sleeping practices

The office keeps track of deaths of children who were in care, or who had recently received government services. 

In 2017, 18 children died, four fewer than in 2016. The ministry was also informed of a death in 2014 which it had not previously known about, bringing the total for the report to 19.

Of last year's deaths, two were by suicide. There were 11 more suicide attempts.  

Six infants under the age of one died due what the report refers to as "unsafe sleeping practices," which translates to 32 per cent of deaths reported to the children's advocate's office.

On Tuesday, O'Soup said this is mainly a result of parents who sleep with their children. 

He called the deaths "tragic and preventable." The report notes the ministries of health and social services have campaigns to educate parents not to do this. 

"Honestly, I don't know how much more we could do. It's a personal choice of a parent  when they're in their home and when they're with their child. It's just something that people have to decide not to do."