The mental health of young New Brunswickers was identified as a leading concern of child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock when he presented his office's annual state of the child report on Tuesday.
"The increase in youth suicide rates and the problems we are hearing in the mental health system are preoccupying me a great deal," said Lamrock.
From 2014 to 2018, the rate of suicide for young people was 19.05 per 10,000, up from 14.4 in the years 2012 to 2016. The rate of male youth dying by suicide was 29.77 per 10,000, compared with 7.85 for female youth.
Lamrock identified a learning gap in the education system as another priority. And he wants the province to create a level playing field and equal opportunities for children with disabilities, through increased support to families with disabilities.
Lamrock made several recommendations for change and better accountability in the report presented at the 11th International Summer Course on the Rights of the Child, which is being held this week at the Université de Moncton.
Among them was a call for better data-monitoring by the Department of Social Development to ensure the effectiveness of programs for children with disabilities.
"We're always going to emphasize data collection," he said. "New Brunswick has fallen way behind in this.
"If we don't measure, then people are only responsible for following the rules and not responsible for getting outcomes. We should know who's doing the best at changing children's lives and that curiosity has been lacking for too long and I think that's important."
The report also recommends the province:
Support and implement the five-year provincial strategy of the FASD Centre of Excellence to advance awareness and prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.
Review prosecutions practice in the province, highlighting the need to stop prosecuting young people with neurodevelopmental delays.
Begin the process of reviewing the new Child and Youth Well-Being Act in June 2025.
Lamrock acknowledged change won't happen overnight, but he said there are things that can be done now.
For example, he would like to see an increase in peer network programs in New Brunswick, especially after students had to do so much distance learning because of COVID-19.
"It's the little things sometimes that frustrate me the most," he said. "I get how hard systemic change is, especially when, let's face it, for ministers you're trying to direct a plane but other people are the ones who know how to fly it."
Lamrock said he is feeling optimistic after the Child and Youth Well-Being Act passed through the legislature this spring and received royal assent.
While there is still more work to be done, Lamrock said it's a good start.
"If we can keep that same spirit and look at these other policy questions, without pointing fingers but saying let's just get the policy right, let's hold the civil service accountable, then I'm hopeful," he said.