A new app launching in Saskatchewan is working to reduce the number of young people who are reported missing from government care. 

The new resource, from EGADZ, builds on their current Operation Runaway risk assessment tool which assists youth workers in engaging with and assessing the youth’s level of risk if they do not return home as scheduled. 

Don Meikle, executive director of EGADZ, said that affected youth were significantly involved in the development of the app. 

“The new app will allow us to work better with our community partners- The Ministry of Social Services, as well as the different police departments,” he stated. “We an app with the risk assessment on it, and the app was created for youth by youth. So, there's a huge youth involvement in it, so it brings it kind of back to more into a realistic perspective.” 

Meikle added that the app allows youth in the system to live a more normal life. 

“When young people looked at their risk assessment, they were quite actually offended, because the old risk assessment was more along the lines that you would see entering a prison system,” he explained “Some of the youth talked about ‘well we were taken from our families by the government, and we still want to be kids and we still want to be teenagers and we still want to have friends. Then next thing you know, if I'm an hour late, I have the police at my door, or at my friend's place and it's an embarrassment.’ 

“It's very embarrassing, and it's a real waste of police resources. The way the current policy reads is that everybody has to be called in as soon as they're late for curfew, so, it's kind of an archaic policy. As a care provider, the new app puts responsibility on us to make sure that we know about these young people, we build a trusting relationship with the people that are in our homes, and it just works for a better relationship, I believe.” 

He stated that building a trusting relationship with the youth allows them to better assess when a youth may actually be at risk. 

The app allows youth to have a direct line of communication with care providers and for police to focus on youth that may be struggling with mental health or addiction, or are under the age of 12 years old, instead of youth that are running late and are still in communication with care providers. 

Meikle added that they have been piloting the app for a while and had reduced EGADZ calls into the police by 50 per cent.  

Care providers can easily share relevant information with the police and have access to designated emails within the police department to send missing persons reports. 

He also explained that the app allows for a comprehensive file on youth that can be updated over time. The information is confidential and only relevant information is shared with police. 

“Over time as we do these risk assessments, we'll keep adding information, like family members, their addresses, and so you just keep adding to it,” he stated. “Let's say they leave the house again and they got different clothes, you can just fill that in, you don’t have to do it over and over again, all you just have to update it before you send it or update it as you're doing it.” 

Saskatoon Willowgrove MLA, Ken Cheveldayoff, praised EGADZ on behalf of Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky in a press release earlier this month. 

“I am pleased to announce we provided close to $50,000 to support the development of the Missing Youth Saskatchewan app to engage and support these youth,” he stated. “EGADZ continues to be one of the most innovative community-based organizations in all of Canada, and we are so proud to partner with them to support vulnerable youth here in Saskatoon.” 

The app will be rolled out first in Saskatoon and is expected to expand throughout the province in the following months. 

Since EGADZ implemented their risk assessment tool, the number of youths reported missing from EGADZ's My Homes has steadily declined.  

Of the nearly 1,500 risk assessments completed by EGADZ staff last year, only 235 resulted in missing person reports to Saskatoon police. 

The Ministry of Social Services provides annualized funding for EGADZ residential, street outreach and Operation Runaway programs that provide support to at-risk children and youth. 

EGADZ is a nationally and internationally recognized social innovator and won Saskatchewan's first Governor General's Award for Innovation in 2019.  

They offer several programs and services to Saskatoon's children, youth and their families to improve their quality of life, including street outreach, housing, education and employment support and parenting programming.