11/25/2016 13:40 EST | Updated 11/26/2017 00:12 EST

Saskatchewan children's advocate speaks out about staff shortages in North

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth says he is worried about vacant front-line social service positions in northern communities.

Corey O'Soup says it is troubling, especially in light of the suicides last month of six girls in the region.

He says professionals in the north are overwhelmed by the situation.

O'Soup says sending people to northern communities to temporarily fill positions helps, but the government should come up with a long-term solution.

The province imposed a hiring freeze on Tuesday due to its growing deficit deficit, but says the freeze does not apply to front-line positions such as social workers.

O'Soup says the safety of children is compromised when there are too few staff.

"We certainly hope that the government considers these important positions to be essential given the impact of their work in the region," he said Friday in a release.

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union has said the Ministry of Social Services has identified more than 30 vacant positions in its northern service area this month.

Union president Bob Bymoen has said social workers on the job are not getting enough support and are struggling to manage high caseloads.