January 14, 2016 - 11:27 AM
VICTORIA - British Columbia is aiming to eliminate its practice of placing vulnerable children and youth in hotels, but the children's minister isn't making any commitments about when that may happen.
"I can't commit to that today," Stephanie Cadieux said Wednesday. "I don't think that would be reasonable."
Cadieux and B.C.'s independent children's representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released a joint report that revealed the housing of youth in hotels is more widespread than originally reported.
The report resulted from a review launched after the body of 18-year-old Alex Gervais was found outside an Abbotsford, B.C., hotel last September in what is believed to have been a suicide.
The death prompted an outcry by the Opposition New Democrats and among aboriginal and social welfare agencies critical of government policy that put the teen in a hotel with minimal supervision.
After Gervais died last September, Cadieux told the provincial legislature she was not fully aware of the number of youth her ministry placed in hotels.
The report released Wednesday confirmed that 117 foster children and youth were checked into hotels from November 2014 to October 2015. Several of them stayed in hotels on more than one occasion, raising the number to 131 hotel placements.
Turpel-Lafond said the report's placement numbers are almost three times higher than the 50 her office had estimated.
"I pause to say that was higher than we were aware of on Sept. 18, 2015, when Alex Gervais died," she said.
Turpel-Lafond said ministry records of youth hotel placements prior to November 2014 were not complete because the information wasn't tracked properly.
Gervais was moved to the hotel after the group home where he'd stayed was shut down. Documents released last year also reported concerns about drugs and weapons with the company that operated several group homes that were closed.
The firm, A Community Vision for Children and Families, said in a statement last month it has a 20-year history of successfully housing B.C.'s most troubled youth. It accused the ministry of moving too quickly to terminate its contracts rather than protecting youth like Gervais who lived in the company's private homes for seven years.
Cadieux said the ministry has implemented a policy to track all hotel placements of children and youth, and she committed to providing public updates every six months.
"In the longer term, it is clear that the use of hotel placements is an indication of significant shortfalls in other available residential placements, including foster homes, emergency beds, and group homes," the report said.
"Like Manitoba, B.C. must begin an immediate process to close the service gaps and develop a clear plan to address these gaps in a timely fashion, with the ultimate goal of eliminating hotel placements entirely."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story said placement estimates came from the provincial government. In fact, the placement estimates were from Turpel-Lafond's office.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016