Youth's injuries prompt B.C. children's watchdog to call for 'secure care' law | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Youth's injuries prompt B.C. children's watchdog to call for 'secure care' law

May 06, 2016 - 6:24 AM

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's representative for children and youth is calling on the province to urgently consider a law allowing youth to be involuntarily placed in a facility for their own short-term safety.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond made the recommendation Thursday in a special report looking at the case of one youth in the child-welfare system who experienced several incidents of critical injuries and one near-fatal event.

Turpel-Lafond has withheld many of the details about the youth in the public version of the report, an unprecedented step that she says was necessary to protect the vulnerable youth.

"The inability to release a report because a young person's situation is so tenuous and fraught with danger is itself an indictment of that system," she says in the document.

In the special report, "Approach with Caution: Why the Story of One Vulnerable B.C. Youth Can't be Told," she says she received a total of 21 reportable incidents involving the youth between June 2011 and May 2016. Of multiple critical-injury reports, one in spring 2012 detailed a nearly-fatal episode of high-risk behaviour.

She draws parallels between the youth and Paige, a 19-year-old whose drug overdose death Turpel-Lafond blamed on "professional indifference" by social workers toward aboriginal teens.

In both cases, she says professionals significantly underestimated the risk posed to young children living in volatile households, and ministry intervention only came after each had experienced "enormous trauma" that would go unaddressed.

Unlike Paige, the youth had periods of incarceration, which Turpel-Lafond says was done not as a punishment but to remove the person from risky situations.

"The youth justice system was used as a substitute for social services, something that is prohibited by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but is nonetheless sometimes still used in practice to prevent life-threatening situations when no services are available."

She says seven other provinces have so-called secure care laws that allow for the involuntary placement of youth in a facility to address mental-health challenges and substance abuse, while protecting their safety.

Turpel-Lafond also criticizes the government for its response to the recommendations of her report on Paige released a year ago.

After the report, the ministry began a review of the files and safety plans for children and youth in care in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Ultimately 111 children and youth were identified, of which 48 per cent were aboriginal and 64 per cent were female, she says.

However, Turpel-Lafond says the work done to profile this vulnerable group hasn't translated into action. A rapid-response team in the Downtown Eastside launched by the ministry largely consists of individuals who were already meeting jointly, she says.

"The 'team' appears to be meeting but, with no new resources on the ground, and no new youth approach to help them, progress is minimal at best."

Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux says the rapid-response team has developed safety plans for the youth in the Downtown Eastside. A detailed file review of the toughest 110 cases has been completed and analyzed, she says.

"The ministry knows what steps must be taken and will be taken. I will have more to say on enhanced services for high-risk youth on the DTES in the coming days," she says in a statement.

As for secure care, a ministry spokesman says it is widely agreed that voluntary services, such as detox, residential treatment and mental-health counselling, are the most effective means of addressing addiction issues.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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