Not Forgotten. How many children must die before someone takes responsibility?
In 2015, we had Paige’s story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/paige-death-government-release-report-1.3280603
In 2016, it was Nick’s story: http://globalnews.ca/news/3015820/bc-childrens-watchdog-report-on-death-of-15-year-old-nick-lang-released/
And here we are just days into the second month of 2017…and we have Alex’s story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/children-s-advocate-says-province-failed-teen-at-abbotsford-hotel-1.3968887
“On a mid-September morning in 2015, in an act of obvious desperation, an 18-year-
old Métis youth named Alex took his own life by smashing through the window of his
fourth-storey Abbotsford hotel room and plunging to the ground below.
Through an in-depth investigation into the life and death of this troubled youth, the
Representative for Children and Youth has developed an understanding of what led to
such a tragic outcome. It is hoped that this report and its recommendations will help
prevent other children and youth from experiencing a similar fate.
Alex lived a life that none of us would wish on our own children, or any child. He
experienced repeated abuse while in the care of his biological parents, both of whom
were dealing with significant mental illness. Although child welfare authorities in two
provinces were involved with Alex early on, his subsequent journey through the child
welfare system was marked by constant instability, repeated missed opportunities for
permanency, and trauma.
When a child is taken into care for his own protection, it is the responsibility of
government to fulfill the role of the “prudent parent” – to ensure that the child’s needs
are met, that he has a stable home, nurturing relationships and experiences, enough
food and suitable clothing, education, medical care and a meaningful connection to his
culture. In Alex’s case, the services he actually received fell far short of the care we expect
from any parent in British Columbia.”
“In Alex’s case, the services he actually received fell far short of the care we expect from any parent in British Columbia…”
Except that the sad reality from Alex’s report, Paige’s report and Nick Lang’s report, is that it is heartbreaking and maddeningly clear there are many other kids out there who have been and likely continue to be in the same position.
The government takes kids away from parents who do not give an adequate standard of care, yet does not apply that standard to themselves.
In reality, the ministry of children and family development has been and always will be a very difficult ministry to be tasked with because of the nature of the responsibilities. Any minister appointed to it should have a strong record in advocacy and love for children and families. And if not direct experience, then a dedicated passion to taking on that role befitting the care children deserve and families need.
We have not seen this with current minister Stephanie Cadieux. We have not seen proactive advocacy and initiatives under her tenure, we have only seen instances of reactive response to scathing reports, following tragedies that could have and should have been prevented.
Three reports in three years on the deaths of three separate youth in care and still no resignation. Only regretful responses with an apologetic air that sound alarmingly similar to her response last year… and the year before.. and…
I digress, but only a bit.
Tragically we can fully expect.. and I say this without exaggeration and with full understanding of the implication of my words… to see more kids moving into ministry care and dying in ministry care unless the government takes a multi-faceted and proactive approach to supporting and aiding both children and families. I predict most efforts in this ministry will fail without involvement and funding of related ministries as well. Let me tell you why. It is not a failure of one ministry. It is a failure across several.
As many teachers and administrators will attest to, children are falling through cracks in the system that have widened and deepened into bottomless crevasses that some youth like Paige,Nick and Alex, never get out of. I use the analogy of the crevasse and ropes to paint a visual. Parents or supports toss ropes to kids inside those crevasses, but they aren’t long enough. They need 300 feet of help…but are given 10 feet.
For the parent tossing down that 10 foot rope, watching their child slip further away, it’s a losing battle.
For the child or youth whose parents need help of their own…it’s a downward slide that often ends in suicide,overdose or jail.
My heart breaks as I write and I have had tears because I’ve met a child in my new community who is right now, sliding down into that crevasse in a big way and I would hate to see that child’s name at the front of a report one day too…an incident at school involved law enforcement and the child was expelled. Kids who knew the child were not surprised…a child who needs 300 feet of rope to save him but is given only ten..Every community has them, but most are forgotten once out of sight.
I can’t help but feel sad, angry and frustrated that we are doing this all backwards. Government reacts when a child dies…there is a lot of noise at the tragic end of these kids journeys,but little done to address where and how their journeys started. Nothing has changed!
Some of these children are born to parents with issues and challenges of their own, who are not receiving mental health or addiction treatments or supports. It makes for inadequate parental care..but help should be there and it isn’t. We know well the lack of mental health and addiction supports in many communities across BC.
Some of these children are born with mental health challenges or disorders, and end up on a wait list for diagnosis that may take years. Many don’t even get that referral until they enter the school system, at which point early interventions are nearing the end time for effectiveness. The longer one waits, the more work and harder it becomes.
The school system is so underfunded that there is very little assistance and equally long wait times for Education Ministry funded professionals to be brought into the school to assist. Often kids end up just sitting in classroom being managed, or sent home because there is no one there to assist. Toss in poverty, systematic racial discrimination, social judgements and labels…it is a recipe for failure.
Did you ever wonder what happens to those kids? We read about them in reports to government year after year.I am tired of reading these horrific reports that share similar details over and over again.
Kids who needed interventions and extensive psychological therapies and support. And clearly unless you are wealthy, families are not getting the help they need. One reader commented to me on twitter recently, why does a child have to reach a crisis point before they are given priority? They push them off again and again until they are old enough to no longer be a government ‘problem’. By that time, they are everyone’s problem.
Sadly, the answer again comes down to funding. It is just not that big of a priority. Kids in care do not have voices,so they are easy to forget about. But we must not forget.
This is not just a Ministry of Children and Family Development issue. It’s far deeper and more systematic government failure. It’s a cross ministry issue involving the ministry of education, the ministry of health and more. And even if one puts compassion and empathy aside and looks just at the financial aspect of it, it costs far less to do what it takes to ensure these kids are all getting the help they need, than to deal with the social costs that result as they age out, disconnected and desperate, resigned to a life of crime addiction and despair.
It’s almost like there is no connection between what doesn’t happen now… and what society deals with later on. Is it just me?
It just makes sense to do everything we can to identify and help these kids..and their parents.. as early as possible so we don’t have to keep seeing report after report, apology after apology, promise after promise that never gets kept.
Yet 2017 brings us yet another scathing report. More regretful statements from Minister Cadieux as government desperately tries to change the channel to avoid scrutiny. Who is responsible? A parent who acted as egregiously as this ministry has would have been charged. Will charges be laid?
What exactly does it take to get a minister to step down and resign in shame these days? I really don’t know anymore. Glen Clark stepped down over a deck.
Minister Cadieux has three high profile deaths under her watch over this ministry yet is in full campaign mode on her twitter account… which now reads @stephanie4BC
How many children must die before someone takes responsibility and does the right thing? We know what to do. The problem is that it isn’t being done.