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Reports on suicide pact get it wrong: VSB Chair Bacchus

Vancouver School Board Chair Patti Bacchus is challenging some of the information made public about a suicide pact involving Aboriginal youth from Britannia Secondary School in East Vancouver.

The pact, made public last week, was discovered in late September and reportedly involved 30 mostly Aboriginal students at Britannia. Bacchus says in reality roughly six students were from Britannia, while others came from different Vancouver schools Bacchus can't identify or weren't enrolled in Vancouver schools.

"This has been a tough issue for us because we are constrained by privacy issues in many cases, so we haven't been able to put out a lot of information vacuum that some people have been filling with not necessarily accurate information," Bacchus told The Tyee this morning.

Few of the youth involved had actually discussed taking part in the pact, Bacchus says, with the rest involved in a larger conversation about it on Facebook. Britannia was notified of the pact by a concerned relative, and the school then engaged service agencies, and then the Vancouver Police Department, who Bacchus says were required under the provincial Mental Health Act to bring some youth to the BC Children's Hospital for assessment.

"It's a fairly aggressive way they have to deal with it under their requirements where they have to round up kids," she said, adding all but two were released the same afternoon.

"There had been work done between several agencies who had come up with a list of all the kids who had even been involved in the conversation, whether they were identified as being at actual risk or not, and that list was somewhere between 25 and 30 (youth) from what I understand."

In a press conference given yesterday by Aboriginal Live In Vancouver Enhancement Society (ALIVE), executive director Scott Clark told the media "there is no one on the community side to support those young people, and this is what we're calling on: an integrated strategy between the doctors, the healthcare professionals, the service organizations, community centres, to develop that strategy so that these young people and their families aren't left hanging once an event as traumatic as this happens."

But Bacchus says that isn't the case and it's frustrating for those involved with these kids that people believe no one is helping them.

"I know Scott Clark, and I know he's passionate about these issues and he's trying to do something, but it has got people upset who were part of working with these kids very sensitively, have relationships, to see that this suggestion that there was a vacuum and that they were getting no support, which isn't the case," she said, adding Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the Vancouver Police Department, the school board, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services are just some of the organizations providing support to the youth and their families.

Bacchus admits, though, that there could be better communication between service providers, saying there was some confusion over who was responsible for taking some of the youth for mental health assessments. Like Clark, Bacchus and the school board are concerned about preventing future mental health incidents in the short and long term, especially for the youth who aren't in school.

"We're interested in the report last week from the Representative for Children and Youth about how do we get to some of these deeper issues and provide more intensive support short term for the kids right now who are having challenges, but also how do we deal with the toddlers who are in pre-schools now so we don't see this 10 years down the road from now," she says.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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