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BC Gov't Plan to Improve Child Services 'Huge': Watchdog

Ministry responds to scathing report on death of 19-year-old Paige.

Katie Hyslop 20 Oct 2015TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop reports on child and youth issues for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter.

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Paige Gauchier was a young indigenous woman who died at 19 in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

In what British Columbia's children and youth watchdog is calling a "huge move," the provincial children's ministry released its plan yesterday for preventing vulnerable youth in its care from falling through the service cracks.

The plan addresses B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's May 14 report on the life and death of 19-year old Paige Gauchier, a First Nations woman who died of a drug overdose in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2013 after spending her entire life in and out of ministry care.

Turpel-Lafond's report concluded all service agencies that touched Paige's life, including social workers, educators, police, and healthcare providers, had failed in their duty to protect the young woman.

But while acknowledging the timing of the release of the government's response -- 3 p.m. on Canada's election day -- was less than desirable, Turpel-Lafond said she is pleased that after five months of advocating for her report's recommendations, the government has accepted them and laid out an implementation plan.

"This has been a very tense period, certainly between my office and the ministry," she said, adding her office has been in contact with the ministry about the plan every workday since her report was released.

"Today, I'm very much giving them a shout out for recognizing something that was a very hard truth for them to accept, which was that the [child protection] model was not working and that kids were not being served."

All six recommendations accepted

To prevent situations like Paige's from occurring again, Turpel-Lafond's report put forth six recommendations for the ministry to adopt, both on its own and in collaboration with other ministries and local governments.

The B.C. government yesterday accepted all six recommendations, and its report outlined steps it has taken, and still plans to take, to implement them. While the recommendations and the government's response to them put extra emphasis on vulnerable children and youth living in the Downtown Eastside, youth in care across the province will benefit from the changes.

The recommendations included reviewing the cases of all vulnerable youth living in the Downtown Eastside, holding service providers accountable for keeping kids safe, and creating a new "secure care" system that allows the ministry to take youth with complex needs -- like addiction, mental health issues, and trauma -- who are living in dangerous situations into long-term care that focuses on "re-stabilizing" them.

"Secure care provides highly specialized treatment that can return the child to a more functional state, understanding the role that addiction plays and trauma plays," said Turpel-Lafond, adding she has been advocating for this service since 2011.

While the watchdog's report focused specifically on the Downtown Eastside, where Paige spent the last three years of her life, Turpel-Lafond said that at any given time she knows of 100 B.C. youth in the same situation who would benefit from secure care.

"There is a little bit of a funnel [for vulnerable youth] to the Downtown Eastside," Turpel-Lafond said, "because it is an area where there is limited policing of problematic addictions, and even though there are supposed to be services, they're not youth-focused and they're not really preventative."

Gov't to review deaths of 'aged-out' youth

The children and youth ministry has also agreed to review the deaths of youth up to age 20 who have aged out of care. Minister Stephanie Cadieux was not available to discuss today's report, so it is unclear if this will apply to recent cases. Turpel-Lafond said she has been advocating for the ministry to look into the death of Carly Fraser, who jumped off the Lions Gate Bridge on her 19th birthday last December.

The government has already begun implementing Turpel-Lafond's recommendations, including establishing a Rapid Response Team to track at-risk Downtown Eastside youth. But there is still a lot of work to do to beef up youth services province-wide, and to ensure service providers are held accountable for their safety, the watchdog said.

Turpel-Lafound said her office would track the government's implementation of the plan, and watch whether it meets its promises.

"It's got to be more than just words; it's got to be touching [vulnerable youth's] lives in a direct way," she said. "My office will be monitoring that very carefully."

Minister Cadieux is scheduled to hold a media phone conference at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to address the report.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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