Local News

Suicidal youths go untreated: report

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C. Representative for Children and Youth - Submitted photo
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C. Representative for Children and Youth
— image credit: Submitted photo

VICTORIA – B.C.'s child protection system has lost most of its ability to deal with severely abused, depressed and suicidal teens in provincial care, their independent advocate says.

A review of 89 cases by Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond finds common circumstances of severe problems, notably mental illness, domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, alcohol and drug abuse by young people or their parents, and running away to live on the streets.

All the cases are children who had contact with ministry social workers, in some cases from infancy. Three quarters of them were removed from their homes because their parents' behaviour was a threat to them. The study revealed that they were shuffled to different group or foster homes an average of a dozen times, with some moving as much as 30 times in three years.

Fifteen of the children in the study killed themselves, and the other 74 severely injured themselves during the study period, 2007-2010. More than half were aboriginal.

The review found that the youths, aged 12 to 19, were not assessed or treated for trauma, and caregivers are not trained to deal with mental illness or the effects of abuse.

Turpel-Lafond said in an interview that while she admires the willingness of "mom and pop" foster parents to take in abused and mentally ill children, the turnover shows they can't do the job without specialized training and a constant presence to help stabilize the teens' home and school life.

"This is a pretty horrific foster care system for kids with mental health needs, and that's something that we have to face," Turpel-Lafond said. "The government has to face down the fact that they've mostly gutted therapeutic foster care over the last decade."

Other risk factors identified in the study are learning disabilities and lack of attachment to school, and in a third of cases a "significant romantic conflict" within 24 hours before killing or injuring themselves.

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said the ministry accepts all the recommendations in the report, and is preparing a two-year action plan for mental health services that includes improved training of both social workers and foster parents.

After consultations, including aboriginal communities and agencies, the plan is to be made public by February, Cadieux said.

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