Turpel-Lafond blasts ministry
By the time he was 11 years old and subdued by police with a Taser, a local boy had already undergone isolation from human contact, cold showers for bed-wetting, and was made to eat hot sauce as a punishment.
Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond yesterday issued the results of an investigation she conducted into the life of the boy leading up to the April 2011 Taser incident near Prince George, concluding the system failed him, and providing recommendations to stop a reoccurrence with another child.
“This is not the only child who has profound needs in B.C.,” she said, making several recommendations.
Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux thanked the representative for her report and has committed to accept all the recommendations within the report.
The boy’s problems basically began the day he was born.
Turpel-Lafond said the boy was left in his home until he was two years old, even though there was evidence of neglect and abuse by his birth parents. The ministry placed the boy in a home where he lived for three years, where there was more physical and emotional abuse and neglect, said Turpel-Lafond.
A good placement followed, but the foster parents needed supports which weren’t given and the boy had to move again. He was returned to his birth mother, but little had changed regarding her parenting skills, and less than a year later he was moved again.
After that the boy was placed nine more times and lived in 15 different foster or residential homes.
“This case is tragic and you can’t read the report without feeling heartbroken and, in fact, angry,” Cadieux said in a statement issued shortly after the Turpel-Lafond press conference. “It is clear from this report that decisions were made throughout this child’s life that were wrong. This report points to very serious gaps in the system and it is my responsibility as minister to ensure those gaps are closed. We are accepting all of the recommendations in the report.”
Turpel-Lafond reported the child had challenging behavioural issues but the ministry still had a duty to care for the child.
Yet all the residential placements the boy lived in since he was eight years old featured a safe room, a room locked from the outside where the boy could be isolated when he became, or was deemed to have become, aggressive.
Turpel-Lafond said the ministry had no legislative authority to permit the use of isolation, confinement or physical punishment.
Yet, she says the boy was locked in the safe room several times.
“I firmly believe this locked room was misused,” she said, adding it isn’t supposed to be used punitively.
One of the major problems all through the life of this boy is he was never placed in care in a suitable home, properly staffed and equipped to help, said Turpel-Lafond.
She made four recommendations she wants adopted so the same or worse doesn’t happen elsewhere.
1. The first is to create a comprehensive plan to develop a continuum of residential services for children and youth in B.C. with complex needs that cannot be met in traditional foster home or group home settings, and fully fund and support that plan to ensure that these vulnerable children have access to residential care to support their optimal development.
2. That the Office of the Provincial Director develop policy and standards to ensure that active oversight is in place at a senior management level in each region to provide effective accountability in planning and delivering services, including guardianship for children with complex special needs.
3. That MCFD develop an internal clinical unit to provide consultation, training and clinical support to residential care staff, social workers and policy makers who are dealing with children and youth with complex needs.
4. That MCFD immediately discontinue use of isolation and restraint as behaviour management strategies for children in residential care, and develop trauma-informed approaches, including positive and pro-social behavioural supports.
Turpel-Lafond said she is aware there is a high price involved in meeting the recommendations she has set out, but there is an even higher price in not doing so.
“I hope we decide to pay at the front to do what’s right because we will pay at the back end.”
In her release, Cadieux said many steps have already been taken to fill the gaps in the system, and she committed to further action.
“We are changing how we care for children by redesigning how we deliver foster care and group care so that the individual needs of the child are met,” the statement said. “And we are strengthening clinical support and oversight for children with highly complex needs. We are also immediately moving towards opening a new six-bed facility at the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre to meet the specific needs of children who have complex special needs.
“I am heartbroken that the system failed this child and I am committed to fixing it.”