This Child and Youth in Care Week is an opportunity to remember the thousands of children in communities across the province who are living in government care. They are infants, toddlers, teenagers, trying to get by in the world, often without many functional family relationships or community connections. Their resilience is awe-inspiring and the generous and caring people who work at the grassroots for their well-being are incredible.
These children and youth are doing what they can to lead healthy, productive lives but unfortunately the ‘tone from the top’ at from the Christy Clark government doesn’t lead to the change that is desperately needed to support them.
For example, it’s been more than a year since the Paige report shocked the province with the tragic story of the life and death of a young Aboriginal woman. Paige died shortly turning 19 following a life-long involvement with government care. Our courageous Independent Representative of Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, offered a roadmap to help girls and youth like Paige. The Representative’s recommendations were simple, practical and would save lives. Not a single one has been fully implemented.
Another youth in care, Alex Gervais, fell to his death from an Abottsford hotel room last fall after being kept there for months. The investigation uncovered the fact that children were routinely being kept in hotel rooms instead of being given supportive care in proper foster homes and group homes. Ten months after Alex Gervais’ death, we know that children and youth are still being housed in hotels in this province. In comparison, after similar circumstances Manitoba took seven months to act on a hotel ban and create more than 100 emergency foster care beds.
Faced with the overrepresentation that 63 per cent of children and youth in care are of Aboriginal descent, with only 5 per cent of the provincial population of Aboriginal ancestry, the B.C. Liberals decided to hire an insider to write a report which had no Aboriginal consultation, and use that as their blueprint going forward. In another astounding misstep Minister Cadieux just announced a special advisory committee to help her plan for the changes where only one of the six members is from an Aboriginal organization. It is hard to understand why the Christy Clark government can’t get something so simple as this right.
Unfortunately, what we have is a Premier whose ‘tone from the top’ is a photo-op first. Instead of addressing the core problems facing vulnerable children in B.C. the Christy Clark government lurches from crisis to crisis with Band-Aid fixes and talking points while children in care suffer.
Children and youth in care deserve better. This Child and Youth in Care Week, I hope we can turn our thoughts to the infants, toddlers, and teens who depend on all of us to stick up for them, and demand better.
Doug Donaldson is the B.C. New Democrat spokesperson for Children and Family Development and the MLA for Stikine.