Vision for children in care needs a higher bar

This editorial appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of the Interior News. You can download the pdf of it here.

A significant news story broke last week related to the BC Liberals’ approach to a difficult issue associated with kids in government care in B.C.

Although varying perspectives on the actual issue involved from a practice standpoint can be appreciated, the political response from the Minister was much less easy to fathom.

A joint report released by the independent Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) on the use of hotels as placements for kids-in-care revealed the actual practice was about 60 times higher than the Minister knew. The practice happens to varying levels across the province, including here in the Northwest.

The report was sparked by the death of Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who fell to his death from an Abbotsford hotel room last September. He was housed there for 49 days without adequate supervision, and contrary to Ministry policy, after his group home was shut down. At the time, Minister Cadieux said there were maybe one or two children or youth-in-care that had been placed in hotels. Turns out the number was 117 during a one-year period previous to Alex’s death.

Hotels are recognized as not being the appropriate facilities for housing vulnerable youth. That is why there is an MCFD policy on their use. But besides the shocking fact that the Minister had no idea of the prevalence of their use by her own Ministry, is the fact that the vision of her government supports the status quo. Faced with the same issue, the government of Manitoba committed to no kids-in-care being housed in hotels and has increased the number of emergency foster beds available and other more appropriate residential options.

Our government’s response to the same issue through the Minister last week was to say it was inevitable that some kids-in-care will end up with hotel stays. That may be the case, but how about starting with the vision that it is the view of the government that no child or youth in care should ever be housed in a hotel and provide policy and resources to back that up?

You get what you manage for and in this case the bar is set way too low by Minister Cadieux and the Christy Clark government.

Doug Donaldson is the British Columbia Opposition Critic for Children and Family Development, and MLA for Stikine.