The B.C. government plans to open a new six-bed facility in Burnaby for children with complex special needs.
Children’s Minister Stephanie Cadieux made the announcement Thursday in response to a report from Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond highlighting the lack of services for vulnerable children.
“This report points to very serious gaps in the system, and it is my responsibility as minister to ensure those gaps are closed,” Cadieux said.
The report slams the government for its treatment of an aboriginal boy, who was tasered by police in Prince George nearly two years ago at the age of 11.
The ministry repeatedly placed the hearing-impaired boy in foster and residential homes that failed to meet his special needs, which include profound mental illness and developmental disabilities, the report found.
Turpel-Lafond said many of the professionals who came into contact with the young boy throughout his life were frustrated by the system’s inability to help him.
Police officers were disturbed by having to repeatedly transport the child to hospital. Emergency room physicians were traumatized at having to refuse admission and then sedate the boy so he could be sent back to a home that was unable to help him. Child and youth mental-health workers wondered whether they were doing more harm than good.
By April 2011, the boy was the only client of a for-profit home staffed by low-paid employees, including a former mill worker and a cable installer, without the expertise to handle a child with such complex needs.
He fled the home and ended up stabbing the home’s manager with a steak knife on a nearby property. He then hid in a house and was later tasered by police and taken to hospital.
Turpel-Lafond called on the ministry to move beyond traditional foster and group homes and establish a continuum of residential services for children and youth with complex needs. She also said the government needs to provide “system-wide support” for vulnerable children across the Health, Education, Justice and Children’s ministries.
Cadieux said the first step to fixing the problems will be the opening of six beds at Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre for children who face complex behavioural issues.
The facility will stabilize young people and allow them access to a clinical team that includes a psychiatrist, behavioural consultant, behavioural interventionist, education psychologist and development psychologist.
An internal ministry review identified the same gaps in the system detailed in Turpel-Lafond’s report, Cadieux said.
“That is exactly why we are moving to open a facility at Maples for kids with highly complex special needs,” she said.
Turpel-Lafond’s report also recommended that the provincial director of child welfare develop an early-warning system that flags cases in which children are moving too often, missing too much school and having their behaviour controlled by police. In addition, she said, the ministry should create a clinical unit to help residential care staff and social workers deal with children with complex needs.
“The story of this child is one that, in a compassionate society with a strong child-welfare system, should never have to be told,” the report says.
Turpel-Lafond’s report does not revisit the decision by police to taser the boy. A review by West Vancouver police concluded that the officers did not exceed their powers.
But Turpel-Lafond does criticize the ministry for failing to appoint independent legal counsel for the boy. As a result, he didn’t participate in the review, didn’t get to tell his side of the story and was given no opportunity to review the report or comment, she said.
© Copyright 2013