Province accepts watchdogs recommendations on detention of youth

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said the government accepts in principle the recommendations of the children’s watchdog to improve the Mental Health Act regarding involuntary admission of youth.

On Tuesday, Children and youth representative Jennifer Charlesworth released her report Detained: Rights of Children and Youth under the Mental Health Act. Malcolmson said the government is focused on boosting the voluntary system of care so young people can access help “before smaller problems become larger ones” and is also committed to ensuring ­appropriate care is in place in more acute situations when involuntary admissions are­necessary.

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Malcolmson cites new Foundry centres — a one-stop shop for youth to get help for physical, mental-health and addictions issues — child and youth teams in school districts, and more youth substance-use beds, as some ways in which the government is trying to improve the mental health and addictions system.

A chorus of others who supported the report called on the government to act on the report.

B.C. ombudsman Jay Chalke said the report’s call for an independent body to provide legal rights advice and advocacy to young people who are detained is similar to his 2019 report Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act which found “serious flaws” in compliance with legal safeguards for involuntary admission to psychiatric facilities in B.C.

“Despite government’s acceptance of my recommendations for rights advice two years ago, concrete implementation steps have not yet been taken,” Chalke said. He called on the government to promptly deliver on both offices’ recommendations.

Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit political executive said during the same time, 2008 to 2018, that involuntary admissions spiked, 2,500 children and youth were waitlisted for community-based services: “These statistics unfortunately are indicative of a system that is consistently failing our young people.” Casimer said the next provincial budget should reflect resources being redirected to this area.

The report said it’s not clear that children’s voices are routinely considered with regard to their detainment, treatment and discharge under the Mental Health Act.

Charlesworth said one youth described up to 20 detentions, one time being held down, ­medicated and put into a ­seclusion room. Another said she wasn’t called by name but instead referred to as “that native girl” while another youth said even though ­painting was her coping mechanism she was not allowed to paint. “That really hit me hard,” said Charlesworth. “These are ­people, we have to see them as much more than their mental health.”

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