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Comment: Report shows we failed First Nations girl

The heartbreaking story of a First Nations girl who was failed by our government was revealed in a report from the independent representative for children and youth last week.

The heartbreaking story of a First Nations girl who was failed by our government was revealed in a report from the independent representative for children and youth last week.

The report, Lost in the Shadows, details the life and death of a young First Nations girl. This girl’s mother suffered from severe mental illness that led her to threaten the girl’s life and act violently toward her.

This girl did her best to ask for help. She repeatedly called the police. She spoke to doctors, social workers, teachers — searching for adults who would offer her stability and support — yet despite her repeated attempts to reach out, she was left to struggle alone. Eventually, the weight of these issues led this girl to take her life. She was only 14.

We failed this child. Worse, we are failing children like her all across the province today.

This report from the representative for children and youth is just the latest in a stack of reports outlining the tragic lives of children who relied on the government to be their family and protect them. In each and every one of them, the government failed to offer these children the protection, support and services they needed.

Each time one of these reports comes out, the B.C. Liberal government says it accepts all the recommendations made. It offers platitudes about the importance of these children, the importance of their lives and the important lessons the government has learned from their suffering. Yet little changes.

Reports from years ago sit collecting dust, their recommendations forgotten.

When Christy Clark first became premier, she brought in Family Day and pledged to put “families first” — yet she puts children in her government’s care last. These children, who are depending on Clark’s government to help and protect them, are treated like costs, not like kids.

Even though short-staffing at the local ministry office was one of the major factors that led to this child’s death, the Minister of Children and Family Development confirmed that this office remains short-staffed today, three years after this girl died.

Children are vulnerable. They depend on and look up to their families for love, support and protection. Even the most headstrong and independent child still needs caring adults in their life who can help them navigate life’s difficulties, big or small.

Unfortunately, as this story shows, not every child has a family that is capable of providing them with all the support and protection they need to survive and thrive. When families are unable to ensure that their children are safe and supported, other adults need to step in and keep children safe.

That is the core role of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, to make sure that children are not left alone, struggling and suffering.

For children whose families can’t meet their needs, the government, the ministry and the adults who work for and represent them need to step in and be part of the family, by offering services, support, care and attention. That means treating these children with the tenderness, care and respect they would offer their own children.

Offering care and support to the province’s most troubled children is a big responsibility, and it’s a responsibility Clark is failing to meet.

I hope this Family Day, the premier, the minister and members of the B.C. Liberal government took the time to read about the tragic life and death of this little girl, and pledge to truly do better for the province’s children.

Governing is about priorities.

It is long past time that this government made children a priority. That means taking real action, with real resources to provide support to children in need. Words are not enough.


Carole James is Opposition critic for Children and Family Development.