Members of the Ray-Cam Co-operative Association Board and partner organizations prepared a press statement in response to the Representative for Children and Youth’s Report “Paige’s Story: Abuse, Indifference and a Young Life Discarded.” You can read the full report here www.rcybc.ca/paige
For Immediate Release May 14, 2015
It’s Time To Care About Our Children
Today B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth has released yet another report detailing the unnecessary and tragic death of a child. Sadly, this report once again chronicles the abject failure of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and its designated agencies and service partners, to provide protection to a child in need. There is nothing new here. These findings echo many other reports previously released by the Representative’s Office: When Talk Trumps Service, Lost in the Shadows, On Their Own, to name just a few.
Today we have been provided with a full investigation of how Paige, a young person in our community, died. We are hearing of systems that failed to respond, ignored the lived reality of this child, and failed to embrace or explore the supports and options that could have provided a different outcome. This report documents that in the last years of Paige’s life these service systems dismissed attempts by relatives and community groups to change the trajectory the professionals were facilitating. Both official systems and collaborating service partners willfully ignored her downward spiral, passively documenting her descent. This failure ended with her death.
This tragedy strikes close to home. Paige was known and loved by many in this community. So for us there is anger, there is grieving, and there is horror at how this young girl’s life was lived. There is the guilt and self-questioning, wondering if we could have, should have done more.
She was a child for whom local family, residents, and organizations sought desperately and unsuccessfully to secure appropriate resources and a safety plan that would enable her to thrive. MCFD social workers and designated agencies thwarted these efforts at every turn. Despite family pleas, she was ultimately housed in the Downtown Eastside in Atira’s Imuoto Housing for Young Women. Advocates had protested that housing young women in this area was not safe. Their concerns were rejected and dismissed by the housing provider and professional supporters claiming to know better. Paige paid for that mistake with her life.
Some will try to portray Paige’s tragic death as a single instance, not evidence of systemic failure. That is not the case. For the past three years, residents and advocates from our community have been pressuring these same bureaucrats and professionals to respond to the needs of many other local young people equally at risk – youth regularly ending up in emergency wards, some near death — victims of rape, alcohol and drug abuse. A number have considered or even tried suicide; some have succeeded.
These heartbreaking circumstances have been documented and brought to the attention of the Ministry and service providers directly and through the press. We have argued clearly and forcefully that the system which is supposed to protect our children abandons those most in need. We have pleaded that they change the policies and practices which are seriously compromising the safety, well-being, and lives of these youth.
Yet after three years and numerous discussions with the leadership of the Ministry and delegated agencies, we have achieved few results and have failed to impact the system. We have been unsuccessful in attracting genuine commitment from those in charge and their service partners to undertake meaningful actions in response to the unacceptable, devastating, and ongoing harms to our youth. We have been met with defensiveness, lip-service expressions of concern, buck-passing, and little change. Our children remain at risk.
What we have is a failure to truly care.
Our experiences echo those outlined by the Representative in this report. Her conclusions are chillingly accurate. This Ministry operates by budgets and benchmarks but disregards our children. Designated agencies and community organizations chase funding opportunities with no regard for those victimized by their so-called service provision. When called to account, they justify poor outcomes by blaming those in need for their complex problems and saying they need yet more money. Funders continue to throw money at treating symptoms with little thought for the real needs of those who will use such services due to lack of other options. These children deserve our protection. They are treated as an afterthought.
Aboriginal children face particularly poor outcomes. They are streamed into an apartheid-like alternate service system set up for reasons of political correctness. In reaction to the family breakups generated by the residential school system, family reunification has become such a priority that children are kept with, or placed back with, clearly dysfunctional parents. Good intentions do not automatically translate into good care, particularly when little to no attention is paid to strengthening the capacities of the parents themselves.
The Child, Family and Community Services Act, under which the Ministry operates, clearly states that: “This Act must be interpreted and administered so that the safety and well-being of children are the paramount considerations”. What we have is a Ministry and system of vested interests in which child safety and well-being seems to be the last consideration. The Ministry’s professed good intentions are meaningless. Their actions continue to contribute to harm for our children.
We do not accept that the current system works in the best interests of our children. We do not accept that many of the designated agencies and service providers place our children’s interests ahead of their own. We reject the duplication and apartheid approach to current social service provision, procurement practices, and intervention initiatives. It is long past the time to look critically at this entire system — to start working toward collaboration, integration, and meaningful change. As Einstein is so often quoted as observing, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
We Need Change Now
The reality is that vulnerable children and youth face a combination of linked, compounding problems such as low income, social exclusion, school failure, poor housing, family breakdown, exploitation, and mental health issues (often due to past trauma). These challenges are aggravated by policies and practices that do little to meet the needs of our youth when they are most at risk. Some examples: Most services are provided 8:30 am – 4:30 pm weekdays. Only minimal support is available evenings and weekends, which is when youth tend to be in crisis and likely to be transported to hospital.
Vulnerable youth, some as young as 16, and well as youth transitioning out of Ministry care, are still being routinely housed in the Downtown Eastside, an area notorious for drug-dealing, predators, and violence.
Confidentiality is being used as pretext for not passing on critical information relating to the safety, health and security of youth/children, which only compounds the lack of program/service coordination. Youth are lost in bureaucratic silos, or just lost due to gaps in sharing information or resources.
Safe House policies, such as those demanding young people be 72 hours ‘clean’ before they will be accepted, mean that those most vulnerable do not have access when they are most susceptible to being recruited into negative activities and groups — when they are most in need of a safe place to stay.
Our most vulnerable youth are too easily and too often isolated and segregated away from mainstream institutions – streamed into separate groups and alternate schools when they begin to have difficulties, instead of supports being provided to families and regular classrooms to help them remain included. Isolation from the mainstream tends to lead to further alienation, setting these youth up for predation and recruitment by older peers.
Young people are further isolated by relative poverty and by ethnicity – even facing cost barriers to participating in recreation and other activities at public institutions such as community centres.
Unconnected and segregated single program responses are used to address the complex problems presented by children and youth, while what is required are comprehensive solutions involving collaboration among multiple strategies and organizations to achieve collective impact.
Too many of these children are being rescued by police, resuscitated by emergency responders, and stabilized by emergency personnel at local hospitals, only to be abandoned upon release – too often leaving hospital without support, supervision or follow-up. Many find their way back to the same predatory situation, with some even being readmitted to Emergency the same night due to repeat trauma, drinking, and/or drug abuse.
Even when identified and referred to appropriate mandated and contracted service providers, ineffective responses, and uncoordinated and irrelevant service styles too often result in these children continuing to remain involved in the same negative activities. Responses are not effective when services are incompatible with the help seeking patterns, and realities of the child’s behavior and environment. The lack of real, relevant interventions serves to entrench many of these children in this negative environment, increasingly under the control of violent predators or gangs – subject to ongoing exploitation. Outcomes can be horrendous. Too many of the Murdered and Missing Women were once children in care. Young people who become street-entrenched as teenagers tend to remain there for life.
The Ministry and designated agencies have one job – to safeguard our children. They have developed wonderful-sounding values and principles, manuals of good practice, and strategic plans. However actual policies and practices fall far short of exemplifying these ideals and too often actually increase risk for our youth.
It should not take years of advocacy, report after report, and children injured and dying before those responsible and working in the system stop defending the status quo and embrace change. We want and need Ministry and service agency leaders fighting to provide our children with the same attention and supports they would want for their own children.
Having core values, principles, and manuals of good practice alone will not get this job done. It will require something much bigger — it will require a change in leadership and in these systems. It will require real investment and a genuine capacity to CARE!!!!
A New Way of Working
In the October 9th 2014 Report, Not Fully Invested: A Follow-up Report on the Representative’s Past Recommendations to Help Vulnerable Children in BC, Ms. Turpel-Lafond lamented that Ministry and system leadership continued to largely ignore so many of the recommendations that would change the outcomes for children at risk. She went on to add: “Considering that the well-being of our most vulnerable children and youth is at stake, I expect more from government and I think most British Columbians do as well.”
We agree. Our children – all children — deserve our best.
There tends to be a self-protective mentality that responds to criticisms by becoming defensive and painting a problem as an aberration. This is not the case and making statements about how much workers care and what good work they do does not change the fact that this system still fails too many children in need and that Ministry and agency leadership must assume responsibility for that failure.
We are dealing with a current entrenched culture, with self-serving, alienating systems that have become more about operational ease than about providing care. Leadership remains invested in maintaining the status quo. Contracts to funded agencies are generally rolled over with little evaluation of actual outcomes and with virtually no accountability back to the people who use their services or to the community at large.
Yes, there are good workers, and it is the people in these systems who can make the difference: the person in the system who spends the extra 40 minutes to ensure that the kid on the phone needing a place to stay is safe regardless of the fact they are missing lunch break; or the nurse who doesn’t just make a referral to mental health services for a youth but takes the time to ensure they get to the appointment; the service provider who refuses to take money to house children in an area that will place them at risk; the professional who places their duty to protect children above accepting a partial, un-thought-through measure. As things stand, too often these competent, caring workers run into bureaucratic barriers that impede their efforts. In a caring system the capacity to go the extra mile would be rewarded.
The solution lies in adopting community, place-based strategies that place the child’s wellbeing at the centre of all considerations. Inconvenience must be borne by the system and the powers-that-be, not by the child. This model would be one of integrated systems as experienced by youth. It would support and uphold the rights of youth, and work to build the capacity of children and families. For children/youth and families, the model must incorporate:
Collaboration and cooperation to develop an approach that is responsive to youth in their place and time – one that is centred on the needs of the child/youth
The ability to react to (changing) child/youth needs in a continuing relationship, and to respond in a timely manner.
The system must be seen as accountable and consistent by youth/children themselves.
Ministry personnel, designated agencies, and funders must:
Build from local experience, research and strengths. Within these vulnerable communities, align a wide range of activities and partners (community, business, and service organizations) with current and new capacities to fulfill this core vision and strategy.
Measure outcomes and share learnings back into the strategy; adapt to opportunities and challenges. Deliver local (place-based) interventions with immediate impact while addressing the wider societal issues and the roots of violence.
Link to and work with influential champions to inform relevant public policy in order to ensure continuity and sustainability of these place-based responses.
When a strategy is created by community members for community members, the investment and drive is great, leading to successful outcomes. The model includes the need to collaborate with formal and informal community services in order to gather community input and gather accessible community resources that will help in making the strategy sustainable in the future. The success of this approach in producing positive outcomes for excluded children engaging in street activity lies in:
Utilizing the skill-sets of many professionals, and the existing resources in the community to ensure a holistic, ecological approach to better understand the issues affecting the youth;
Building on existing social capital. Identifying informal and formal community resources, from family members to art studios, to best understand what resources are available;
Empowering everyone involved. By having high expectations for the success of the youth, families, communities, and the professionals involved, as well as recognizing and nurturing each person’s individuality; and
Applying flexible approaches, whether this be program hours, activities offered, services accessed, or cultural contexts.
The Capacity to CARE is critical if meaningful changes are to be made. When people become personally invested in caring for our children and are supported for that capacity to care, they can make a difference to individuals, to a community, and to those around them in the system. Whether it be the perceived or real limitations and shortcomings of systems, or lack of personal resources of a neighbor, it is amazing what can be done when someone is personally invested and cares — or at least cares enough to try.
We in the community are calling on Ministry leaders and on other critical, public, taxpayer-mandated service leadership to adopt a community-accountable, place-based youth strategy and to build the Capacity to CARE throughout the system they lead — through hiring practices, through valuing those in these systems who are trying to do the right thing, and through demonstrating commitment to the well-being of young people in their practices. This capacity should be reflected in the delivery and design of relevant responses and intervention and
through place-based, collaborative, collective-impact strategic methods that see the civil society groups, residents, and families as partners.
The Representative for Children and Youth has taken a courageous step in bringing to light the many failures that led to Paige’s death. Our thoughts are with Paige’s family who fought so hard to keep her safe. This tragedy should not have happened. It is within the power of leadership from the Ministry and designated agencies to ensure such a tragedy does not happen again. We ask them to accept their responsibilities to our children and to change the culture and priorities of this system from the ground up. We commit to working with them for the betterment of all. Let Paige’s legacy be a transformation which truly places safety and wellbeing at the heart of a child-centred system.
For further information, contact:
Scott Clark, Executive Director, Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society (ALIVE)
Ernie Crey, President, North West Indigenous Council (NWIC)
Judy McGuire, Coordinator, Inner City Safety Society
Board of Directors, Ray-Cam Community Association
Kellie Carroll, Executive Director, Network of Inner City Services Society (NICCSS)