A report released today by the Representative for Children and Youth (RCY), Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, has once again exposed the lack of services available to young people struggling with mental health and addictions issues. The report Last Resort: One family’s tragic struggle to find help for their son focuses on the short, troubled life of a Métis boy who died at age 15.
“The Representative has identified the utter lack of services available to this boy and which may have contributed to his death,” says BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. “There are many other young people in our province with similar problems who are desperately seeking help. The government needs to provide the additional resources to prevent future deaths and improve the lives of these young people and their families.”
“The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) has completely failed to deal with the increasing levels of mental health and addictions issues,” said Doug Kinna, BCGEU vice president Social Information and Health – Component 6. “Unless you live in Vancouver, Victoria or Prince George, there are no services available. But even in our major centres the waiting lists for public and costly private services are very long. This is destroying families and claiming lives.”
“Unable to access mental health services and increasingly desperate for help, this boy’s parents turned to the youth justice system,” said Dean Purdy, BCGEU vice president Corrections and Sheriff Services – Component 1. “The youth justice system is not equipped to provide the help these young people need. Unfortunately, our members working in youth correctional centres are seeing increasing numbers of young offenders with mental health and addictions problems. These young people need help not incarceration.”
The representative has called on the provincial government to create, fund and maintain a comprehensive system of substance use services to help young people and their families. These services would include community based and residential treatment services. The representative also recommends a partnership with Métis leadership to develop and deliver culturally responsive services for Métis children and youth. Turpel-Lafond has also recommended the MCFD, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health work together to provide mental health and substance use supports in B.C. schools.
“The Representative’s thorough investigation, report and recommendations once again show the importance of having a strong, independent advocate who can provide critical and independent oversight of the policy and actions of the Ministry and the services available to our young people,” said Smith. “As Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonds tenure comes to an end, the government needs to act quickly to appoint her successor.”
Last October, the BCGEU released a report describing B.C.’s Aboriginal child welfare system as complex, culturally unsuitable, under-resourced, severely under-staffed, and struggling under its own complexity. The report also provided recommendations that would begin to address many of the problems in the system.