Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is B.C.'s Representative For Children and Youth. Her latest report titled 'Who cares?' is critical of the province's handing of children in care with complex needs.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is B.C.'s Representative For Children and Youth. Her latest report titled 'Who cares?' is critical of the province's handing of children in care with complex needs.

B.C. urged to end ‘shadow system’ of substandard foster care

New call for government action from children's representative Turpel-Lafond

B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth has issued yet another stinging rebuke to the province for allowing substandard conditions in 31 cases where youths in care ended up critically harmed or dead.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond latest review of children in care focuses on those with complex medical, psychological or behavioural needs and paints a tragic portrait of a system she says is “in disarray” because of government’s failure to fund an adequate model.

“We’re compounding their challenges by isolating them and giving them this kind of substandard treatment,” she told reporters Wednesday.

One youth dubbed Dean came from a violent, unstable family and mentally ill mother who considered killing him, according to the new report.

He was diagnosed with various behavioural disorders and hospitalized for self-harm before entering government care and being placed in a foster home at age 15.

The foster father didn’t want his own kids exposed to Dean so the youth was kept in a separate rental home that the dad staffed with workers he met through Narcotics Anonymous or the local coffee shop, with no criminal record checks conducted.

One night worker turned out to be a sex offender who abused the boy, Turpel-Lafond said, calling it an example of a “shadow system of care” where kids who need the most attention are cast aside.

“When we put the neediest kids in these ad hoc group homes that are one-offs where someone can hire someone from the Starbucks lineup or from their Narcotics Anonymous group to care for a child, that’s not good care.”

It’s particularly troubling the province knew of that care plan and agreed to it, Turpel-Lafond added.

Of the cases reviewed, seven children were sexually assaulted, eight were physically assaulted, while others were suicidal, had drug overdoses or self-inflicted injuries. Two died.

She noted the Ministry of Children and Family Development continues to use hotels in all regions of the province to house some children in care who have not been placed elsewhere.

“You basically go to sleep in a hotel with one worker and wake up with another worker,” said Turpel-Lafond, who wants the province to disclose each time hotels are used.

“Sometimes the kids sleep overnight in the after hours office [of the ministry], which isn’t even as good as a hotel – they’re sleeping in an office.”

Her chief recommendation is the province stop putting children with complex needs in inappropriate placements and that new residential services be created that aim for a loving family-style environment, not institutionalization.

Letting at-risk kids drift toward poverty, homelessness, jail, abuse and untreated mental illness is much more costly than a comprehensive, fully funded and properly supported residential care system, she said.

She’s also urging a hybrid approach of shared guardianship that lets parents and other family continue to participate in the upbringing of a child who must be in government care.

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux issued a statement saying the review doesn’t reflect her ministry’s latest improvements, including the new six-bed Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre in Burnaby.

Cadieux called Turpel-Lafond’s proposed three-month timeline for action “unrealistic” because the ministry is tackling other priorities, including the hiring of 200 more front-line child protection staff.

Turpel-Lafond said the government has had adequate time to act – it’s been nearly two years since she issued similar recommendations after an 11-year-old boy with complex needs was tasered by police.

“I’m certainly not happy that I continue to see children in this state,” she said. “They need to get on this.”

Of B.C.’s nearly 9,000 children and teens in care, 1,300 have complex needs and nearly 900 of them are in contracted placements that often have inadequate oversight.

Who Cares? B.C. Children with Complex Medical, Psychological and Developmental Needs and their Families Des…

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Zahra Rayani-Kanji of Heart Pharmacy, Sidney Pharmacy manager James McCullough, and Naz Rayani, owner and founder of Heart Pharmacy, join sisters Becky Brigham and Judy Costanzo outside the business. Sidney Pharmacy has become the sixth Heart Pharmacy outlet in Greater Victoria after its purchase from Brigham and Costanzo. Their parents, Frances and Jim Brigham, first opened the business in 1959. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney Pharmacy changes ownership, but retains family tradition

First opened by Frances and Jim Brigham in 1959, Sidney Pharmacy is now part of Heart Pharmacy

Ronald Schinners, owner of The Cabbie in the #YYJ, opened his taxi service in the West Shore last month. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
‘One man show,’ The Cabbie in the #YYJ cultivates 45,000 followers on Instagram

New taxi company brings unusual spunk to the West Shore

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has in the past warned of Öffnungsdiskusionorgien (translated as an orgy of discussions about openings), one of one of the 1,200 words added to the German lexicon as reported by the Leibniz Institute for the German Language. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)
German lexicon grows by 1,200 words, many inspired by COVID-19 pandemic

Öffnungsdiskusionorgie (orgy of discussions about openings) among new entries

A decade into the 100-year blueprint for restoring the Bowker Creek watershed, Soren Henrich, director of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society, feels positive about the future of conservation and daylighting of the creek. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Ten years in, Greater Victoria’s 100-year Bowker Creek blueprint gets a boost

Victoria council passes several restoration recommendations

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ on Sooke Road

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Most Read