The Ministry of Children and Family Services is in the news again. Every few weeks another story breaks. This time MCFD's regrettable connection may relate to legislation as opposed to case management. The case? Danny Francis. 18 years old. Dead. By his own hand. That is enough to grab our attention. Now consider that three other teenage children also committed suicide within past months, and each one was a ward of the system. The occasioning factor of their suicides? A couple of them were ageing out of Ministry care. These have received government care, foster parenting or financial support, benefits … and with the changing of a calendar date, it's gone. Now they are gone. The desperation of these young people has to be the subject of an official inquiry of course, but a few people with a salary will have to make policy and legislation that better equips children in the CPS system so they are not overcome by loneliness and hopelessness.
There is so much more to each of these four youths' stories. Will reviews ever care enough?
Carley Fraser took her life just hours after she aged out of ministry care; Nick Lang, 15, killed himself while in care in June and Alex Gervais jumped from his fourth floor hotel room in September. These are heartbreaking stories.
Twenty hours after her birthday in 2014, in a moment of despair, Carley threw herself off the Lions Gate Bridge. Her body was never found. She had been in government care for the last four years of her life and now she had lost the foster care supports that helped her battle years of mental illness and addiction. Think of this. At age 15 she was using drugs, could not cope with her mother's erratic life, depression and panic attacks and Carley attempted suicide. Her mom, thinking that her daughter would receive help and support, signed a voluntary care agreement with the Ministry to place Carly in the Southside Group Home in Burnaby, To MCFD she had seemed resistant to their involvement so they let her choose her own way.
Nick Lange died in June. His case is different from the other three. Nick Lang's last year was deeply troubled. His parents Peter Lang and Linda Tenpas had noticed that their 15-year-old son's behaviour and appearance were changing in January. They thought they caught his addiction early enough. He was using meth. They placed him in a government funded MCFD drug rehab, staying with a host family in Campbell River and attending a day program. He died six days after starting the program.
Alex Gervais' life ended at age 18. He was in the Super 8 hotel in Abbotsford, a 4th floor room, fell or jumped. Your guess is as good as mine, since Christy Clark said there will be no inquiry. He was alone and unsupervised. Listen this was a young man who had been moved 16 times within the BC foster system and was being housed in a hotel. Think of that for a meaningful mentoring program. Thirty to fifty young people are put in hotels, technically for no more than five days but Alex was there for three to five months. Before the hotel, he was in a group home that was shut down after the young people living there complained directly to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth. "The house was condemned, it was covered in mold," Turpel-Lafond told CBC. "There was no food, there were caregivers with criminal records who hadn't been screened, there was inappropriate, abusive language. The young people were really in a lot of distress." Ah, there's so much more to this story too. Who will ever learn it and tell it.
Danny's case was managed by ministry-contracted social workers with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council's USMA Family and Child Services. He was living independently in a Port Alberni apartment using the government's $425 a month for rent and food and $50 for clothing and incidentals. He was likely in an altered state of awareness because he was drinking. He wanted to see siblings and other members of his family. Apparently, USMA was not making that happen. His father had not seen him since the boy's birth and none of the father's recent appeals were granted. So much needs to be asked and answered.
In 2014 the Vancouver Sun ran a series of articles describing the challenges youth face when leaving care. Foster kids lose their social workers and financial payments on their 19th birthdays, leading to high rates of homelessness, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse and incarceration as most struggle to navigate the complicated adult welfare system.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, has been urging government to extend foster care for 19-year-olds and also improve supports for those aging out of care. The wheels turn more slowly than a child's maturation.
From the Vancouver Sun archives