B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Orphans of our urban drug culture neglected again

Child advocate Bernard Richard leaves B.C. with harsh message

The closure of a third group home for teenage wards of the province is likely the last assignment for Bernard Richard, B.C.’s second Representative for Children and Youth.

Less than two years into the job first held by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Richard is retiring to his native New Brunswick this summer at age 67. He is not encouraged by what he has seen in B.C.

Richard released details last week of the closure of a group home somewhere in the Lower Mainland, after a staff member shared drugs with troubled teens and even took some on drug delivery runs.

An investigation by the Provincial Director of Child Welfare in February revealed why 18 teens with no family or foster care had to be relocated once again.

“The investigation was initiated as a result of a disclosure by a youth that a staff person was gang affiliated, took youth on drug drops, had smoked marijuana with the youth, offered the youth cocaine, and took the youth out for drinks in the community,” Richard wrote in a letter to Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy.

“The investigation found only 10 of 33 staff and caregivers were cleared as risk-free by criminal record and other security-screening criteria. Nine, who had all been caring for children until the investigation, were barred permanently from further caring.”

Richard, a lawyer and former New Brunswick cabinet minister who served as that province’s first child advocate, told me he has little faith in Conroy’s assurances that auditors and inspectors are being brought in to examine the rest of B.C.’s contracted agencies.

Conroy says more staff have been brought in to do criminal record checks that were supposed to have been done, and ministry social workers are instructed to “regularly visit” teen clients to make sure they’re fed, cared for and supervised.

It reminds Richard of an earlier case he reported on, where teen Alex Gervais jumped to his death after being left on his own in a hotel room by a contract agency in Abbotsford. Gervais reported that supposed caregivers were trying to take advantage of him rather than help him.

“These are the youth, remember, who will soon age out of care,” Richard said in an interview. “They’ll end up on the street, homeless, addicted or dead.”

In many cases it was the drug culture that put these kids where they are, as their parents abused or abandoned them while wasting their own lives away. There are more than 800 B.C. children and youth in contracted residential agency homes, which means the ministry hasn’t been able to find suitable foster homes for them.

Richard said teens with behavioural and mental health issues are the ones who don’t have a home-like setting, and are the most vulnerable to drugs and street life.

They could be be helped by the government’s offer of free post-secondary tuition for former youth in care, if they could get that far. And it’s important to note that Richard acknowledges some of the contracted agencies are doing their best.

“They operate as charitable organizations, and most do pretty good work,” Richard said. “But there are some for-profits, and the three that have closed in the last three years are for-profit organizations. So they cut corners. They want to maximize their profits and so they pay low wages.”

There’s little point in blaming Conroy, or her B.C. Liberal predecessor Stephanie Cadieux for this situation. At least Richard leaves B.C. with a specific direction they can take to make things better, not worse.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

Bella Coola RCMP appeal for public’s help in wake of suspicious fires

Four suspicious fires in the span of four months prompted local RCMP to bring in fire specialist

UBCM passes historic resolution brought forth by CCRD

If the resolution is successfully realized, it will mean groundbreaking change for local governments

Municipal spending outpaces population growth 4-fold in B.C.: report

Canadian Federation of Independent Business has released its annual operational spending report

Series of suspicious fires prompt Bella Coola RCMP to bring in special investigator

Police investigate four fires set between June and Sept. in 4-Mile

B.C. parents leery of HPV cervical cancer vaccine

Provincial registration uptake among lowest in Canada

U.S. congressman issues dire warning to Canada’s NAFTA team: time is running out

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to resume talks with the U.S.

B.C. marijuana workers may face U.S. border scrutiny

Cannabis still illegal federally south of the border

New political party holds an informational session in Vernon

Maxime Bernier’s The People’s Party of Canada draws about 2o interested patrons to Vernon pub.

B.C. MLAs reminded of rural school struggles

Finance committee hears of falling enrolment, staff shortages

B.C. VIEWS: ’Not photo radar’ coming soon to high-crash areas

ICBC deficit now largely due to reckless and distracted driving

Researchers tag great white shark in Atlantic Canada

Information will be used to learn more about where white sharks move in Canadian waters

Mix-up of bodies leads to funeral home reforms in Nova Scotia

One woman was was mistakenly cremated, another was embalmed and presented to family members during a visitation that went horribly wrong

B.C. RCMP turn to Const. Scarecrow to shock speeders into slowing down

New addition will watch over drivers from a Coquitlam median for first-of-its-kind pilot in Canada

Cyclists finish North America trip to highlight Ukraine struggle

The 10,000 bike ride raised over $10,000 for victims of the war in Ukraine.

Most Read