“Professional indifference” led to aboriginal teen’s death in Downtown Eastside, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says

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      “Professional indifference” on the part of child welfare services contributed directly to the death of a teenager in the Downtown Eastside in 2013, says a new report by B.C.’s representative of children and youth.

      The scathing report is called Paige’s Story: Abuse, indifference, and a young life discarded, and outlines the circumstances that lead to the death of an aboriginal girl named Paige, who was just 19 when she died of a drug overdose near Oppenheimer Park.

      “The system and those who work in it failed as a whole in their duty to care for and protect her,” reads the report, which also describes the hardships that Paige endured throughout her life.

      According to the report, Paige’s mother suffered with addiction and substance abuse issues and was also abusive towards her daughter.

      The pair moved around the province over 40 times before ending up in the DTES, and lived in what Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, representative of children and youth in B.C., described as destitution.

      “Not surprisingly with Paige’s experience she developed serious drug abuse problems of her own, just as her mother had done before her,” said Turpel-Lafond at a press conference in which the report was released.

      These conditions were known to child welfare services, and despite more than 30 child protection reports, and many trips to hospitals, detox centers, and jail cells, social workers failed to permanently separate Paige from her abusive mother.

      “Nobody did enough to help her,” said Turpel-Lapont, adding that between 100 and 150 other children are currently living in situations similar to Paige’s.

      According to the representative of children and youth, many of those kids are aboriginal girls who will suffer a similar fate to Paige unless the child welfare system undergoes serious changes.

      “It’s reasonable to say that the professional indifference that plagued her life, that prevented her from receiving a minimal standard of child protection, a minimal standard of health care, even a minimal standard of education services must be the product of a system that has effectively discounted the value of girls like her.”

      Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the B.C. First Nations Health Council, echoed this thought. Holding a traditional commitment stick, he said he was dedicated to preventing another death like Paige’s.

      “There are 150 young boys and girls just like Paige struggling to survive in the DTES,” Grand Chief Kelly said. “The Ministry of Children and Family Development, Vancouver Health Authority, the schooling system are all failing those boys and girls. We need to transform those systems to make sure they look after these children.”

      Kelly also said he was committed to fulfilling the recommendations put forth by the new report.

      These recommendations call for a deeper cooperation between neighborhood groups in the DTES, First Nations service providers, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which was especially criticized by Turpel-Lafond.

      Turpel-Lafond’s biggest criticism of the MCFD was that throughout Paige’s life, the ministry failed to adequately address the unacceptable living situation she was in.  

      “They believed she was better off living in an SRO, or in a shelter, with a mother who in fact Paige had to actively care for, instead of the other way around,” Turpel-Lafond said, adding that it was incomprehensible that the “MCFD did not take stronger action to find Paige a safe and permanent home.”

      Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux responded to the report just minutes after it was released.

      “Like anyone who has read this report, I was horrified by the incredible hardships this young woman endured during her life and by the tragic nature of her death,” Cadiuex said in a press release.

      She added that the Ministry would create “a rapid-response team model for youth on the Downtown Eastside” that would help address cases like Paige’s in which children ended up living in “areas that nobody deems fit for a child or teen to live in.”

      Peter Mothe is a practicum student at the Georgia Straight and a graduate student at UBC's school of journalism. You can follow him on Twitter.



      Institutional Racism

      May 14, 2015 at 5:48pm

      It's institutional racism because a group is deemed less than others by some.

      Both the Social workers involved and the government should be held to account by our Courts but they won't and no doubt no one will be fired.

      Critical of Report

      May 15, 2015 at 8:51am

      I'm a line child welfare social worker. God knows MCFD, like all powerful institutions, is in need of criticism, it could help reform the institution and improve it. However, the reports generated by the office of the rep of child and youth in BC are very limited in the scope of their criticism. Inevitably the reports revert to individual failure as the root cause of tragedies. The highest level macro-analysis the reports engage in is intra-ministerial or intra-agency criticism (e.g. the Income Assistance worker didn't speak with the Mental Health worker who didn't speak with the MCFD social worker etc). The reports rigorously avoid any sort of contextualization which would see these tragedies as what they are symptoms of huge societal problems, rooted in cut backs to education, systemic avoidance of dealing with the affects of colonialism on native peoples, lack of housing, and cruel levels of income assistance (among many other problems). Therefore, the Rep's reports lack an honest perspective, they are simplistic and superficial.


      May 15, 2015 at 5:25pm

      As a former cp worker with MCFD I agree with the comments above. The Rep presents the case as a systemic failure but it is much much more, as the current CW worker explains. There are broad societal factors at work that crreate the context., govt austerity not the least which has virtually eliminated nearly all resources. The cases the Rep reviews are the worst. It is dishonest to leave the unspoken inference that they are typical. I know social workers who have saved lives, but their work will never be known.

      Sharon H.

      May 15, 2015 at 5:43pm

      I would agree with both to a point. In my dealing with MCFD personally and knowing others I have found that there are workers who are sincere and those who seem to be there just for a paycheck or some other ulterior motive and it also depends large on which institution you use as there have been first nation communities that have opted out of the ministry and have joined with native child care groups who seem to be haphazardly put together mostly and have no leadership or direction. At times even MCFD seems to go that route also so I guess it depends on who is at the helm, their directives received from above and the front line worker.
      Personally I feel that any organization that deals with families/children need a watch dog and be accountable for their actions.
      I was told that 'although MCFD was found to be in the wrong the ruling could not go against them as they would lose integrity with the public.'
      In other words, they are above the law regardless of the homes and people they ruin.


      May 16, 2015 at 6:45am

      It is a sad and unfortunate story. I believe that an already stretched system is doing whatever they can to help those children. However, what we are missing in this story is the fact that Paige is not a child...she was 19 and therefore an adult, sadly her poor choices in how she lived her life ended it.

      The other thing the Child & Youth Rep avoids...

      May 16, 2015 at 8:25am

      The worker above identifies the C & Y Rep's avoidance of social analysis, but more glaring is the Rep's avoidance of systemic analysis of MCFD itself. What can you say about an organization that spends more money on computers than the children and families it is supposed to help? What can you say about an organization that has a huge disproportion of executives, middle managers, and worker oversight positions in relation to actual service providers? Why does MCFD waste taxpayer money paying for some of the most the expensive real estate in the city (e.g. Vancouver headquarters are in the ugly black tower at W. Georgia and Granville), rather than renting more modest quarters, thus saving money for services to families (and taxpayers). The Rep avoids all this. The Rep is part of the problem. The Rep is a dishonest critic.