“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.”