Expand supports to youth leaving care, says B.C. coroner's review of 200 deaths

Panel chairman Michael Egilson said the review found high rates of suicide and drug overdoses, and a disproportionate number of deaths among Indigenous youth.

Review found a disproportionate number of deaths among Indigenous youth

Michael Egilson is chair of the coroner's death review panel, which released a report Monday that concludes young people leaving government care in B.C. died at five times the rate of the general youth population. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

A review of 200 deaths in British Columbia among young people who were moving out of government care over a six-year period recommends expanding support services to help save lives.

The coroner's death review panel identifies four areas of focus to reduce deaths after examining issues facing young people who leave government care and attempt to live independently. The report released Monday concludes that young people leaving government care in B.C. died at five times the rate of the general youth population.

Panel chairman Michael Egilson said the review of deaths between 2011 and 2016 found high rates of suicide and drug overdoses, and a disproportionate number of deaths among Indigenous youth.

The report says 1,546 youth between the ages of 17 and 25 died from causes classified as accidental, suicide, natural, homicide or undetermined during the period of the review from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2016. Of those deaths, 200 or 13 per cent were among people who had been in some form of government care.

Many young people leaving government care show resilience and strength, but they face more challenges than many of their peers, the review says.

"They may lack a family support network, have limited or no financial resources, often lack life skills, and often have not completed school," the review states. "They may suffer from low self-esteem and be scarred by trauma associated to violence, childhood neglect and or abuse."

The report says about 4,316 children and youth are discharged from care in B.C. each year, and of those, 780 end government care at age 19. Youth in B.C. are considered adults at 19 and most leave government care.

"They leave their social worker, their youth worker, their foster family or other support persons," the report says. "For many youth, there is no longer a case manager overseeing their services. They lose access to financial, education, and social supports provided through the child welfare system."

Childrens Minister Katrine Conroy called the death review heartbreaking. (CBC )

The report says the Ministry for Children and Family Development provides extended support to some young people aged 19 to 26 who qualify for further supports, provided they are in registered education, skills or life programs.

The report makes three recommendations including better support and the monitoring of how effective services are for youth who are leaving care.

In a statement, Minister of Children Katrine Conroy called the death review heartbreaking in accepting all of the review's recommendations.

Egilson said the successful transition to adulthood for young people goes beyond the Ministry for Children and Family Development and must include Indigenous partners and the ministries of Education, Advanced Education and Health.

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