The B.C. government is facing questions after choosing election day to release its long-awaited response to a scathing report blaming the province for the tragic death of a girl in ministry care named Paige.
The 19-year-old aboriginal girl, who was legally blind, died after a childhood spent on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside exposed to constant violence and neglect.
Paige was taken to hospital or detox at least 17 times after being found unconscious or incoherent; she changed schools 16 times and was featured in more than 40 police files, mostly for public intoxication.
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But despite her contact with health care workers, police and social workers, many of the incidents went unreported to the Ministry of Children and Families.
'Brutal and cruel approach'
Paige's story became public in May, when the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, released a report damning the B.C. government's "brutal and cruel approach" to the teen while she was alive.
Five months later — at 3 p.m. PT on election day — the Ministry for Children and Family Development finally released its response, outlining a set of new commitments to tackle the problems highlighted by the report, including a "rapid response team" and case review powers.
Minister Stephanie Cadieux said the government had been looking to release their response for some time, but protocol dictated it had to brief Turpel-Lafond first.
"We were having trouble scheduling that meeting. Thankfully she was amenable to waiving that necessity, so that we could release the report," said Cadieux.
"We felt that was important, people had been waiting for it...We wanted to get the information out. Any day is a good day to continue talking about how we can do better serve kids in care."
Case reviews up to age 20 after a death
According to the press release, the government's new rapid response team aims to "allow service providers to reach out and directly address the needs and safety of the highest-risk youth in the Downtown Eastside."
The province has also undertaken a review of all young people living on the Downtown Eastside involved with the ministry, and an awareness campaign for service providers to remind them of their duty to report to MCFD whenever a young person may be at risk of harm.
In addition, if a child is in care until they are 19, and dies before they turn 20, the ministry will now review their case.
However, Cadieux said, that will not include youth who were still receiving some services from the ministry after the age of 19, but were not in care.
"It's a change in response to this report. That doesn't mean in future other things couldn't be looked at," said Cadieux.
Representative 'pleased' with plan
Commenting on election day, Turpel-Lafond said she was very pleased the ministry had put out a written plan.
"Their report... actually goes some distance towards satisfying me that this issue is being taken far more seriously than it was before the report into the tragic life of Paige was issued."
Turpel-Lafond says reporting on children in danger has already improved and she's glad to see the B.C. government is more open to the idea of secure in-patient care for children whose health is in crisis and are in need of intervention.
More action required
Meanwhile, Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the B.C. First Nations Health Council, says he thinks the plan is a good start, but it's not enough.
"There needs to be an effective collaboration and partnership," said Kelly. "We need to bring all of the agencies that are in the Downtown Eastside that work with aboriginal and First Nations children and families to close the gap.
"They need to be working closely together to coordinate their services, to make sure that children like Paige don't fall through those cracks."
Kelly also said there has been investment in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by all levels of government, but he still isn't seeing the necessary results.
"There needs to be a review of the programs, services and investments to make certain that we get the results that address the needs of vulnerable children and families ... I believe we'll find that more investment is required."