Some children in the care of the province of Alberta are spending the night in homeless shelters, not group homes, CBC News has learned.
"My worker said they couldn't find me a placement," said a 17-year-old girl who is living on the street despite a court order that the provincial government take care of her.
The girl is a ward of the province and cannot be identified. She was taken from her parents as a baby and has been in government care ever since.
After she was kicked out of her group home, the only placement she was offered was at the Edmonton Youth Emergency Shelter, a place she once stayed and did not want to return to.
"A shelter should only be a one or two night thing," she said. "You shouldn't have to stay there for two weeks. "
Like most shelters, residents must leave in the morning and not return until evening.
"I want a place where I'm able to stay there and wake up in the morning and go to school and come back," she said.
The teen instead moved in with a friend.
'Causing a lot of damage to these kids'
Alberta Children and Youth Services is supposed to provide long-term stable placements that emulate a home environment, said youth court worker Mark Cherrington.
The government, in effect, is the parent of these children, many of whom have addictions, behavioural problems and mental health issues, he said.
'We've actually got kids...sleeping in the ravine and under benches at night because there is nowhere else to go, and then we're surprised when they develop criminal behaviours, when they develop addictions' —NDP MLA Rachel Notley
"What they're doing is they're just utilizing the shelter as a placement option as opposed to finding these kids foster homes and group homes and it's causing a lot of damage to these kids."
Teens in government care take up between six and 10 beds at the shelter, said associate executive director Sue Keating. Some stay for weeks, sometimes months.
"It’s not meant to be a permanent placement," said Keating. "On the other hand, are we going to close the door to a youth who otherwise would be sleeping in the ravine? No, we're not"
NDP children's services critic Rachel Notley said she’s appalled.
Short-term solution, says province
"We've actually got kids, at risk, without a home, in our city, who are sleeping in the ravine and under benches at night because there is nowhere else to go, and then we're surprised when they develop criminal behaviours, when they develop addictions, when they get involved in violent behaviour," said Notley.
"We as a society have decided to endorse a system where these kids get left outside at night and that's not acceptable."
Youth are placed in shelters for the short term only, while Alberta Children and Youth Services tries to find more permanent homes, said spokesperson John Tuckwell.
The youth are not in shelters because of shortage of space in group homes, he said.
Often youth who end up at shelters have not been able to adjust to a group home setting and live within the guidelines such as a curfew, so a simple bed for the night can work for them, said Tuckwell.Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate, Del Graff, said he will look into why any teens in government care are staying at a shelter.