British Columbia

Report shows 'disturbing' number of kids still in hotels, child watchdog says

The Ministry of Child and Family Development housed 25 children in hotels in the first quarter of 2016 — a number Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth, calls "disturbing."

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond renews call for complete moratorium on hotel use by MCFD staff

Alex Gervais lived in a motel and was alone and unsupervised when he fell to his death in September. He had been there for three to five months. His placement and death sparked a review of hotel use by the MCFD. (Dylan Pelley/Facebook)

The Ministry of Child and Family Development housed 25 children in hotels in the first quarter of 2016  — a number Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth, calls "disturbing."

On June 1, the MCFD reported numbers on hotel use by the province. The report showed there were 13 instances involving 25 children of a child or group of siblings being placed in a hotel.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, called the numbers of hotel stays in the June 1 report "disturbing." (CBC)

"The ministry is continuing to rely on hotel stays … which means we aren't seeing a lot of change," Turpel-Lafond said.

"My concern is, who is in those hotels? It's largely Aboriginal children staying in hotels because there aren't other placements. … The system isn't improving rapidly enough."

Report into hotels followed Gervais death

Following the death of 18-year-old Alex Gervais, who fell to his death from a fourth floor hotel window in Abbotsford in September, the MCFD and Turpel-Lafond's office launched a review into the use of hotels by ministry social workers.

The review found 117 children and youths were placed in hotels in 2015 — far above the ministry's original estimate of two —  Turpel-Lafond called for the MCFD "to reduce and eliminate the use of hotels as placements, even in emergency situations.

The province agreed with the report's findings, but said it's not realistic to implement them immediately and could not provide a timeline for when hotel stays for youth would be completely eliminated.

Turpel-Lafond says the problem is ongoing because the province refused to declare a moratorium on hotel use and instead decided to improving the tracking and monitoring of hotel use instead.

"I've said this is not appropriate, and we should declare a moratorium and have a plan in place to eliminate the use of hotels," she said. "A hotel stay is not appropriate for a child."

"This progress report ... indicates that we're just not making enough progress."

MCFD gives several reasons for hotel use

The MCFD gave several reasons for hotel use.

Those include: "removal in emergency circumstances from a home in a remote location and no local foster home was immediately available." 

In January, Stephanie Cadieux, minister of children and family development, said the province is not lacking resources, but it needs to figure out how to better handle emergency placements. (CBC)

"Large sibling group removed; no foster home immediately available to provide care for all children at once;" and "No foster home was equipped to manage the children's behaviour so specialized resources needed to be developed."

According to the ministry, eight of the placements were for one night, and the longest was for 18 days. The ministry says Turpel-Lafond's office was notified of every stay longer than three nights.

After the report into hotel use was released in January, the MCFD committed to the public reporting of hotel use every six months.

With files from Richard Zussman