British Columbia

Paige's story: Tragic death of aboriginal teen prompts response from B.C. government

The B.C. government has finally released its response to the Representative for Children and Youth's damning report into the death of a girl in ministry care named Paige.

B.C. government releases action plan five months after scathing report condemns ministry's handling of teen

Paige, 19, died of a drug overdose after a troubled life on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (B.C. Children's and Youth Representative)

After five months, the B.C. government released its response to the Representative for Children and Youth's damning report into the death of a girl in ministry care named Paige.

Paige, 19, died of a drug overdose after a troubled life on Vancouver's the Downtown Eastside. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's report blamed the B.C. government's "brutal and cruel approach" for her death.

The government's commitments, released on Monday — as British Columbians were focussed on the election — include a "rapid response team" that will "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 for Children and Family Development, and an awareness campaign for service providers that will remind them of their duty to report to MCFD whenever a child or youth may be at risk of harm.

"The Paige report talks about systemic issues in the Downtown Eastside, which is why a fulsome response requires engagement from partners across the health, education, justice, aboriginal and child and family-serving service sectors," said Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Children and Family Development, in a statement.

Stepanie Cadieux says that reform at the Ministry of Children and Family Development is an "ongoing" process. (CBC)

"There is a collective responsibility that needs to be reinvigorated, and the first and most important step is to bring together decision-makers who can collaborate to create solutions that might not yet exist within our system. That's part of what we are doing with our rapid response team."

Cadieux said meaningful change at the ministry is an "ongoing" process, and that she was "buoyed" that progress is being made toward that change.

According to a press release, the government is also committing to interview ministry staff about high-risk youth, clarify policies for frontline social workers and conduct several reviews of policy in B.C. and beyond.

It has also undertaken to allow case reviews in the death of any youth who was formerly in care up to the age of 20, even though young people officially leave the care system at age 19.

The government will also allow case reviews for any child or youth fatality that occurs while the young person is in the care of the director of children and families.

Representative for children and youth responds

The representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who wrote the original Paige report, gave her thoughts on the government's proposed actions during an interview with On The Coast.

"I'm very pleased that they've put out a written plan … this has been the subject of a lot of discussion behind the scenes and a lot of advocacy and pushing from my office to get issues addressed that weren't, maybe, at the highest priority," she said.

"Their report today, on the actions they have taken and will take actually go 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 dangerous situations has already improved and she's glad to see that 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.

When it comes to addressing what Turpel-Lafond called a culture of "persistent professional indifference" towards aboriginal people and youth at the Ministry, she says today's response is a good first step, but "the proof is in the pudding," and depends on future outcomes for those youth.

To hear the full interview with representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, click on the audio labelled: B.C. government responds to scathing report on death of aboriginal teen