British Columbia

Paige's story highlights need for action on reconciliation, says activist

A community activist says improving fragmented child welfare services should be a part of putting reconciliation into action.

"For this particular young woman, literally from the time she was born, it was failure after failure."

Paige, a 19-year-old aboriginal woman who died of a drug overdose in Vancouver in 2013, was the subject of a damning report last month by B.C.'s representative for children and youth.

A community activist says the public needs to start asking what a recent report entitled "Paige's Story: Abuse, Indifference and a Young Life Discarded" means for putting reconciliation into "action".

"I can't say that we were entirely surprised by what had gone on and the outcome for this young woman because unfortunately she is one of a number of children and youth who've been put in very risky situations," said Judy McGuire, coordinator of the Inner City Safety Society.

McGuire helped organize a community meeting called Reconciliation in Action earlier this week which focused on how to address some of the issues raised in last month's report by B.C.'s Representative of Children and Youth Mary-Ellen Turpell-Lafond.

The report was a look at a 19-year-old aboriginal woman who died of a drug overdose in the Downtown Eastside in 2013. It concluded that government social service agencies failed her and that failure played a major role in why she died so young.

"When you read the report," said McGuire, "For this particular young woman, literally from the time she was born, it was failure after failure after failure."

Paige first came to the attention of B.C.'s child welfare system when she was just three months old. By the time she was 16, she'd moved 40 times.

Turpel-Lafond detailed how Paige's mother would be overdosing or doing sex work and that her child's life was chaotic. Despite 30 child protection reports Paige continued to be left in the care of her mother.

Fragmented child services a problem

In light of these revelations and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 recommendations, McGuire says improving fragmented child welfare services should be part of putting reconciliation into action.

"Reconciliation was very much about the number of children that were taken away into residential schools and how that disrupted families," said McGuire. "I think in the modern day, it resonates in two different ways."

"Part of it is the children that we see now are the children, or in some cases the grandchildren, of those ... who went to residential schools, who did not grow up in families, who grew up in very dysfunctional situations."

"The second piece is there are still an incredible number of aboriginal children that are being taken into ministry care, but they're being taken in sort of as individuals. It's not unusual to have a family where every single member in the family has a different social worker, which is bizarre, because I don't know how you plan in that way."

McGuire proposes having more integrated strategies that involve the whole family and even the whole community to ensure the well-being of aboriginal children and youth rather than focusing on single interventions.

"When we talk about reconciliation and action we say now there's a different way to do this and we have programs down here that we're running that are strategies, not single programs, that tie together all of the pieces and that's what reconciliation in action should look like — you tie the pieces together and you support everybody."

She also notes that despite the need for improvements there have been successes and it's important to acknowledge what's working as well as pointing out what isn't.

A graduation strategy aimed at getting every child in Strathcona to graduate has seen that community go from being the worst performing area within the province when it comes to graduation rates to the only one to have seen improvement.

"We've improved by 25 per cent. It's still not enough but what we're doing is we're tieing together what we have and figuring out what we don't and pulling in those pieces."

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