British Columbia

B.C.'s child advocate calls for complete ban of hotel use for children in care

A new report has found 117 children in the province's care have been placed in hotels over the course of the year.

New report finds 117 children in provincial care were placed in hotels over the course of a year

Metis teen Alex Gervais died after he jumped from the open window of a hotel in Abbotsford while in xyolhemeylh's care. (Dylan Pelley/Facebook)

B.C.'s representative for children and youth is calling for a "complete ban and prohibition" of the province's practice of using hotels for children that are in its care.

"I want to see the use of hotels as placements for children and youth completely eliminated," Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Wednesday. 

Her comments follow the release of a a joint report between the government and her office that found a total of 117 children in the province's care have been placed in hotels over the course of the year. 

It's a far cry from the original estimate of only two youths the ministry provided in September after the death last year of 18-year-old Alex Gervais who fell or jumped from of a hotel window while in government care. 

Even Turpel-Lafond was surprised by the numbers, which she says are more than double what she expected.

"My best assessment .... was approximately 50 children," she said. 

After Gervais's death, Turpel-Lafond said the ministry had "a lot to answer for," and demanded to know why the depressed First Nations youth was not in the care of a foster family or group home. She estimates he spent more than 100 days in hotels during his time in provincial care.

Children and Families Minister Stephanie Cadieux said her ministry is looking into why Gervais was staying in a hotel for such an extended period of time. If it does not report back by March the representative could open her own inquiry. 

Average hotel stay 2.7 nights

Although the 117 children represented only two per cent of the children in the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Services' care between November 2014 and October 2015, the report was not able able to provide more historical figures or look at the number of children staying in shelters, SROs or other types of placements. 

The vast majority of hotel placements occurred after children and youth were taken into care unexpectedly, or after an existing placement for a child or youth broke down, according to the report. Most hotel placements were made during evening and weekend hours.

The report also found that some of those children were placed in hotels more than once. Nine children stayed at a hotel twice, another three times while a fourth was placed at a hotel four times. 

While 55 per cent of those placements were for one night, the average hotel stay was 2.7 nights. The longest stay, however, was 49 days. 

"Hotels are not appropriate living arrangements for children in care. Children in care may only be placed in hotels in exceptional circumstances for short durations approved by a designated director when no other appropriate resource is available," the report said. 

Opposition leader John Horgan said "it's absolutely shocking" that the ministry did not have a handle on the number of children placed at hotels prior to this report. 

He said the government is not properly funding the children and family services ministry. 

"It's the continual starving of the ministry that's led to the shortages that leads to bad decisions and putting  117 children into inappropriate housing at a time they need to be nurtured," the NDP leader said. 

Ministry agrees with advocate

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

"In a perfect world, they would never be used," Cadieux said. 

Cadieux says the province is not lacking resources, but it needs to figure out how to better handle emergency placements which, according to the report, was the main reason for children staying at hotels

She also said more people need to "step up" and get trained to provide foster homes.