Edmonton

'He will die with no help': family issues plea for Edmonton teen gang member

A family is warning that their teenager is a risk to himself and others but they can't get him the help he needs.

Family says teen is a risk to himself and others but they can’t access long-term treatment in secure facility

The family of a troubled teen says the Alberta government is failing to adequately intervene to help him. (CBC)

A teenager riding an Edmonton light rail transit system train points a gun at his own head.

The photo is one of many that show Aiden, now 16, posing with guns, gangsters or wads of cash.

In January, he took a gun to school.

As the teen sinks deeper into a lifestyle of gangs, crime and drugs, his family says the Alberta government is failing to adequately intervene.

Alberta's department of Children's Services says Aiden, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, frontal lobe damage and various psychological disorders, doesn't currently meet the criteria to receive treatment in a secure facility.

It's only a matter of time before  Aiden  hurts himself or he hurts somebody else- Aiden's aunt

His aunt and grandmother, who took over guardianship from his mother a year ago and currently don't know his whereabouts, insist the evidence shows otherwise.

"It's only a matter of time before Aiden hurts himself or he hurts somebody else," said his aunt, Chelsea.

"If something is not done I'm going to have to be the one to identify his body. I'm going to be the one picking out his casket. He will die on the streets. He will die with no help."

Pseudonyms are being used because Aiden and his family are involved with the child welfare system.
Aiden’s aunt fears for her nephew’s future as their family struggles to find him support. 0:57

Chelsea compared their situation to the case of a 15-year-old boy who allegedly stabbed an Edmonton bus driver in September.

His family later told CBC they repeatedly warned provincial authorities he was a risk but sufficient intervention was still not provided.

In Aiden's case, Chelsea said services that require her nephew's voluntary participation don't work and long-term counselling in a secure facility is difficult to access.

Lawyers frequently secured his release or hospital staff concluded he was not a threat, she said. When they did manage to get him into a court-ordered detox program or into the Alberta Hospital psychiatric care facility, the 10- to 30-day stays weren't long enough, said Chelsea. 

"I am in desperate need of your help!!!" Chelsea wrote in emails to provincial and federal politicians last month. "He needs to be locked away from the drugs and gang life so his brain and body can begin to heal."
Aiden apologized to school officials for bringing a gun to school in January. (CBC)

The letter summarizes Aiden's downward spiral, which is documented in a thick purple binder compiled by his aunt and grandmother.

Report cards early on described him as a bright boy who lied and bullied classmates as his impulsive, destructive behaviour escalated. He once tried to flush a cat down a toilet, family said.

His early years were spent in an abusive household. Aiden was later placed in a string of group homes and residential treatment programs as convictions piled up for offences such as car theft and assault with a weapon.

An encounter with a resident in a group home led to Aiden's initiation into a gang, said Chelsea.

Took gun to school

"(Aiden's) first task was to steal a car," his aunt wrote in the letter to government officials.

She said he has since stolen hundreds of cars, sold drugs and robbed people at knife point to make his way up the gang ladder.

In January, Aiden apologized for bringing a gun to school, in a neatly pencilled letter to a school board superintendent.

"It was reported to the teachers that a student was carrying a firearm at the school," wrote Aiden. "That student was me. I am deeply sorry for causing that incident."

Aiden was expelled. A letter from the board noted that reinstatement could only occur "if the safety of students and staff are ensured."

Chelsea said Aiden has overdosed on fentanyl, self-injured by cutting himself and repeatedly told her he wants to kill himself.

"He doesn't care if his terrible lifestyle lands him in the morgue ... and why should he?," she wrote to politicians. "He was born without the ability to fully use his brain, he does not have the ability to make appropriate decisions (or) control his anger.

"He's taken so many drugs that what little brain power he has left has been turned to mush."

Voluntary services problematic, says official

In an email on Nov. 13, an advocate for the family warned Children's Services, including minister Danielle Larivee's chief of staff, that Aiden was an imminent risk to himself and others.

The caseworker responded: "(Aiden) and the family have lots of resources but unfortunately, he and the family chose not to utilize those resources."

The family is "only interested in having (Aiden) locked up in a locked facility" but Aiden "doesn't meet the criteria," he said.

But a department manager noted that Aiden did not show up for a recent meeting.

"A lot of the services are voluntary so this is part of the problem for [Aiden] accessing and following through," the manager wrote in a follow-up email. 

In an emailed statement, the Alberta government said it will take necessary steps to remove a child from a situation when there is a threat or imminent danger.

The province said an action plan underway to improve the child intervention system will increase access to therapeutic out-of-home care services.

"This includes reviewing potential changes to the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act (CYFEA) to improve services provided in secure settings," the statement said.

Mark Cherrington, a youth advocate with Legal Aid, said treatment options through Alberta Hospital or the forced detox program are limited in scope.

But he said a lack of treatment centres, foster homes and group home beds means children at extreme risk are often left with families incapable of keeping them safe. Support offered through community agencies doesn't meet the need in these cases, he said.

"So there's the gap in my opinion," said Cherrington. "The child welfare system doesn't have the resources and doesn't have the infrastructure to deal with these high needs complex children."

When a guardian cannot keep a child safe because of their behaviour, legislation requires the province to act, he said. "Keeping a child safe means sometimes confinement."

Meanwhile, Aiden's aunt holds on to happier times with her nephew — laughing, hiking and travelling together to far-off places such as Israel or Egypt where he loved exploring new cultures.

"I will stop at nothing because that is what real parents who love their kids do," Chelsea vowed in her letters to government officials. "That is what you would do if (Aiden) was your child."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, youth at-risk and the justice system. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

With files from Samuel Martin