Inquiry needed into youth mental health services: lawyer

A prominent St. John's lawyer is calling for a full public inquiry into mental health services for young people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A prominent St. John's lawyer is calling for a full public inquiry into mental health services for young people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bob Buckingham represents the families of three teens who have repeatedly attempted suicide.

Although Darlene Neville, Newfoundland and Labrador's youth advocate, has launched an investigation into psychiatric services offered through the province's only pediatric hospital, Buckingham said that does not go far enough.

"Everybody has failed these children," said Buckingham, who believes an inquiry is needed to probe all of the agencies who should have protected vulnerable youth.

"There's a systemic problem here."

In December, two adolescents were taken from the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's to a psychiatric hospital in handcuffs, because there were not enough nurses available to work on the Janeway's psychiatric floor.

Advocates and even Eastern Health officials have said the province lacks key resources to help young patients.

"This is just a disaster waiting to happen … This is a newer version, you know, of the hormone receptor debacle," said Buckingham, referring to how hundreds of breast cancer patients received inaccurate lab results. That issue has been the focus of the Cameron inquiry, which will file its final report in March.

Buckingham said Neville should have stepped in weeks earlier, when parents went to her to complain.

He also has criticism for child protection officials.

"They have not provided support to the families when [they] needed it," he said. "They have not been proactive, and they have been protective of themselves."

In the weeks since the two children were moved to the Waterford psychiatric hospital, Buckingham said, their situation has deteriorated even further.

"Another one of the girls over the Christmas break who was at the Waterford was discharged and slashed herself. [She] went back to get treated, was stitched up and not provided a psychiatric assessment — can you believe it?" 

Eastern Health told CBC News that the Janeway's psychiatric unit reopened on Monday, but only for new admissions. The teens who were transferred to the Waterford Hospital in December remain there.