Tina Fontaine tragedy puts spotlight on runaways
Thunder Bay Children's Aid Society director says city needs a youth shelter
The death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, who ran away from her Winnipeg foster home, has some child welfare experts in Ontario considering how best to keep teens safe.
"This is an issue for every child welfare agency in the country," said Rob Richardson, executive director of the Children's Aid Society in Thunder Bay.
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Fontaine's body was found in a bag that was pulled out of the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17. Police are treating her death as a homicide. No arrests have been announced to date.
The teen was in foster care at the time she disappeared and was reported missing Aug. 9. Fontaine had run away several times since the violent beating death of her father in 2011, according to her great-aunt.
Richardson said teens in the child welfare system often "have endured a great deal."
"For adolescents in particular they're running to be with peers to embrace a lifestyle they believe will better answer some of their mental health concerns, some of their frustrations," Richardson said.
Richardson said more mental health resources, offered with greater flexibility, are needed to help teens in the child welfare system. He'd also like to see a youth shelter in Thunder Bay to offer a safe place for teens who do run away.
"That would give a young person somewhere to go where they could be cared for, have a bed and not have the structure, the rules they find so difficult to handle in either foster homes or group homes," Richardson said.
Ontario's advocate for children and youth said he was surprised when he learned a city the size of Thunder Bay doesn't have a youth shelter, which would be helpful.
But Irwin Elman said the key to preventing teens from running away, is to make sure they know they're valued.
"When we bring children in foster homes [we need] to ensure that they feel safe, ensure that they feel like they belong to ensure they have positive relationships with the adults in their lives," Elman said.
Elman said the first step towards achieving that kind of security for teens in foster care is for authorities to listen, and respond, to their needs.