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Child welfare watchdog: Northern BC at-risk youth falling through the cracks

BC’s Representative for Children and Youth says at risk kids in Northern BC are falling through the cracks.

The issue was highlighted by news that children and youth were frequenting a Spruce Street crack house that was busted in Prince George last month.

Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond
Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says some of the children that are found in drug dens like the one on Spruce Street are often brought there by their own parents who are also IV drug users. She says that there is a “concerning trend” in Prince George and Northern BC emerging that sees youth frequenting these settings.

She is advocating for a number of cases in Prince George where she says the Ministry of Children and Families are not acting fast enough to keep youth out of dangerous situations.

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“When they are on a list to be placed, and there is no placement available, unfortunately they can be left with family members who may not be safe, for instance are IV drug users. The other is the young person is effectively, what we think as AWOL; they are couch surfing, they are out living on the margins.”

There is also the problem of at risk youth that are not on the Ministry’s radar yet, because nobody has reported them. She says the whole community has to step up, but there is a special onus on the first responders.

“The police, the hospital and others frequently know these kids. They know they are at risk, they are popping up everywhere. But we are not out there actually engaging with them and getting them into the type of treatment and care that they need.”

Following the drug overdose death of a 19 year old Aboriginal girl in Vancouver’s downtown eastside and the ensuing ‘Paige Report’, a quick response team for at risk youth in the downtown eastside was formed.

Turpel-Lafond says communities throughout Northern BC need similar resources.

“I know the issues exist in the north, I know they exist all over BC and we need to put additional supports in particularly in the northern region and have stronger quick responses.”

She says support workers in the Downtown Eastside have found that many of the youth they are dealing with are originally from Northern BC.

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