A teenager who died after falling from a hotel window was in the care of a delegated aboriginal agency that was criticized more than a decade ago after a little girl was killed by her father.
Now, Premier Christy Clark says there will be consequences for the events that led to the death last week of 18-year-old, Alex Gervais.
The teen was in foster care when he fell from the fourth floor of the budget hotel where he had been living, contrary to provincial guidelines that require permission before any child is placed in a hotel.
Clark said the agency in charge of caring fo Gervais didn’t inform the Ministry of Children and Family Development that he was staying in a hotel.
“(The agency) did not follow policy. It was wrong. It had tragic, tragic outcomes, and there are going to be consequences for that.”
She did not specify what that would mean, but said the province will take the time to understand what happened, report to citizens and then make sure appropriate steps are taken to prevent a similar occurrence.
Samantha Langton, executive director of the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society, acknowledged Friday: “Yes, we were the delegated agency.”
Ms. Langton would not say how long Mr. Gervais had been in the agency’s care or why he was placed in a hotel, referring all questions related to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
The ministry said it cannot discuss case-specific information because of privacy regulations.
The Fraser Valley agency, which is also known as Xyolhemeylh, has the highest level of certification possible in B.C.’s three-level system for delegated aboriginal agencies. It has responsibilities up to and including child protection – which can involve removing children from family homes and placing them in care.
The agency has had the so-called C6 designation since 2010.
In 2006, the agency came back under government control because of staff turnover and political turmoil. A new delegation agreement was signed in 2010 and is to expire next year.
Xyolhemeylh came under fire in connection with the 2002 death of two-year-old Chassidy Whitford, who was killed by her father while under agency supervision. A 2003 provincial review found Xyolhemelyh missed risk factors, including injuries when the girl visited the hospital.
The involvement of a delegated agency adds another layer to a case that has put intense pressure on Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux to explain why the youth was placed in a hotel without the government’s knowledge, even though guidelines say such placements must be approved by a senior official.
The coroners service and the Representative for Children and Youth are investigating the death of Mr. Gervais, who had been in foster care for at least 10 years and would have “aged out” of the provincial system when he turned 19.
Ms. Cadieux this week said she was surprised by the death, saying the ministry is supposed to be notified of any hotel stays but was not informed in this instance.
B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said she was also surprised. She had sought – and been given – assurances that no youth would be placed in hotels after a group home, in which Mr. Gervais and other youth were staying, was closed earlier this year.
Social workers in several provinces have on occasion in recent years placed children in hotels when foster care or other arrangements, such as approved group homes, were not readily available.
The practice came under a public spotlight after the death of Tina Fontaine, an aboriginal girl who had been placed in a hotel in Winnipeg before she was murdered in August, 2014.
Earlier this year, Manitoba said it would phase out hotel placements as of June 1. Last year, B.C. issued a directive that hotel placements must be approved by a senior official and reported to the provincial director of child welfare.
Since November, 2014, there have been 23 hotel placements, according to the ministry, with the average stay around five days. Currently, the director knows of one youth in care who is staying in a hotel.
“The director is confident this short-term placement is appropriate given the circumstances, and that the young person will be moved to more suitable accommodations imminently,” a ministry communications person said in an e-mail.
Asked why the province does not ban the practice, the ministry said, “in rare instances, circumstances may dictate the necessity of a short-term hotel arrangement until another more appropriate placement can be secured.”
Such arrangements must be approved and reported, the ministry said, adding that “a social worker or child care worker would be responsible for monitoring the child or youth for the duration of the hotel stay.”
-With files from The Canadian Press.