Teen’s tragic overdose reveals gaps in BC and Alberta's Child Protection Services: report

Nov 26 2019, 5:21 pm

A report on the overdose death of a BC teen in 2017 reveals gaps and inadequate oversight are to blame for the tragic incident.

In a report to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, the Representative for Children and Youth, outlines the failings of both BC and Alberta’s child protection services — especially in cases like this one, where children are “passed off” between provinces.

According to the report, the teen was given the pseudonym “Romain” by his family, who struggled to care for him because of his complex needs.

It’s estimated that he was moved around more than 40 times while in government care in Alberta and BC.

“The Representative chose to investigate Romain’s case because it illustrates what can happen when children in government care or receiving designated services are moved between provinces and territories,” said the report.

According to the report, Romain was born in Alberta, and his short but troubled life was fraught with difficulties, and the systems in place to protect him ultimately failed to do so.

Romain died of a fentanyl overdose in May 2017 while placed in an emergency staffed residential resource in BC.

“He was bounced between dozens of inadequate placements in Alberta, British Columbia, and beyond,” said the report. “When he was just 11-years-old, the boy wearily told social workers that it felt as though he had been ‘passed around for 20 million years.'”

Romain moved to BC at 13 after Alberta Children’s Services placed him with his eldest maternal sister but failed to follow Interprovincial Protocol.

“Alberta Children’s Services failed to provide Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) with notice about the move, and did not formally [request] MCFD’s help until two months after Romain had arrived in this province,” said the report.

“This was the first of a string of miscommunications and dropped handoffs between the two provinces that culminated when, despite Alberta’s informal agreement to fund a highly specialized residential resource for Romain four years later, this was never confirmed in the Interprovincial Agreement.”

The report says that Romain suffered immense trauma and abuse and did not receive adequate mental health supports or resources, which ultimately contributed to the events leading up to his death.

“Through this investigation, the Representative found a link between the inadequate services provided to Romain in BC and his death by overdose,” said the report.

According to the report, factors that contributed to those services being inadequate included the following:

  • Shortcomings in the current Interprovincial Protocol
  • A lack of provincial coordination and oversight of such cases in BC
  • A lack of training and policy to guide MCFD employees in working with interprovincial cases
  • BC’s child-serving system’s inability to house and wrap responsive supports around children and youth who have experienced trauma.

Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development issued a statement in response to the reports findings.

“At any given time, there are roughly 100 such children and youth throughout the province. This means that staff on the ground were handling a challenging, multi-dimensional case that required co-ordination between service providers in both jurisdictions,” said Conroy.

Conroy says that work is underway to address the key issues of the report, including a newly funded, dedicated interprovincial coordinator.

“Going forward, each and every interprovincial case will have centralized oversight. This is in addition to the creation of a comprehensive interprovincial case management network.

“As we move forward and collectively look for solutions to ensure other youth will not fall through the cracks, let us not forget that a ‘sweet and loving’ young man ‘with an infectious smile and engaging personality’ will never have the chance to grow up and realize the great promise he showed,” said Conroy.

Conroy’s statement can be read in full here.

The full report can be found here.