Government has failed our children

When it comes to marketing the notion of caring, Premier Christy Clark is unrelenting.

When it comes to marketing the notion of caring, Premier Christy Clark is unrelenting. It started with her “Families First” call to action when she first assumed leadership of the Liberals and reached its zenith earlier this month with her ERASE Bullying Summit in Vancouver.

More than 130 students, anti-bullying experts, stakeholders and politicos came together at Clark’s summit. The event gave the premier and Education Minister Don McRae a venue to showcase their new “ERASEBullying” web portal and the new “ReportBullyingBC” online reporting tool.

In the wake of the tragic suicide of bullied Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd, the government has discovered that fighting bullying with cyber tools and smart phone apps has traction similar to wearing pink cancer-fighting sneakers and T-shirts.

So effective is the anti-bullying campaign that it muted reaction to another important event this month, the release of Children and Youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s devastating report titled: “Trauma, Turmoil and Tragedy – Understanding the Needs of Children and Youth at Risk of Suicide and Self-Harm.”

The report is an analysis of the 89 suicide and self-harm incidents reported to the representative for children and youth between June 2007 and May 2010, including 15 kids who committed suicide and 74 who engaged in self-injury.

Intuitively, you’d think this report would have bullying written all over it. Certainly trauma, turmoil and tragedy characterize the short life of Amanda, one that has helped define the government’s anti-bullying campaign.

In fact Turpel-Lafond’s report does not even mention the word bullying. It is about something far more tragic . . . the profound failure of our government to take care of the children who pass through its portals. The vast majority of children studied “came from remarkably similar family backgrounds, characterized by poverty, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, or various combinations of these factors,” Turpel-Lafond said.

More shameful was the fact that a disproportionate number of First Nations youth are suffering. Of the 15 suicides, eight were aboriginal. Of the 74 youth who harmed themselves, 44 were aboriginal.

The children and youth representative said the government is spending too much time shuffling suicidal kids from foster home to foster home rather than trying to understand their traumatic lives and offering them the care they need. “The ministry is going to have to show much better service to some of these most vulnerable kids,” she said.

The government’s reaction was pathetic. Children’s Minister Stephanie Cadieux said a ministry action plan has been in the works for two years and should be good to go some time in 2013, an election year during which the implementation of complex and potentially controversial government policy will grind to a halt.

While the government zeroes in on bullying in the school environment, Turpel-Lafond tells us less than half of the youth she studied were even attending school on a regular basis. In fact, she sees the school environment as a potential lifesaver. “Youth were missing out on chances to have caring adults support them and to have positive social extracurricular activities.”

What seems to emerge here is an appreciation that bullying, as unforgiveable as it is, is really a cruel byproduct of a fundamental failure of our system to properly care for children at risk. The report also tells us most of the problems these troubled kids face begin at home, not at school. M

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