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A village’s answer to “Trauma, Turmoil and Tragedy”

November 27, 2012

Tucked into 2.5 acres in a residential neighbourhood in Surrey are five lovely homes built by volunteers and donors. Surrounded by trees, with big yards to play in and a sports court, these houses are safe, welcoming homes for 15 foster children and five others. When I visited the site, children of all ages were running and playing, a dog following excitedly behind. In addition to the five homes, a central building acts as a resource pod where therapeutics such as neurofeedback training, art, play and music therapies, a learning club, building of social and life skills, support for caregivers, cultural exploration and support for aboriginal children radiate out into the community.

SOS Childrens Villages are generally associated with problems in developing nations but many children in Canada suffer deprivations just as great. In 1980, faced with a troubled foster child, a BC couple felt something needed to be done and gathered like-minded people around them. It took time, but finally in 1999, this group of people built the first Canadian SOS village in Surrey based on the model of SOS Childrens Villages around the world. SOS BC is financially autonomous from the larger organization. Its emphasis is on foster children but its services are available as well to children outside the foster system.

SOS BC’s motto is “Nothing in the world is more important than to care for a child”. While some children benefit from programs such as SOS BC, many others are trapped in a foster system that fails them.

This November, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children and Youth released a report entitled “Trauma, Turmoil and Tragedy: Understanding the Needs of Children and Youth at Risk of Suicide and Self-Harm.” The report deals with 89 children who were reported to her department by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) as having committed suicide or self-harm between June 1, 2007 and May 31, 2010. 15 of these youth died as a result of suicide (one was only 12 years old) and 74 had engaged in serious self-injury. The Report also states that, because these incidents were  underreported by the Ministry, they do not reflect the real extent of the problem. All of the 89 youth in this review had received services from MCFD, and 58 were in the care of the Ministry at the time of the suicide or self harm incident.

The Report identifies a number of common circumstances in the lives of many of these children and youth, including:

• Lack of stable living arrangements. On average, the youth in care in this review had been in care for roughly half of their lives (49 per cent) and had experienced an average of 12 moves while in care. Five of the youth were moved more than 30 times while in care.

• Domestic violence – a significant feature in the lives of more than half the youth. Of their parents, 24 had themselves been in the care of the ministry as children or youth. The majority of the youth lived in families in which the parents did not remain together, and one-quarter of the youth had a friend or family member who attempted suicide or died as a result of suicide.

• 19 per cent came into contact with MCFD in their first year of life and more than half of them within their first five years.

• Typical behaviours included repeated self-injury by 72 of the youth, substance abuse by 50 of the youth, running away, associating with risky people, becoming street involved and other high-risk behaviours, by 64 of the youth; and more aggressive behavioural issues, such as breaking the law and assaulting or threatening others, by 48 of the youth.

• Mental health issues were identified in nearly 70 per cent of the youth and were not being adequately addressed by the Ministry.

• Seventy-five per cent of the mothers of the youth had substance use issues. Less information about substance use was available about the fathers.

• Roughly one-half had learning disabilities and half were attending school sporadically or had stopped attending.

• 58% of the 89 cases were Aboriginal, which sadly is a consistent theme when it comes to Aboriginals and their over-representation in the penal system, addictions, violence, and other issues.

The report states that “it is abundantly clear that the system falls short of meaningfully addressing the depth of vulnerability and trauma in lives of children and youth”. It is easy to gloss over these statistics but each one is emblematic of the problem. 19% entered the system before they were a year old. Half had been in care half of their lives. Five had been moved 30 times. Most parents had substance abuse issues and most of the kids had learning disabilities. It is a cycle that repeats generation after generation. While the report only reviewed 89 children, the issues apply to a large percentage of kids in care. Clearly the Ministry is not doing things well when it comes to looking after these children.

SOS’s mandate is to improve the world for BC’s foster childrem and it is backed by an impressive array of sponsors and corporate donors which include: BC Gaming, HSBC, Coast Capital, Telus, Loblaws, Warm Hearts Charitable Foundation, Cloverdale Rotary, Surrey Foundation, Kiewit/Flatiron General Partnership, North Surrey Knights of Columbus, CKNW, ReMax, Remax, Canucks, RBC, Megahair, B&B Construction, HSBC, Mancorp, CatRentals, Beachcomber Spas, and The Goodness Bridge- Tough Mudder challenge.

More about SOS Childrens Village BC coming in subsequent blog posts. Please come back to visit.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2012 10:36 am

    It seems that everyone agrees that somehow the poverty/substance abuse cycle has to be broken to help the children, especially the youngest, before they are at risk. But how to do it? SOS must be a good start.

    • November 27, 2012 2:32 pm

      Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, BC’s Representative for Children and Youth, is conducting a further study on how we can better look after the children so hopefully something may come of that. My view is that until we adequately support families living in poverty, or dealing with mental illness and addictions, and provide proper education, we will not see much improvement.


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