Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun
A teenager who recently aged out of government care died on Wednesday in a tent in a rain-soaked bush area of Surrey often frequented by homeless people.
Bernard Richard, B.C.’s new acting representative for children and youth, confirmed the girl was 19 and had been in government care, but he said he couldn’t release her name. He didn’t know how recently she had turned 19 and would not say if she was aboriginal or not. Richard said he supports extending services to children in care past the age of 19.
“I think some of these kids come out of very, very difficult situations,” Richard said. “As a parent, I know that my kids never aged out of my care. Kids who are in the care of the minister shouldn’t age out at 19. They should be supported through this difficult transition period. If they’re not supported, we know what happens all too often. To be cut off completely is not acceptable.”
In B.C., at 19, kids in government care are abruptly cut off government support. As The Vancouver Sun found in its 2014 series, From Care to Where, when children in care are cut off at 19, they face high rates of homelessness, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse and incarceration.
The B.C. Coroners’ office confirmed it is investigating the death of a young adult female found in a tent in an area of bush known to be frequented by homeless people near the intersection of King George Highway and 132nd Street.
Coroner Barbara McLintock said the cause of death is under investigation, but that a drug overdose is a possibility. She said her office wouldn’t know the cause of death until toxicology results are received.
There have been 622 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths up to Oct. 31 of this year, the B.C. Coroner’s Service reported earlier this month. Fentanyl has been detected in 59 per cent of those overdoses.
“This young person’s death is a tragedy and I feel for the family and friends,” Stephanie Cadieux, B.C.’s minister of children and family development, said in a written statement.
“Without speaking to any specific case, I can tell you that we would automatically conduct a case review into the death of a 19-year-old who, in the previous 12 months, had been in the ministry’s care. This allows us to refine our policies and practices where needed.”
Richard said his office is always informed by the coroners’ office if they are aware that someone who has been in government care dies, particularly if they have aged out in the recent past.
There have been several high-profile deaths of young people in B.C. who have aged out or who were approaching their 19th birthdays, including Paige Gauchier and Alex Gervais. Gervais died while he was living (against child welfare rules) in a hotel, after his group home was shut down.
Richard said his office knew about the girl who died on Wednesday because she was part of a cohort of youth with similar histories to Gervais, either because she lived in a similar group home that was shut down or she followed a similar path while in care. Richard’s office is investigating Gervais’ death.
In the area near 132nd Street, 112th Avenue and King George Highway, there are numerous empty, overgrown lots that show signs of habitation — trash, clothing, discarded personal items — but no one was seen camping on Thursday.
Bolivar Creek, which runs through the neighbourhood at the bottom of a steep ravine, is heavily wooded. Again, there were signs that people had been there, such as cuts in the adjacent chain-link fencing, but no one could be found on Thursday. There were no memorials, nor any signs that anyone had died there recently, such an abandoned tent or emergency refuse.
A September report by the Vancouver Foundation and a Vancouver Sun cost-benefit analysis done in 2014 found that supporting foster children until their 25th birthday would more than pay off economically in the long run.
In October, the government announced an expansion of a support program for children who have aged out of care, however it requires them to be in a full-time educational, training or lifeskills program.
With a file from Jen Saltman
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