Skye's legacy: Recommendations in report on death of Indigenous teen in B.C. care

A lengthy investigation into the circumstances of how and why an Indigenous teen died while under the care of the B.C. government has led to several recommendations on how to improve the system.

The report, Skye’s Legacy: A Focus on Belonging, submitted by B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, explored the life of a youth named Skye, who died of an overdose on her 17th birthday in August 2017.

The report found that B.C.'s child welfare system left Skye without a sense of belonging, particularly as an Indigenous person, which contributed to her death.

Skye was removed from her mother's care when she was five years old. In the 12 years that she was in the province's child welfare system, she was moved across the province 15 times, had 18 different social workers, lived in eight different foster homes and went to eight different schools, according to the report.

"Ostensibly, one of the reasons she came into permanent care was to stop the pattern of instability she had been experiencing and to offer her the physical permanency that (the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development) believed her mother was unable to provide," reads the report.

"However, the ministry also failed to provide any lasting sense of physical belonging."

Skye lived mostly on Vancouver Island, between Campbell River and Nanaimo.

During her frequent moves, investigators said that the province was largely concerned with finding Skye adoptive homes, rather than working with her family on how to return to her to her mother's care, or extended family's care.

The report also says that the province did not accommodate Skye's wishes to connect with her First Nation culture or visit her home territory of the Teetlit Gwich'in Band in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., "despite clearly expressing her desire to do both."

"The cumulative result was that Skye wasn’t able to realize the sense of belonging that all humans need and seek," reads the report.

"The focus on legal belonging (adoption) came at the expense of all the other elements of belonging for Skye, including connection to family, culture, community and physical place."

RECOMMENDATIONS

The report includes three recommendations for the B.C. government to consider.

The first recommendation calls for the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) to conduct an analysis of what resources are needed to better support belonging for Indigenous and Metis youth in care.

Once complete, a significant investment should also be made to acquire the resources by April 2022.

The report found that multiple social workers who worked with Skye said that they had few resources available, especially in the northern areas of Vancouver Island.

The report adds that more than 67 per cent of all children currently in government care are Indigenous, even though less than 10 per cent of B.C.'s population is Indigenous.

The MCFD's most recent service plan found that Indigenous children were nearly 18 times more likely to be removed from their parents care than non-Indigenous children, making the investment and review of care for Indigenous children in the province's child welfare system a priority.

The report's second recommendation calls for a review and update of B.C.'s care-planning and case management standards for child welfare to better support a sense of belonging for youth in care.

The third recommendation encourages the government to share the report with any workers who plan care for youth, or who work with youth, and to "meaningfully engage" with the findings of the report.

"Skye wasn’t given the opportunity to realize the sense of belonging that she needed and deserved. It is the Representative’s strong hope that sharing her story will enable other Indigenous children and youth such as Skye to do so," reads the report. 

On Thursday, B.C.'s Minister of Children and Family Development said the province was aware of problems in the child welfare system.

"I agree with the representative that, beyond what we’re already doing to improve the child-protection system in B.C., we can and must do more to ensure children and youth who come into care stay connected to their families and their culture, and feel a strong sense of belonging in all aspects of their lives," said Minister Mitzi Dean in a statement. "This is especially important for Indigenous children and youth," she said.

B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth said Thursday that while the province hasn't formally accepted the report's recommendations, it may take time for approval because the report's first recommendation involves budget costs.

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