“She had an incredible journey of neglect, abuse, and really indifference to her situation. Her story is a tough one, and hard for the family to share and hear again, but I think British Columbians need to hear it.”
The latest report from B.C.’s child and youth representative into a 19-year-old’s girl death on the Downtown Eastside is a heartbreaking story of a child being let down at every step of her short life.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond blames Paige’s death in 2013 on government inaction and indifference.
One of the most troubling investigations the representative’s office has ever conducted.
Turpel’s report says Paige was born to a 16-year-old mother, and left in horrific situations
“She had a life with a mom who had a serious drug addiction, who was allowed to raise Paige despite over 30 child protection reports. Mom moved 50 times before Paige was 16, and like many Aboriginal women, took the pathway to the Downtown Eastside. Paige lived with her mom in 50 places in the Downtown Eastside for three years including SROs, shelters, homeless couch surfing, until she took her own life through an accidental overdose just after she turned 19.”
According to Turpel-Lafond, Paige’s aunt and uncle called the ministry and told them she was living in the poor neighbour, and about her mother. They offered to take care of Paige, but they were treated like they were just looking for money.
“This girl was treated so poorly, but also her family were treated so poorly.”
A number of organizations and individuals failed to protect girl, report says
Though Paige died of an overdose, it was years of abuse and neglect that took her life in 2013.
Despite dealing with 17 social workers, Turpel-Lafond says only one developed more than a basic relationship with her.
Paige had a conditions that left her legally blind and heart complications, yet she spent years without glasses or cardiac care. She also tried to have an abortion on three separate occasions.
Finally, virtually none of her 17 trips to hospital for overdoses were reported, and they weren’t treated, but she instead was sent to jail.
Paige’s family says girl needed to be removed from mother’s care
Paige’s great aunt, Frances Robson, says the girl had been permanently taken from her mother, her life would have been much different.
“It’s the mom that kept taking her. She would say, ‘I’m your mom, you have to listen to me.’ There was nothing Paige could do.”
She hopes lessons learned from what happened to Paige will prevent any other child suffering the same fate.
The Minister responds with a special team
Stephanie Cadieux, the Minister for Child and Family Development says Paige’s case is unacceptable.
“The system ultimately failed to keep her from harm,” she said. “There was clearly not enough contact and coordination among those who were in touch with her. No one saw the whole picture.”
Cadieux acknowledged that the Downtown Eastside presents unique challenges for social workers, and announced that she is ordering the creation of a “rapid-response” team for especially urgent child welfare cases.
She also said social workers need to spend more time reaching out to children in the system, even if those children reject the ministry’s help.
Where she disagreed with Turpel-Lafond’s case was on her charge of indifference by those who were in touch with Paige.
“I reject that characterization. I find it offensive.”
NDP critic Doug Donaldson says the ministry promised a rapid-response team for rural areas in 2014, but he hasn’t seen them make a difference.
“Paige’s difficulties began in other parts of the province, and that’s not being addressed. It’s a ministry-wide problem.”
Donaldson doesn’t know if Paige’s death happened because of a lack of money or if people aren’t being held accountable, but: “The buck has to stop somewhere, and the buck’s stopping on the minister’s desk’.
With files from The Simi Sara Show