“A life none of us would wish on our own children, or any child,” reads part of a heartbreaking report by B.C.’s acting children’s watchdog on the life and death of Alex Gervais while under the care of the province.
The acting Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard says years of instability, misplaced resources and ignored advice preceded Gervais committing suicide by smashing through the window of his Abbotsford hotel room.
During his short 18 years, Gervais was placed in 17 different living locations, some just hotels, with 23 different caregivers.
From 2004 to 2006 alone, when he was seven to nine years old, he lived in nine different foster homes.
“When a child is taken into care for his own protection, it is the responsibility of government to fulfill the role of the ‘prudent parent’ – to ensure that the child’s needs are met, that he has a stable home, nurturing relationships and experiences, enough food and suitable clothing, education, medical care and a meaningful connection to his culture,” reads the report.
Despite having an aunt and a step-mother who wanted to take him in, the report says he was written off as ageing out of care long before he turned 18.
“Opportunities for Alex to be permanently placed with his stepmother in B.C., or with an aunt and her family in Québec, were missed by MCFD, in favour, ultimately, of placing him in the long-term care of a contracted residential agency. Both these family members expressed considerable interest in having Alex live with them permanently and RCY investigators could find no concrete reasons why either of those family placement options would not have worked for Alex. In fact, this investigation finds that the ministry and its delegates failed to adequately explore either option.”
LISTEN: Simi Sara spoke to former children’s watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel Lafonde in September 2015 about Grevais
At one point a foster family with four other children received $4,600 per month to care for Gervais, that included $2,800 in daycare costs.
But, around that time MCFD only offered his stepmother little more than $700 per month and no assistance for child care while she worked – making her care for him nearly impossible.
His last caregiver was from an agency the government contracted and was paid a whopping $8,000 per month to care for Gervais at the Abbotsford hotel where he took his life (not including the cost of the caregiver’s adjoining hotel room) but Gervais complained that beyond poor care he wasn’t receiving proper food or clothes.
“One of the caregiver’s background was a truck driver and bouncer at a bar. The issue for me is that the youth who are identified with the most significant needs are served by the least qualified caregiver,” says Richard.
The report details witnesses who said the caregiver was rarely around for the 47 days Gervais had to call the hotel home and was not there at all for the last ten days of Gervais’ life.
At many points, while Gervais was in government care he was referred to for mental health treatment but the findings are that care was never adequately followed up.
Recommendations out of the investigation into Gervais life include looking for family members when finding permanent homes for kids in care, ensuring appropriate and timely mental health treatment for children under government care and having better oversight of agencies the government contracted to care for children.
“When tragedy occurs, it is our responsibility as a society to learn lessons and make the changes required to prevent similar occurrences. The Representative expects government to learn from Alex’s story and to take these necessary steps,” reads the report.
This is the first report for incoming Representative Bernard Richard since taking over from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond whose term ended late last year.
“…they knew and they did nothing”
NDP MLA Melanie Mark says this tragedy falls directly at the feet of the Premier.
“They knew that he was in need of help, they knew that he was being neglected in care, he was also suicidal. They knew all of this. So that is the most damming of this report, is that they knew and they did nothing.”
She says vulnerable youth should not be in for-profit centres but in homes.