It’s been a year and a half since teenager Alex Gervais took his life while in the care of the government.
The report on his life and death released this week by BC children’s watchdog Bernard Richard has led a long time worker in residential care facilities, similar to where Gervais spent the last seven years of his life, to speak to CKNW reporter Liza Yuzda about what they’ve seen from the inside.
“I am sick and tired of people not taking responsibility for their actions. I am sick of people saying, “Oh well” and throwing their hands up. I don’t care how he died. He died. And he didn’t deserve to be treated like trash.”
The worker, who is staying anonymous to protect their job, says kids are falling through the cracks of the residential care system because of a patchwork and revolving door of staff, caregivers who are not necessarily trained to care for kids, some residential care owners keeping mum on concerns lest their contract for care be cancelled, and social workers too overworked to ensure kids are getting what they need.
As for staff, they say, many hired to take care of kids aren’t prepared.
“Some of them are there part time and it’s just a job. I’m not saying their heart is not in the right place… they probably are a nice person, but they don’t necessarily understand the whole – like they just think ‘Oh, we’re going to come in and play with kids”…. It’s like no, you are actually running a home for these kids, you are responsible for them. You’re not just coming in and hanging out. So that’s what I’ve found. Usually just people go and there and usually it’s their second job.”
With many staff working on a casual basis for the contractors, this worker says there can be little continuity of care for the kids.
And it’s hard to bring up concerns.
“You never talk to anybody other than your client or your supervisor because you are just a worker.”
And, this worker says, even if you do get the chance to speak with a child’s social worker, they’re overworked and have few options.
And it could jeopardize you getting more work.
“They do the best they can so I don’t think the social worker would seriously care or, not that she wouldn’t care, but they wouldn’t do anything. All it would do is be a backlash and I wouldn’t get any more shifts because everyone would be pissed with me. All the supervisors and all the higher-ups because they are not getting their money or they’re in jeopardy now of not getting their funding.”
READ MORE: Children’s Minister responds to report into Alexs Gervais’ death
Right now, this worker says there are virtually no repercussions in the event kids are failed.
“You know they could probably go to another society and pick up another contract. They probably aren’t going to get another contract through the same society but they could go somewhere else.”
While some residential care home managers and staff focused on profit more than people, this worker says there are many homes and caregivers that care deeply about the children and their welfare.
They say most would be gutted if any of the kids they tried to help were failed and abandoned in a hotel as Alex Gervais was.
“I would have been devastated if that was my client – my love. That would have been almost my child – I would have been devastated if that happened to me.”
In the 18 months since Gervais jumped to his death by smashing through an Abbotsford hotel room window, Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard says 700 kids remain in residential care homes like the one Gervais spent seven years in before being placed in a hotel.
That’s where he complained of not receiving proper support, sometimes not even proper food or clothes, where he said he was put in dangerous situations around drugs and violence, and where he says a care aide sexually assaulted him.
Richard says he recently spoke to 25 young people like Gervais who are still under government care or recently aged out, who complain of the same horrible conditions the 18-year-old endured for years before he died.