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Default Study finds 1/3 of kids in B.C. gov't care end up in prison

Study finds 1/3 of kids in B.C. gov't care end up in prison

Lori Culbert , Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, June 26, 2008

VANCOUVER - Children in government care are more likely to get charged
with a crime than they are to finish high school, says troubling new
research by B.C.'s representative for children and youth.

Preliminary findings from a study by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond indicate
44 per cent of adolescents receiving services from the Ministry of
Children and Family Development end up facing criminal charges.

And 36 per cent of kids in care are going to jail, despite the trend of
fewer youth being incarcerated each year in B.C.

"What I'm finding is, of the people who are still in (the youth justice
system), they are largely these children who experienced abuse and
maltreatment, and came into government care," Turpel-Lafond said in an
interview Thursday.

Another troubling finding was that foster children were more likely to
end up behind bars than finish high school, which just 24 per cent of
them did.

"I think that's the most staggering finding because it is not exactly
the outcome we want for them," said Turpel-Lafond.

The adolescents in her study - aged 12 to 18 - also got into criminal
trouble at younger ages and stayed mired in the justice system longer
than kids who live with their families and have a better support system
at home.

"The average age they would first be charged is closer to 14. Someone
not in care, it would be around 15," said Turpel-Lafond, a former
Saskatchewan provincial court judge who became B.C.'s first
representative for children and youth last year.

"And I'm seeing kids in care over-represented in terms of the population
that's going on into the adult (prison) system."

She argued B.C.'s child protection system, which has been criticized by
other scathing reports in recent years, is failing adolescents by not
offering them more stable environments to keep them in school and out of

"We need to do a better job to get them supported and not be using that
criminal justice system as sort of a default foster-care system,"
Turpel-Lafond said.

Her study tracked the progress of more than 50,000 children: those who
were born in B.C. in 1986 who were still in school in the province in
1997 (when they were 11 years old).

The evidence suggests foster children got into criminal trouble more
frequently due to both the maltreatment they experienced before going
into care and also because they were not properly treated while
receiving government services.

"The system of support we have for adolescents needs to be
reconsidered," she said.

Turpel-Lafond's study shows that more than 70 per cent of the children
in care ensnared in the justice system have special needs, such as
learning disabilities, mental health issues, and fetal alcohol spectrum

She will provide recommendations in the fall when her report is
complete, but said Thursday there are some measures that can be taken to
reverse this troubling trend.

They include initiatives to avoid children going into care in the first
place, such as more accessible medical support for vulnerable pregnant
women, good quality daycares, stable housing for needy families, and
better job opportunities for parents.

For adolescents already in care, she recommends:

.. More stable placements, so children are not moved between multiple
foster homes. (The vast majority of kids in care who did not go to jail
were adopted or were in more stable situations.)

.. Putting teens in placements that fit the specific needs of
adolescents, so that they are not running away and ending up in the
justice system.

.. Reconsider the current system which is providing 583 B.C. teens with
cash so they can live on their own.

"Are they doing well? Evidence to me is they are not," Turpel-Lafond said.

© Vancouver Sun 2008