Thursday, June 22, 2000

Canadian Press

p. A05.

NDP introduces law to get high-risk kids off the street

VANCOUVER (CP) — High-risk youth could be kept in custody against their will for up to 30 days under proposed legislation the B.C. government plans to introduce next week.

Parents or authorities will be able to apply to a panel of experts to take teens who are endangering their lives into secure care, under the proposed bill.

"We can't give up on those who need us the most," Premier Ujjal Dosanjh said Wednesday.

"Too many parents have already had the experience of standing by helplessly while their children's health deteriorated.

"Too many service providers have felt the frustration of helping a young person and then seeing them walk back into the waiting arms of a pimp. Too many youth have suffered and died because they were unable to make an informed choice about the help they need."

Currently, B.C. teens can only be taken into custody if they have broken the law or are mentally ill and need to be hospitalized.

Only Alberta has legislation to allow troubled youth to be held for 72 hours, although other jurisdictions have considered similar laws.

The proposed B.C. legislation will allow authorities to take teen drug addicts or prostitutes into custody with the approval of a panel of child care workers.

The teens will be informed they are the target of a secure-care application and will be provided a lawyer, unless informing the child will put them at risk of fleeing.

In those cases the director may decide not to inform the child.

In emergency cases, where a child is in imminent danger, they can be taken into custody immediately and held for up to 72 hours before the order must be reviewed by the panel.

Dosanjh recognized the legislation will be controversial.

"Holding children against their will is not a very comfortable prospect for anyone," he said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the legislation.

"But at the same time we cannot simply stand back and allow children to be harmed by addiction or the degradation of sexual exploitation."

The B.C. Ministry for Children and Families will invest more than $10 million in intervention, treatment and secure-care services.

Children and Families Minister Gretchin Brewin said until now there has been a major gap in services for "kids whose own behaviour is putting their health, their futures and their very lives at risk."

More than 200 individuals and groups were consulted over the past two years to come up with the legislation.

"Too often our inability to act allows these young people, quite literally, to destroy their lives," Brewin said. "That's about to change."

Brewin estimated secure care would only be necessary for 15 to 20 kids a year.

"It's only intended for the most extreme cases," she said.

The rights of youth will be enshrined in the legislation, she said, and it will only be used as a last resort.

The secure care can be extended twice for up to thirty days each time, if necessary.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has said previously it does not oppose such legislation.

Rob and Susie Ruttan welcomed the news.

Their 18-year-old son has struggled with addiction since elementary school and they say they have struggled to get him the help he needs.

"I think it's (secure care) a necessary tool but it has to be part of a comprehensive program," said Rob Ruttan.

The Ruttans, who head up the advocacy group From Grief to Action, say addicted teens will still have nowhere to go when they're released from secure care unless more treatment beds are available.

"We've had tearful phone calls from parents" waiting to get their children into treatment, he said.

Their own son has been through detox and relapsed several times, they said.

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Created: March 31, 2001
Last modified: April 8, 2001
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