Sunday, May 14, 2000

Kathy Tait
Children and Families Reporter

p. A04.

Secure care ruled out: Minister says plan to rescue kids from the street 'too controversial'

Claiming it's "too controversial," Children's Minister Gretchen Brewin says the government will not bring in legislation this year to allow authorities to rescue kids from pimps and drug dealers.

Laws to enable child protection workers and police to apprehend drug-addicted teens and place them in secure care for 72 hours against their will have been widely sought in B.C.

Among the supporters is the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

But Brewin told the annual meeting of the B.C. Association of Social Workers at the weekend that the idea is "too controversial."

Asked in what way it is controversial, Brewin, who has been minister for 2 ½ months, said, "I think it's a human-rights issue."

She said senior ministry officials advised her that the idea is controversial and needs a lot more discussion.

"I don't have views one way or another," she said.

Diane Sowden of the Children of the Streets Society was on the verge of tears yesterday when told of Brewin's decision.

"Because something may be controversial is no reason to back off," said Sowden, who was a member of a government task force called the Secure Care Working Group.

The group recommended the new legislation after it talked with parents, social workers, police, youth and others.

Sowden said only a minority of service providers opposed the idea.

"The ministry for children and families is supposed to protect children and not take a position simply because it is easier and safer for them," said Sowden. "What about the safety of these children? What about families who have children out there on the streets?

"My daughter was first on the streets at 13 years old, using crack cocaine and owned by a pimp. Child protection should have been able to rescue her. She was being controlled by a predator."

Judge Tom Gove, who headed the 1995 inquiry into child protection in B.C., has publicly supported secure care.

In court last June, he said the report of the Secure Care Working Group "addresses the concerns I have been seeing on a daily basis.

"These recommendations were delivered to the government nine months ago [March 1998] and there is still not available in B.C. a secure environment for treatment."

Gove said addicted teens can simply "walk away" from treatment.

Sowden said secure care is "about a process of treatment in specialized foster homes."

She said it can be set up with safeguards such as a lawyer for the child and a court hearing within 24 hours.

"My daughter will never ever have a normal life," said Sowden. "She had to leave B.C. to get off drugs and out of the sex trade. That was one year ago.

"If the ministry could have stepped in when she was 13 years old, she could have had a normal life. She wouldn't have given birth to two drug-affected babies who will suffer for the rest of their lives."

Some parents have even kidnapped their children off the streets and taken them to remote cabins for detox, getting them straight enough to accept treatment.

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Created: April 16, 2001
Last modified: April 16, 2001
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