Thursday, June 22, 2000

Paul Willcocks
Sun Legislative Bureau

p. B01.

B.C. to help force at-risk youth off the streets and into treatment

The provincial government will gain the power to scoop children and youth at risk off the streets and hold them for treatment against their will under long-awaited legislation to be introduced Monday.

Premier Ujjal Dosanjh said the province will spend $10 million to develop treatment facilities and set up an independent "secure care board" to decide whether children are at serious risk of harm and should be held for treatment.

The new measures will be ready within 10 months, he said.

"We cannot simply stand back and allow children to be harmed by addiction or the degradation of sexual exploitation," Dosanjh said during an announcement Wednesday in Vancouver.

Parents, police and social workers have complained they are now powerless to force children into treatment, even if they are using heroin or working as prostitutes.

Under the new legislation, a parent, guardian or the newly appointed director of secure care will be able to apply to the board to have a child or youth taken into custody and held for up to 30 days. That initial term can be extended by the board for an additional 60 days.

In emergencies, youths can be held for 72 hours without board approval.

Diane Sowden, founder of the Children of the Streets Society and a campaigner for secure care, welcomed the legislation. She discovered that children could not be apprehended for treatment or protection when her daughter ran away at 13 and became involved with drugs and prostitution.

The legislation would have saved her daughter — now 19 and off the street and drugs — from years of suffering, she said.

Dosanjh said too many parents have shared Sowden's experience, watching young children engage in potentially deadly activities without being able to intervene, or arranging treatment only to have them return to "the waiting arms of a pimp."

Children and Families Minister Gretchen Brewin said she expects 15 to 20 children at a time to be involved in secure care, or about 200 a year.

The numbers may be small, but the consequences for the youths most seriously at risk are devastating, she said. "Too often our inability to act allows these young people to quite literally destroy themselves."

The long delay in implementing the program is because the government needs to set up places to hold the youths and assess them, Brewin said.

The government expects to have secure care group homes in several communities, including beds at the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre in Burnaby. Secure care foster homes will likely be developed in smaller centres.

But Liberal critic Linda Reid said the legislation looks more like a pre-election announcement or "damage control" than a serious commitment.

"They've had nine years to deliver on some drug and alcohol treatment beds and they haven't done it," she said. A provincial task force recommended secure care almost two years ago, she said, allowing ample time for the government to have the facilities in place.

Children who want addiction treatment face long waiting lists, she said.

Dosanjh said the government has already spent $9 million on new addiction treatment programs for youth. The answer to waiting lists for addiction treatments isn't an increase in the $250 million a year being spent, he said.

"I think $250 million a year for a province of this size should be enough," Dosanjh said. "My view is that it's not being properly utilized."

Jeremy Berland, special projects director with the ministry, said the legislation attempts to balance the rights of the young people with the need to protect them.

"This is a significant infringement of civil rights," he said. The secure care board will look at the extent of the risk to a young person's safety and whether alternatives are available to approving holding them in secure care, he said.

Children will have a right to a lawyer and the children's advocate and the children's commissioner will be involved in the hearing and treatment process.

The secure director will be able to order the detention of youths in immediate danger for 72 hours without a hearing on the recommendation of police, family or friend, the ministry or service agencies.

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Created: June 7, 2001
Last modified: June 7, 2001
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