Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Kathy Tait
Children and Families Reporter

p. A1.

Advice from a 'bad kid'

Street kid Kari has a tough message for other teens and their parents as B.C. hears more shocking news about children in crisis

Kari needed someone to care. She thought her two friends did.

They stripped her and raped her.

At 14, she was not only a victim of rape, she was also a victim of the children and families ministry, of government group homes, and of a mother who couldn't cope.

As children's commissioner Cynthia Morton released a grim report on the state of child protection in B.C. yesterday, a tearful Kari, now 15, urged other youths and their families to avoid the mistakes that put her on the street.

p. A4.

Troubled teen warns kids and their parents

To kids, she said: "Don't push your parents, don't push them away. Because you might lose them. Stay away from drugs. They screw your life up."

To parents, she said: "Don't push your kids away from you. Spend time with your kids. Make sure you don't accuse before you know."

To both, she said:

"When your're in conflict at home, don't think foster homes and group homes are the answer. the ministry corrupted me so badly that my mom got sick of the way I was.

"You go into care and everything happens.

"I went from 14 to 24 in a week, and it's not fun.

"You can get almost every drug possible in group homes -- heroin, cocaine, acid, pot, PCP, ecstasy, mushrooms, crack. That's where I found I could get it. You get connections with other mixed-up kids. A girl just getting off heroin got me into shoplifting. I turned into such a bad kid."

Now, almost two years after she ran away from home, Kari says she wants to live at home again and develop a good relationship with her mom.

"I love her," said the Surrey teen. "I wish we could be back to normal. I wrote a poem for her. I told her, 'I'll make you proud of me one day.'"

Kari's mom allows her home on weekends. On weekdays, Kari is allowed home between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. Kari says her mother doesn't trust her in the house when she's at work.

Kari says her mom wants her in school but Kari says she can't go to school because she's in trouble with other kids there.

She hangs around the streets all day or "goes with one guy or another" or calls her one last friend -- Cara Wilson, who is setting up a sewing-trade training program.

Wilson says she has talked with Kari's mom. "She cares, but she can't deal with this right now."

Wilson says there seems to be no ministry plan for caring for Kari. She says if the ministry cannot help kids properly it should not intervene in the first place.

"They're the ones that caused this grief," she said.

"There has to be some mediation between parents and a child before the kid is taken out of the home.

"But the ministry rips them out of their home, puts them in group or foster homes, which are simply stepping stones to the street."

Const. Dave Dickson, who works downtown Vancouver streets, says the children and families ministry is really "doing nothing" about street kids.

"Social workers are overwhelmed," he said. "They stick a kid in a place and forget about them.

"I've been working with kids downtown for 15 years, and there are way more (kids on the street) than ever before and they are a lot younger, as young as 10."

Some experts say about 10,000 kids run away home in B.C. each year and are vulnerable to recruitment into drugs and prostitution.

"I have one kid who I know is not going to see her 14th birthday," said Dickson. "But she has a lawyer and he says we can't forcibly detain her. And that's true."

And even if there were a law allowing authorities to detain young people, there is no place to put them.

Dickson said the ministry must provide more foster and group homes and not mix youths who aren't really into the street scene with street-entrenched kids.

Ministry spokesman Chris Ewasiuk said Victoria is working on a "youth strategy" that will be announced in a few weeks.

Grim Figures

Statistics from children's commissioner Cynthia Morton show that many of the teenagers who die in B.C. have a lengthy history of problems.

Of 54 persons aged 13 to 18 whose deaths Morton investigated in the past year:

  • Nine had been in the legal care of the government, and another 25 had received services from the ministry of children and families.

  • 24 had a drug or alcohol problem.

  • 20 had been physically or sexually abused.

  • 20 had been involved with the juvenile justice system.

  • 16 had been charged with a criminal offence.

  • 10 had been living on the streets in the months before they died.

  • Four had been in the sex trade.

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Created: March 21, 1998
Last modified: April 5, 1998

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