Saturday, October 31, 1998

Robert Sarti
and Gerry Bellett

p. B5.

Youth detention plan under fire

Street worker says at-risk kids need more than 72-hour lockups

A proposal to lock up youths for three days to get them off the streets will backfire if there is no treatment program to send them to afterwards, warns a street worker who spends his days trying to wean young people off drugs and prostitution.

John Turvey, director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, said he agrees the 72-hour detention is needed — but only as a step to a long-term solution.

"If you get a little guy, 12 or 13 years old, and nail him down for a day or two, when they're that young, sometimes that's all that's needed to make something happen for them," said Turvey in an interview Friday.

"But if they don't have the continuum of care, it will be nothing more than a sham — and you are taking away the rights of the kids."

Turvey said the word would soon go out that the program isn't working — "and the kids could simply go underground to avoid it, which is even worse, because then we don't know where they are."

And he's also worried that kids will be locked up for less than life-threatening infractions, as has happened in other jurisdictions.

"In the States, they pick up kids who are out of school, for truancy," he said. "In Alberta, they just come along and scoop all kids on the street."

The proposal for 72-hour detention, "as the option of last resort," was made Friday by a government-appointed panel, the Secure Care Working Group, which met with interested parties across the province to look at ways of dealing with the increasing numbers of children at risk from drugs and sexual predators.

The 72-hour detention is recommended as a way of protecting an endangered child while social workers try to figure out what to do about the situation.

An estimated total of 20 children could be in detention at any one time in small fostercare-type settings across the province.

p. B6.

Parent warns time too short for street kids

The panel acknowledges that detention is not a panacea, and calls for an all-round strengthening of programs for at-risk youth, including long-term programs for the children who have been detained.

Children and Families Minister Lois Boone commended the panel for its report and said the recommendations merit full public discussion during the next five months. She said the detention idea requires further examination because of its effect on the civil liberties of the children involved.

"Legislative change to effect a 72-hour secure care model is something my government is willing to consider, but not in the absence of a full public debate which would shape that legislation," said Boone.

Meanwhile, a member of the panel says the 72-hour proposal doesn't go far enough.

Parent activist Diane Sowden said Friday said the report ignores demands from parents for long-term treatment.

Sowden, founder of the Coquitlam-based Children of the Street Society, is the mother of a child who ran away from home five years ago for a life of drugs and prostitution.

She is an advocate of more rights for parents to prevent their children from being enticed into prostitution.

"It's just not long enough for kids who have been on the street for a long time like Catherine," said Sowden, referring to her daughter.

"I'm not saying it's not a start because if it's approved it does finally allow the authorities to apprehend these kids,but it isn't going to meet the needs of all children," said Sowden.

"It might be a roadblock for the ones that have just arrived on the street but it's going to do nothing for kids deeply into prostitution and drugs.

"In fact it might be dangerous," said Sowden. She said if a child addict was picked up and placed in one of the group homes for 72-hours she would likely be in the worst throes of withdrawal when released.

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Created: November 6, 1998
Last modified: June 7, 2001
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