Teen's suicide an 'act of desperation' after system abandoned him: B.C. watchdog
Bernard Richard's report says the young man was put in 17 care placements over 11 years, and committed suicide as an act of desperation.
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VICTORIA — A Metis teenager in government care was alone, hungry and crying out for help in the days before he jumped to his death from a fourth-storey hotel window, says British Columbia's acting representative for children and youth.
Alex Gervais was abandoned by B.C.'s child welfare system and took his own life as an act of desperation on Sept. 18, 2015, Bernard Richard said Monday in releasing a report titled Broken Promises: Alex's Story.
"As this report says, Alex lived a life that none of us wish for our own children or any child," Richard told a news conference. "For 11 years, Alex drifted through the care of the Ministry for Children and Family Development, living in 17 different placements under the watch of 23 different social workers and caregivers."
The report concluded the government failed to find the 18-year-old a permanent home or family.
Richard said the ministry did not take opportunities to place Gervais with his stepmother in B.C. or an aunt in Quebec. It opted instead for care arrangements with strangers that ended with his 49-day stay in the hotel in Abbotsford with a mostly absent caregiver, he said.
"In many ways, Alex was abandoned by the system," said Richard, with the system leaving Gervais to age-out rather than make greater efforts to guide him to a better future.
The report detailed the final 10 days of Gervais' life at the hotel, where he pleaded for help from a former caregiver.
"In a series of desperate text messages, Alex told his caregiver that he was being left alone at the hotel without food or other necessities," the report states.
In one text, he writes: "I'm not doing very good."
In another, Gervais says of his caregiver: "This guy is a thief who doesn't do anything to help me. I tell the social workers to help me and they do nothing. He doesn't feed me, he's never around."
The caregiver was getting more than $8,000 a month to care for Gervais, the report says.
"Evidence provided to representative for children and youth investigators indicated that his caregiver had last been at the hotel about 10 days before Alex's death," it says.
The youth's death prompted an outcry by the Opposition New Democrats and among aboriginal and social welfare agencies critical of government policy that put the teen in a hotel with minimal supervision.
A review released in January 2016 found that 117 foster children and youths were checked into hotels from November 2014 to October 2015. At the time, the government promised to eliminate the practice of placing vulnerable children and youths in hotels.
Richard recommended the children's ministry provide more support to find permanent family homes for children in care, and that it strictly monitor quality and financial accountability for the agencies it contracts to provide child welfare services.
Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux said Monday that the government accepts Richard's recommendations and will increase oversight.
"If I had written the report on this same investigation, I would have written it the same way," she said.
NDP children's critic Melanie Mark said the government had years to place Gervais in a home with family members, but chose to leave him with strangers who were interested in making money and not looking out for the teen's well-being.
Gervais, described by friends as depressed and suicidal, arranged to meet with his social worker on the day he died, but he didn't make the appointment, Richard's report says.
"On that same day, after a night of excessive cocaine use and a fight with his girlfriend about his drug use, Alex killed himself by smashing his fourth-storey window and jumping out of it."