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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is seen during a press conference in Victoria, Thursday, March 1, 2012. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is seen during a press conference in Victoria, Thursday, March 1, 2012. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Prince Rupert tragedy a call to action on youth care, advocate says Add to ...

British Columbia’s children’s commissioner says the “shocking” case of a desperate Prince Rupert mother who killed herself and her severely autistic son because she couldn’t care for him highlights the lack of resources available to B.C. families who have children with complex care needs.

“There’s more resources in the city of Calgary than in all of British Columbia,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s representative for children and youth.

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Ms. Turpel-Lafond called the incident an “incredible tragedy” and said she will review the case carefully. But she added she cannot make any conclusions until the coroner and police have completed their investigations.

Ron Watson confirmed in an interview that his sister-in-law, Angie Robinson, and her son were found dead by Prince Rupert RCMP on April 3.

Ms. Robinson had been struggling to look after her autistic son, Robert, who had become increasingly violent and uncontrollable. On one occasion in March, Robert smashed his head through the rear window of his mother’s truck while his mother was driving, sending him to hospital, Mr. Watson said.

Ms. Robinson wanted to put her son in a residential care home.

“One of the last times that she was in the ministry’s office she was told, ‘There’s nothing for you. Perhaps when Robert turns 19 there’ll be something,’ which probably contributed greatly to her sense of hopelessness,” said Faith Bodnar, executive director of Inclusion B.C., a disabilities advocacy group, speaking on behalf of the family.

Ms. Robinson’s suicide note, as well as her last post on Facebook, state she believed she could no longer manage her son, and she was not receiving enough support.

Ms. Robinson “sent a pretty strong message here – that she was completely overwhelmed,” said Ms. Turpel-Lafond. “That would be the first case I’ve had as representative where you have a tragic situation that could potentially be preventable, but where a parent sends such a strong message.”

Sheldon Johnson, manager of media relations for the Ministry of Children and Families, said there aren’t enough youth with special needs in the Prince Rupert area for there to be a facility dedicated for them.

Mr. Johnson said in cases where there are no suitable youth resources available in a community, the ministry can make an arrangement with Community Living B.C., which looks after adults with special needs, and adapt it to a younger person. Funding for respite care is also available from the ministry.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond said it’s a “double whammy” in some parts of the province, particularly in the North.

“We have no proper structured residential care and no qualified skilled respite caregivers so … kids end up being placed in situations where they’re extremely isolated and the techniques that are used to deal with them are quite barbaric.”

Stephanie Cadieux, B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development, said geography is a barrier, but said resources are available.

“It’ll always be a challenge, in a province that is as vast as British Columbia with such a diverse spread-out population, to have everything available in every location. But what we have is the ability to have centralized resources and the ability to have satellite resources in rural communities.”

Ms. Cadieux would not comment specifically on the incident.

“Whenever there is a family that is involved with the ministry that has … any kind of unfortunate situation, the ministry has the opportunity and policy in place to do some reviews internally.”

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