Skip to main content

Young people transitioning from government care to independence died at five times the rate of their peers over a six-year period, says a report released on Monday by the BC Coroners Service, highlighting gaps in support for young people as they age out of care.

The report, which examined the deaths of 200 youths and young adults from 2011 to 2016, found a disproportionate number of deaths among people who were Indigenous. It also found high rates of suicide, fatal drug overdoses and mental illness, and revealed a lack of transition planning for youth leaving care.

The report highlighted two young people in particular and told their stories through pseudonyms.

The first person, identified as Chris, came into contact with the Ministry of Children because of family conflict, exposure to domestic violence, parenting issues and neglect. She was concerned about transitioning to independence and began using illicit drugs after the deaths of two loved ones. She died of an overdose.

The second person, identified as Pat, expressed concern about living independently as he neared his 19th birthday. He was moved out of his foster home and into an apartment and died by suicide after an argument with his new roommate.

Michael Egilson, who chaired the review panel that issued the report, said the transition from adolescence to adulthood can be challenging for most young people but those leaving government care face additional hurdles. He said they lose financial and other means of support and can be left to fend for themselves.

“These are individual lives with hopes, dreams and aspirations and at some point things have gone horribly wrong,” he said in an interview.

Open this photo in gallery:

Panel chair Michael Egilson and chief coroner Lisa Lapointe arrive at a news conference at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria in April.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The report said 1,546 people between the ages of 17 and 25 died in B.C. from causes classified as accidental, suicide, undetermined, natural or homicide between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2016. Of that total, 200 deaths involved youths and young adults who were in care, were formerly in care, were receiving extensive support services or had other arrangements with the ministry. Those leaving care died at five times the rate of the general population of young people in B.C.

The review panel made three recommendations, all of which are to be in place in 2019. It said the ministry must have agreements with young adults regarding transition needs and it called for better collaboration among the agencies that deal with young people in care. The panel said the ministry must also develop a plan to monitor the effectiveness of supports for youths leaving care.

“We haven’t really done a very good job of tracking outcomes for these young people beyond 19,” Mr. Egilson said. “What happens to them? Not just the ones who die, but what happens to them in their lives.”

Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s Minister of Children, said the province accepted all of the recommendations. She said they will require legislative changes and the government will consult with young people on the amendments. Ms. Conroy said the province is making strides when it comes to those in care but there is still more work to do.

“This kind of report is truly heartbreaking and we need to make sure we’re providing better supports for youth,” she said in an interview.

The minister said 84 per cent of 18-year-olds in care have a transition plan. She also highlighted a program that grants former youth in care free tuition to B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions and said the government previously amended child-welfare legislation to better share information with Indigenous communities.

Shannon McDonald, deputy chief medical officer of the First Nations Health Authority and one of the review panel participants, said the number of deaths involving young people who were Indigenous – 68 of the 200 – was concerning. She said many were away from their culture, family and community.

“The continuity of access to those things can be incredibly stabilizing,” she said in an interview.

Bernard Richard, B.C.’s representative for children, whose office also participated in the panel, said the process for transitioning out of care is one of its top priorities.

Interact with The Globe